The excitement I detailed when I last wrote about the 30 for 30 detailing the 1998 home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire deteriorated as each minute of Long Gone Summer wore on Sunday night. The first twenty minutes focused nearly entirely on McGwire, and save for some brief soundbites from Sammy viewers were left wanting more from one of the most charismatic sluggers to ever play the game. Chicago sports fans were truly spoiled with The Last Dance, and this documentary just fell flat.
In all fairness, it was directed by a Cardinals fan who grew up in Southern Illinois, but there wasn’t a whole lot that could be considered new or insightful information. It just seemed to be a nearly two-hour highlight tape with some less than stellar commentary haphazardly thrown in. Though it didn’t live up the the admittedly unfair expectations I had for it, I did break out in a huge smile nearly every time Sammy Sosa popped up on my screen – oftentimes due simply to his infectious smile and playful energy.
On the other hand, it felt as if Mark McGwire really didn’t enjoy his record-setting season all that much. That’s odd, considering how fun it should have been to put together an all-time season. Even today, baseball fans and fellow players seem to have enjoyed that historic 98 campaign more than McGwire did. The deserved attention that Sammy Sosa craved left McGwire sour and stressed. It was mentioned multiple times that all of the pressure was on Mark McGwire, and Slammin’ Sammy was just happy to be along for the ride.
The flashback to Roger Maris’ quest for 61 contextualized the pressure that Mark McGwire felt when chasing down and ultimately breaking the record. I’ll give credit where it’s due – I had no clue that Maris experienced some of the same stressors that seemed to grab hold of McGwire – and some were even worse. I can’t imagine a player putting together a storybook season only to have clumps of his hair fall out due to the flack he took from fans and the media.
Michael Jordan touched briefly on the drawbacks of superstardom during his docuseries, and it’s evident that he handled the constant stimulation far better than Maris or McGwire did.
I don’t want to harp too much on Long Gone Summer, so I’ll share some of the truly special moments that I found remarkable.
- Shoutout to Sammy for hitting 3 homers on my third birthday in 1998.
- Sosa wanting to play well for the chance to be featured on SportsCenter is a motivational tactic that all young athletes have in the back of their minds. That anecdote really hit on the childish joy that grown men still get when playing the game.
- Even though Harry Caray played a more prominent role in Sammy’s career, I’m so glad that we got to hear Pat Hughes’ voice. Alongside the organ, those sounds made me miss baseball even more than I presently do.
- Being in the bleachers for a Cubs-Cards game all those years ago would’ve been unforgettable. I can’t think of a regular-season sporting event I’d rather see if I had the chance to time-travel.
- When they dove into the “supplements” portion of the doc, how they pronounced creatine was just goofy.
- St. Louis super-fan Nelly wearing a Bulls jersey as part of a commercial cut-away is phenomenal.
- Props to B-Frank for calling out the fact that Craig Biggio went to Seton Hall. Had to sneak that in here.
- “Sammy would’ve let a ham sandwich interview him,” was my unequivocal favorite line of the night.
- Nobody was more happy to have Sosa along for those joint press conferences than Mark McGwire. Without Sammy you might as well have watched paint dry.
- The size of Sosa’s, and especially McGwire’s, legs is patently absurd.
- Sammy getting a standing ovation from St. Louis fans is wild. I hated seeing Cards fans being painted in a positive light.
- McGwire hitting his 61st dinger on his father’s 61st birthday is storybook stuff.
- The clips of people in the Dominican Republic celebrating Sammy’s longballs were a great touch.
- “Move over Big Mac, you’ve got company!” is an iconic call.
- It was very classy of Sammy to share that he loves Mark and that “he’s the king” while celebrating a Wild Card birth.
- If Sammy didn’t bring up the fact that he was the actual MVP that year, would it have been mentioned otherwise?
- I’m glad that Sammy was asked directly about his return to Wrigley. Even though he didn’t own up to juicing, he brings up a good point to ask why he has to take the fall when 105 other players were named in that (never confirmed to be accurate) NYT report. It was awesome to see Jim Riggleman and Kerry Wood call for a ceremonious Sosa return to the Friendly Confines.
Well, as it turns out that list is longer than just ‘some’ notable moments. All in all, twitterless Pete summed up Long Gone Summer quite well…”Hey, remember all those home runs? That was pretty cool, right?? Oh they also did steroids and the Cubs don’t acknowledge Sosa anymore, but look at those dingers!”
Though I harped plenty on the documentary, I am happy to have watched it. I didn’t get the Sammy Sosa fix that I was looking for, but Sammy’s appearance on SVP immediately after the show ended was great. He again repeated that he was just happy to be along for the ride and he truly believes that in “the near future” he’ll be back at 1060 W. Addison in some capacity. That made the mediocrity worth it. My heart sang when I heard those words!
The Ricketts have to bring Sammy back. He means too much to the history of the franchise and to the fans. It’s the right thing to do, and I’m looking forward to that day in the near future when 40,000+ screaming fans welcome Slammin’ Sammy back to the place he performed so valiantly in.