With very few live sports to enjoy, ESPN has churned out many new documentaries this spring. “The Last Dance” took over the sports world. “Lance” brought Lance Armstrong back into the spotlight. And “Be Water” was an emotional dive into Bruce Lee’s story. Now the worldwide leader in sports is going back to the summer of 1998 in their newest 30 for 30 titled "Long Gone Summer".
The home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa was exactly what baseball needed. The country was not about to forget the 1994 strike that robbed them of a World Series for the first time since 1904. But between Cal Ripken Jr.'s Iron Man streak and the pursuit of Roger Maris’ immortal 61 home run record, baseball was rejuvenated.
Unfortunately, as Bob Costas correctly added in the trailer, “In retrospect, there was a price to pay for it.”
Sammy Sosa and Mark Mcgwire would become two of the most prominent faces of the Steroid Era. Their records were as hollow as Sosa’s bat. All of the joy and charisma they brought into the sport turned out to be a facade.
It will be interesting to hear from writers, players, and maybe even some fans who watched that summer of baseball play out. However, that is far from the whole story.
What "Long Gone Summer" should really dive into is ultimately whether that season was good or bad for the sport. It gave baseball popularity and dominated the sports headlines. But at what cost? To some, the integrity of the league that will never be restored. Hopefully the feature includes Bud Selig, who was MLB’s commissioner at the time. It would be interesting to hear what he admits, denies, or takes away from that season.
What this documentary should not do is romanticize the season too much. While it was an important year for the sport, it ultimately did immeasurable harm. The players, especially McGwire and Sosa, should not be allowed to excuse their behavior as “everyone was doing it." They should go into their regrets of that season, if they have any, and touch upon their reasoning behind taking steroids.
Letting the interview subject shape the narrative has been pretty noticeable in two of the last three ESPN docs. Michael Jordan's production company had a hand in the project, so that is a little different. There is less journalism integrity from the start having Jordan's company so involved. But the Armstrong doc gave him plenty of room to share his side with few challenges. Hopefully McGwire and Sosa were not given the same treatment as Armstrong was.
This documentary has a chance to be really intriguing. Hopefully the feature includes players of that era who are still bitter about the rampant steroid use. It would be great to hear them unfiltered on the subject. Bob Costas will offer some interesting opinions, no doubt.
As long as McGwire, Sosa, and other players do not totally shape the narrative and attempt to rewrite history with excuses, this 30 for 30 has a chance to be excellent. If the directors did not challenge them during their interviews, then "Long Gone Summer" will fade into obscurity after the premier Sunday night.
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