If you're missing baseball like I am, then ESPN's Long Gone Summer was a welcome escape from all the news surrounding us these days. The two-hour long 30 for 30 documentary focused on Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa's home run chase in 1998, and the consequences that came from their steroid use during their careers.
At least that's what it was marketed as.
While I loved the nostalgia, the interviews with notable baseball figures and the highlights from that historic season, I have quite a few criticisms of the production. Starting with the lack of screen time for Sammy Sosa.
Over the past few weeks as ESPN has been building up to the debut of Long Gone Summer, it seemed as if it would be equal parts McGwire and Sosa. That was clearly not the case as the majority of the documentary focused on McGwire's own career and 1998 season, sprinkling in some Sosa content here and there.
There were whole segments in which there was no mention of Sosa. I can only remember three or four instances where they showed clips from the interviews with him. He played just as much a part in the 1998 season as McGwire did, and he deserved more time on camera.
I understand that McGwire is the one who actually broke Roger Maris' home run record. He's the one who finished with 70 home runs in 1998. But Sosa hit 66 home runs on the year and actually won the MVP award. And it's not like that was a fluke. Sosa went on to hit 50 or more home runs in each of the next three seasons. He finished his career with 609 dingers. This documentary should have given him a little more of the spotlight.
Aside from their 1998 home run chase, another thing McGwire and Sosa have in common is that both have been accused of using steroids throughout their career. With them being the faces of the steroid era, it seemed as if that would be a big focus of the documentary. When the promos feature a quote from Bob Costas saying "there was a price to pay" for that season, it really seems as if there will be a lot of steroid talk.
In the first hour of the film, the only mention of PEDs is when a reported noticed a bottle of androstenedione in McGwire's locker. They talk about it for a few minutes, ultimately deciding it's not a big deal and moving on.
After that, you'll have to wait until the final 15 minutes of the documentary to hear some more talk of the steroids scandal. For as controversial as it was at the time, you would think that the producers would have wanted to explore this topic a little more. But that may be intentional.
I'm very against the use of PEDs within the game of baseball. I understand that at the time, there was no rule against them and there was no testing. I believe that regardless of the drugs they were taking, it takes skill to hit a ball that far and that consistently. I think we should let the past be the past and forgive these players for the way they tarnished the game. But I don't think we should embrace steroids in the game or even glorify those who have been known to use them.
The documentary made it look like part of the filmmakers' goal was to shine a better light on McGwire and Sosa, to make them look more positive than they did in the wake of the steroids scandal. While they did do great things for the game by putting MLB in the national spotlight, they ultimately did more harm after they were caught illegally using performance enhancing drugs.
I appreciated McGwire's statements towards the end of the documentary when he said that he would never encourage anyone to use steroids and that if there was drug testing in the league at the time, he wouldn't have used them. He acknowledge his use and seems as if he has regrets about it.
Sosa wouldn't clearly admit to using steroids, but he did have a fair point when he asked why he and McGwire have to answer for what everyone was doing at the time.
That is a valid question, but I still don't think that anyone linked to steroids should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. The steroids scandal is a tough situation. I've never spoken about it on the blog or in the podcast because there are so many levels to it. If teams want to honor players the way the Cardinals did with McGwire, that's their call (and the Cubs really should invite Sosa back to Wrigley). But no one involved in any steroids scandal should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. They made their decision to use PEDs, and they should have to pay the price for it.
I see the narrative shifting as we get further away from the steroids era. Fans and journalists are more in favor of honoring the players from those years. This documentary reflects that change of attitude, but it's still not one that I can get behind.
Matthew Atkins, Journalist and Baseball fan.