We recently watched the latest 30 for 30, “Long Gone Summer” which covered the great home run chase of 1998 between
several different versions of steroids
*Why 9? 9 innings, 9 people on the field in baseball, we couldn’t come up with a tenth.
- McGwire went to college at Southern Cal to be a pitcher, but when he got there, they realized he had a natural ability to just hit home runs. He wasn’t the massive human he was when he hit 98 – he was just a great baseball player when had a natural ability to hit a baseball a long way. He hit 49 home runs in his rookie year!
- Speaking of his time with the Oakland A’s, he and Jose Canseco became the Bash Brothers. We had the great fortune of seeing the A’s in person at old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. We loved the O’s and Cal Ripken but seeing the Bash Brothers in person was a highlight of our young baseball fandom. And as it turns out, Jose Canseco ended up being the most honest person in the entire steroid scandal. As opposed to Rafael Palmiero. Again, we long for simpler times when Congress is focusing their efforts on whether or not some baseball players cheated. Spoiler alert – they did.
- We had forgotten that Ken Griffey Jr was a factor in that home run chase for much of the year and finished with a mere 56 home runs. Griffey was our brother’s favorite player, which was bizarre at the time because he didn’t play for the Braves. But, in retrospect, our brother is a major fair weather fan, and there’s a pretty strong argument to be made that Griffey was the best player of his era, with an added bonus that he’s never been linked to using performance enhancing drugs. The Kid, who definitely had the smoothest swing in all of baseball, finished his career with 630 home runs despite playing in less than 120 games in 11 of his 22 seasons in MLB. In his first 12 seasons in the league, he won Rookie of the Year, made the All-Star Game 11 times, won 1 MVP and 10 Gold Gloves. Is that good?
- One of our favorite moments of the documentary was when McGwire hit a home run against the Giants, and they flash to a clip of Barry Bonds standing in the outfield. At the time, Bonds had already won Rookie of the Year, 3 MVPs, 8 Gold Gloves and been to 8 All-Star games. He could have retired then and likely ended up in the Hall of Fame. Instead, he got jealous of all the attention, took a bunch of drugs, set every significant home run record, and now is black balled from the Hall of Fame. Hope it was worth it, fella!
- Sammy Sosa currently bears a slight resemblance to Javier Bardem in Skyfall. He did not bear a resemblance to Javier Bardem in 1998.
- We held the solo lead in home runs the same number of days as Sammy Sosa during the 1998 Major League Baseball season. He finished slightly ahead of us, but neither of us ever held the lead, and you know our motto…if you’re not first, you’re last. So, we essentially tied Sosa.
- While McGwire won the home run chase, Sosa won MVP and the Cubs made the playoffs. So, if you gave us the choice of seasons to have on our resume, we’d take Sosa’s instead of McGwire’s.
- Many people argue that the summer of 1998 is what brought fans back to baseball after the 1994 strike. We’d argue that Cal Ripken setting the consecutive games played record in 1995 was more important to baseball fans, it’s hard to argue that much has captured the casual fans attention more than 1998. Of course, that’s probably why everyone more or less ignored that McGwire’s body had dramatically changed, he had performance enhancing drugs in his locker (!), Sosa had already had a corked bat…you get the point. And that’s probably why our country’s founders put Freedom of the Press in the Constitution. In hindsight, it’s not a surprise that Griffey’s numbers trailed off over the course of the season. The biggest advantage the steroids provided for guys like McGwire was endurance and recovery. They all have an uncanny natural ability to make contact and hit the ball a long way…when isn’t natural is the ability to sustain that over 162 games. In discussing the final game of the season, McGwire said he was too exhausted to even play, but LaRussa played him anyway. And, somehow, despite all that exhaustion, he managed to hit two home runs. Wonder we he found that reservoir of energy?
- After watching Long Gone Summer, Mrs. Hangover asked if we thought McGwire and Sosa should be in the Hall of Fame. And our answer is no. These guys, Bonds, Clemens, and others all put incredible careers together, but all of them used steroids. They cheated the game, and they don’t deserve to get in and their records should be wiped from the record book. The most famous case for being banned from baseball is Pete Rose, for betting on baseball. We can make a stronger case for Pete Rose to get in the Hall of Fame than any of the guys who we know took some form of steroids. We won’t do that here, but we can do it. Trust us.
All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed Long Gone Summer, and have fond memories of watching the McGwire’s 61st home run barely sneak over the wall while Roger Maris’ family watched from the front row. While we lament the aftermath, we don’t regret immersing ourselves in the fun at the time. And, again, it makes us yearn for sports to make their full triumphant return. So, we can marvel and lose ourselves in a game for a couple of hours. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask…does it?