Exploring what any baseball fan would consider to be one of the most exciting seasons in the history of the sport, AJ Schnack’s new 30 for 30 documentary Long Gone Summer will certainly make viewers yearn for an excuse to eat peanuts and Cracker Jack. However, in getting too caught up in rooting for the home team, the film doesn’t go into enough depth about its potential implications.
The movie takes a look at the rivalry between the Chicago Cubs’ Sammy Sosa and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Mark McGwire as they competed in the MLB season of 1998 for the record of having the most regular season home runs in one year. Although any fan will already know how this chase turned out, Schnack does a very good job of making viewers feel like they are back in the action.
Even though nothing quite replicates the feeling of being in the stands at a baseball game, especially in relation to events as climactic as this, Schnack comes close thanks to his extensive use of archive footage. First and foremost, this is an entertaining documentary, a welcome treat for anyone experiencing withdrawals from live sporting events.
That said, one of the things that the film could have done better would have been leaning into the friendly rivalry that formed between the two players. For the most part, the movie explores their careers and seasons on an individual level. Only towards the end of the film, when viewers get to see shared press conferences, is there a true glimpse into the relationship.
Perhaps the biggest draw that this movie will have will be getting to see interviews with McGwire and Sosa in the present day as they look back on what was undeniably the highlight of their careers. Even more impressive is the fact that they don’t dance around the more controversial elements of their situation either.
While it admittedly doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, the film does briefly explore the performance-enhancing drugs scandal that started to become a big deal in the league during and immediately following these events. While there’s enough material there to inspire an entire documentary of its own, Schnack does a good job of making sure that the topic is addressed.
There is also a portion of the movie that explores the very intense relationship that the fans had to the players and their quest for superiority. In a time in which teams were struggling to maintain attendance and viewership even before they were forced to delay their season, this serves as an important reminder of the magic of America’s favorite pastime.
Long Gone Summer is a very entertaining watch, and while it does pull a few punches, the fact that it tackles these sometimes taboo issues is certainly admirable. This is definitely a must-watch for sports fans of all ages.
Long Gone Summer airs on ESPN on June 14 at 9pm ET and will be available on ESPN+ following its debut.
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