Long Dull Summer
ESPN's meandering latest 30 for 30 is basically the 1998 Cubs of documentaries
I guess when a documentary starts with creepy doll maker Todd McFarlane bragging about spending more than $3 million for a baseball that is probably worth 800 bucks these days, it should be a clue that we’re in for a slog.
And that’s pretty much we got from “Long Gone Summer” a 30 For 30 on the 1998 home run race that was really only fun if you were mocking it. Lucky for you, that’s exactly what we’re going to do here.
One thing I’ve never figured out is why the lettering on the Cubs’ batting practice jerseys of that era was so bad? They always looked like instead of being sewed on that somebody just used safety pins.
We get a montage of Cubs and Cardinals home run calls to start things off and some of them are the drunken lounge singer voice of Mike Shannon. Later in the doc he shows up wearing a Shannon’s Grill polo shirt, where the tagline under the logo should read “No fatalities (that you know of) since 2007.”
Coming into the 1998 season it really felt like Roger Maris’ season record of 61 homers was going to go down. The ball was hard as a rock, it was an expansion year with the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays wandering into the game, just five years after the Marlins and Rockies had been added, and the players were taking all of the drugs they could get their hands on.
Mark McGwire had hit 58 homers in 1997, including 24 in 51 games after he was traded from the A’s to the Cardinals. Ken Griffey Jr. had hit 56 homers. So the idea that somebody would hit more than 61 homers felt more like an inevitability.
Ray Lankford said, "It was amazing how short [McGwire’s] swing was." Yeah, it’s almost like he was generating a freakish amount of power somehow without having to generate it with his lower half. I wonder how that would happen.
You know LaRussa was ready for this interview. He basically wore his mug shot shirt!
The Cardinals “experts” include three local TV people (one of whom looks like he’s wearing a Ronald Reagan wig) that we’ve never heard of, Bernie Miklasz wearing ALL of the black, LaRussa, Lankford, Dave McKay (who should have been asked all of the steroid questions because it’s always been rumored he was in charge of the “program” with the A’s and Cardinals—but probably thought he was sitting down for a story on how he taught Alfonso Soriano to catch fly balls without jumping), and the creepy grounds crew guy who ended up with the 62 homer ball.
The Cubs “experts” are a sad lot. George Will? Oh, come on. Fred Mitchell? Why? Is this a documentary on the ‘87 Bears? Grant DePorter?
DePorter brags, for some unknown reason, that he thought of a promotion where Harry Caray’s would only charge 45 cents per beer until the 1997 team finally won their first game. As you know, it took a while, as our oral history of that awful team explains.
Oh, and Chip Caray is on hand to set the scene. "I didn't know my grandfather very well," he said. Yeah, we know.
Hey look, it’s Sully and we get to see what he looks like when he combs his hair!
McGwire says that “baseball's in my blood." Yeah, that wasn’t all that was in your blood and that was the problem.
Holy shit. McGwire was Ogilvie!
Looks like McGwire filled out a little after his rookie season, eh?
Sammy’s art is really, something.
At one point in 1998 Sammy hit 21 homers in a 22 game span. Think about that, and of course he hit 20 homers in June.
The best was that he hit his 20th homer of the month against the Diamondbacks and we even got a disgusted tHom Brennaman call of it in his first year in Arizona.
McGwire was asked his impression of Sammy. He did not answer, “I don’t do impressions. I’m a baseball player.” I guess that savage has never seen Airplane 2: The Sequel.
Sammy says he has more charisma than McGwire. A doorstop has more charisma than McGwire.
McGwire started 4-for-43 with the Cardinals after the trade. Then got a standing ovation in his first two at bats at Busch because Cardinals fans are fucking morons. McGwire was thought to be a rental for the Cardinals who only gave up Eric Ludwick, TJ Mathews and Blake Stein to get him. Everybody thought he was going to go to Anaheim to play for the Angels when he hit free agency after the season. But he “shocked” the world by staying in St. Louis. Well, I’m sure getting to play for his old manager and root around in the LaRussa/McKay medicine cabinet had nothing to do with it.
"One of the hallmarks of an intelligent fanbase is how they react when a flyball is hit," TJ Quinn said. He mocked Cardinals fans for just screaming whenever McGwire hit one in the air. But hey, Cubs fans have been doing that for generations.
