Yeah, three straight newsletters about Sammy Sosa is probably enough.
But we’re still treading water a bit until Chicago sports teams come back and I wanted to share a few thoughts after watching a screener of “Long Gone Summer.” The new 30-for-30 premieres on ESPN Sunday night at 8 pm and I assume many of you will be watching the documentary about Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and the Home Run Chase of 1998.
Here are a few of my thoughts and observations, presented in a list format that’s easy to read and even easier to write late on a Thursday night!
(By the way, I won’t be offended if you want to skip ahead to the news and links if you want to watch with a fresh pair of eyes on Sunday night.)
1. It’s worth your time. Yes, “Long Gone Summer” follows the general 30-for-30 model of “here’s a whole bunch of cool old highlights and two old athletes sitting in a chair talking about them” instead of being an actual film with a perspective and clearly-defined themes. You won’t walk away from this two-hour movie with a new way of reconciling that complicated summer. But like “The Last Dance,” it’s a fun trip back in a time machine and the highlights of the big home runs are fun to watch after the last seven months without baseball. There’s even a John Michael Wozniak cameo! (See if you can spot him in the background of one scene.) Between this and “The Last Dance,” I’d like to thank ESPN for allowing me to relive the year I was 20 years old for the past two months.
2. It’s not a Sammy Sosa movie: Mark McGwire is the focus of the film, a decision that had me questioning whether Sosa was really the equal co-star that Chicago saw him as in 1998 or just merely a supporting actor for the rest of the baseball world. I honestly still don’t know the answer. Maybe one of our out-of-town frents can help us out. (Email me here.)
3. There’s not a lot of steroid talk: Most of the film is about the actual home run chase. The fallout from the ‘98 season doesn’t even start until the final 15 minutes. Seeing as how my eyes started to glaze over while watching Bob Costas and George Will talk about PEDs, I think it was the right decision.
4. But there is Barry Bonds: One of the more underrated moments in the movie is watching a dismayed Bonds standing in the outfield as Busch Stadium goes nuts over a gargantuan McGwire home run. Of course, we know now that it was the extra attention that Mac and Sammy got in ‘98 that made a jealous Bonds turn toward the cream and clear, a move that got him the home run record but keeps him out of the Hall of Fame to this day.
5. The movie does a good job of setting up what was at stake in 1998: Everything that happened after ‘98 has made us forget just how much baseball needed something like the Home Run Chase in the years after the 1994 strike. I had forgotten how everyone was on high alert for 62 after McGwire had hit 58 the year before.
6. I forgot just how cartoonish baseball bodies were in 1998: There’s a low shot of McGwire early on in the film that will seriously make you wonder how steroids weren’t the No. 1 story of the 1998 baseball season from Opening Day on.
You’ll know the shot I’m talking about when you see it. He looks like Voltron.
7. Mark McGwire’s son is old now. Well, duh. But I found myself wondering what he looks like now and, lo and behold, he showed up on screen about halfway through in. (Spoiler alert: He’s lost the baby fat and the Cardinals uniform.)
8. Chicago sure is pretty in the summer: The film’s cinematographer gets a star for shooting Chicago exactly as it is during the summer. Extra points for the Jeff Tweedy soundtrack and Guthrie’s Tavern love. Who’s up for Parcheesi?
9. Yes, there’s a Chicago meatball holding a “McGuire” sign at Wrigley Field. Plenty of the “Best Fans In Baseball” in St. Louis, too, if you catch my drift.
10. Steve Trachsel!: Only two of Sammy’s ex-teammates are interviewed. Kerry Wood and Trachsel, who gave up 62 to McGwire. Oh, the irony of the notoriously slow Trachsel complaining about the game being delayed while Sammy ran in for his hugs.
11. Sammy Sosa doesn’t come clean: I don’t think any of us expected him to say anything and he does his usual weird deflection routine in this movie as well. Though I still think he belongs back at Wrigley Field — this film makes as good a case as any — it’s still a little frustrating to see him refuse to answer the PED questions with anything resembling a shred of deeper thought. He claims he’s happy in the movie, but I still wonder if he’d feel a bit more comfortable if he dropped the jester king image he’s been pushing for the last 22 years.
12. Chip Caray sure said ‘belted’ a lot. Seriously, don’t even play a “Long Gone Summer” drinking game if that one is on the board.