Saturday, June 13, 2020

A summer dominated by homers

The Long Gone Summer
, an ESPN documentary from AJ Schnack, returns us to the summer of 1998, a season made vivid by the home-run battle that took place between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. Not only did Sosa and McGwire square off against each other but they represented two warring franchises: the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals. Now, to be honest, I don't care about either of those clubs. My baseball rooting interests lie in New York (having grown up in the New York metropolitan area) and now in Denver, where I live. The great home run battle of '98, of course, was marred by later revelations and accusations involving steroid use. In 2010, McGwire confessed to using steroids, although he says (and I tend to believe him) that he could have challenged and broken Roger Maris's long-standing 61-run record without any help. Schnack's documentary acknowledges performance-enhancing drugs before it's done, but keeps the focus on the pressurized drama that defined the summer. Both McGwire and Sosa are interviewed along with such baseball luminaries as Tony La Russa, who managed the Cardinals that summer. If there's an argument to be had with the film it involves Schnack's decision to recreate the exuberance that arose that summer rather than spending more time dealing with the tarnish of the steroid era. Sportscaster Bob Costas refers to McGwire's record as "inauthentic," but this might be a case in which hindsight and more commentary would have been welcome. Still, with baseball unavailable at the moment, The Long Gone Summer serves as an emphatic reminder of what happens when something about a game captivates the nation. 

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