ESPN gives baseball fans the chance to relive one of the most exciting years the sport has ever seen in Long Gone Summer. This 30 for 30 documentary chronicles the 1998 baseball season when not one, but two players were neck-in-neck in a race to beat Roger Maris’ record for the most number of home runs in a single season. This family-friendly viewing experience celebrates the excitement of the moment, why it was so important, and why it should still be celebrated.
It all starts with 1994 when the baseball season was cut short by a strike that left many diehard fans feeling burned. Four years later, stadiums were still largely empty, but the potential of a potential record breaking moment that many thought would never come changed everything. Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals was a decade into his baseball career and gave fans hope that he could be the one to do it.
But wait, there’s more! A rookie in the sport playing for the Chicago Cubs, Sammy Sosa, had an incredible season, quickly catching up to the Big Mac’s home run number. Each player’s ambitions erupted into an unforgettable chase to best Roger Maris’s record. This two-hour feature-length special covers all of the highs and lows of the moment with new interviews with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and many sports personalities of the era, including team managers, sports commentators, and baseball historians.
Unlike Lance, which spent nearly four-hours covering controversy over steroid use, Long Gone Summer focuses mostly on the triumph of these two men. Steroids certainly come into play and the commentators remind viewers that in 1998, the MBA didn’t have any rules against it. Still, it retroactively marred the careers of both men, casting a dubious shadow over their hard work and determination to achieve greatness.
The film also highlights the good sportsmanship of both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. There’s a healthy competition between the two men and a fun dichotomy between Sosa’s larger-than-life persona and Mark McGwire’s more reclusive sensibilities that is fun to watch. At the same time, two good sports is less exciting to watch than two cutthroat rivals, losing some of the excitement in the middle of the documentary.
Long Gone Summer is an honest look back at a year that reinvigorated baseball for America. It clears up any confusion about the accomplishments of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in an honest way. There’s just one version of the film to watch on Sunday, June 14th, and its suitable for the whole family to enjoy.
I give Long Gone Summer 4 out of 5 of Todd McFarlane’s overpriced game-winning baseballs.
Long Gone Summer premieres Sunday, June 14th, at 9:00 pm ET.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.