McGwire talks about how much he’d struggled before his resurgent 1996 and 1997 seasons, including missing most of 1993 and 1994 with, I guess, a strained mullet?
Look at this dipshit making fun of Cubs fans. Does he look like a moron who would trade a $3 million baseball for a minivan? Because it’s exactly what he did.
George Will puts on his baseball historian tweed jacket and says of Roger Maris’ 1961 quest to break Babe Ruth’s single season homer record, "The pressure was coming on, his hair was coming out in clumps. He did not enjoy it." Gee, I'd have thought hair loss would be a blast!
Then we get to the part where AP reporter Steve Wilstein sees a weird jar in McGwire’s locker. He calls around to find out what Androstendione is, and learns that it’s a testosterone booster. McGwire described it as a “legal” form of steroids. Maybe he just needed it to make his pee pee stand up? Hey, if it wasn’t for ED drugs, The Score wouldn’t have any commercials to air.
This man will pay you $250,000 for the 62nd HR ball or one night with your wife.
Hey, it’s our good friend Dave Kaplan. Looks like he forgot to bring a jacket to the shoot so they let him wear the tablecloth.
Now we get to the point of the season where McGwire’s got 60 homers, Sammy has 58 and the Cubs are coming in to town for a two game set starting on Labor Day. Mike Morgan served up 61 in the first game. Jack Buck was great, but his call, "Look it there, look it there, McGwire's flight 61 headed for planet Maris" is terrible. That’s so bad it’s Chip-esque.
What if I told you Mark McGwire only did steroids so he could pick up his enormous son?
So, now the Cubs have one last game against St. Louis and all they have to do is avoid giving up a homer to McGwire. Just walk him, or hit him in the dick four times, just don’t give up that homer. And…Steve Trachsel is here to talk about it.
The Trachsel interview took six hours, because he would step off and wander around the room for 40 minutes between questions.
Of course he gave up the 62nd homer. It was a line drive that never got more than 12 feet off the ground and scraped over the wall, where that creepy grounds crew guy chased it down and then like the sap he is he just handed it over to McGwire. The only tangible thing he got was the local Chrysler plant gave him a red minivan. Seriously. I’m not saying he needed to sell the ball (but he should have) but at least ask for something. Get a bunch of signed McGwire crap and sell that.
During McGwire’s celebration, Jack Buck said, "I don't think anything that ever happened in this ballpark compares to what just occurred." Until this:
Sammy ended up catching up to McGwire at 62 homers and then they went back and forth with Sammy pulling ahead on the final Friday of the season with his 66th. McGwire homered later that night to tie him.
What I wish had happened was that they’d remained tied until the extra game the Cubs got when they had to win game 163 against the Giants to make the playoffs. That’s a regular season game and it really would have pissed off Cardinals fans forever.
Alas, McGwire hit two more homers on Saturday. Buck said, "He's DEMOLISHING the record. 68!" Yeah, and Sammy had 66. That's not exactly demolishing anything.
The Expos were apparently pitching underhand that weekend and McGwire, despite not wanting to play on Sunday because he was “tired” hit two more.
Shannon’s call of his final homer that year was, "70! They'll be shooting at that one for years and years."
[Narrator: Barry Bonds broke the record three years later.]
The aftermath was swift from the “dream” season. We quickly were met with more evidence than we could ignore that the players were taking all of the drugs to hit all of the homers. There was that Congressional hearing when Sammy forgot how to speak English and McGwire said he “didn’t want to talk about the past.”
The documentary interviewer asked Sammy about how the Ricketts apparently want him to apologize for taking steroids. Sammy’s answer, "Why do they want [that from] me when pretty much everybody in that era did it?"
As we know from 11 years of experience, if there’s a PR situation to be fucked up, the Ricketts will do it. Fans don’t want Sammy to apologize. We just don’t care about all of that. We all have eyes, and it’s pretty obvious that Sammy was ‘roided up like an action movie star. But like Sammy says, so was everybody else.
Fans aren’t clamoring for a Sammy statue or for his number to be retired (hell, ELEVEN players have worn it since he did), or for him to be an official “ambassador” (though he’d be a lot less embarrassing than Ryan Dempster). We’re just tired of the Cubs pretending he never existed. Bring him back every few years to throw out a first pitch and wave to the fans.
Acknowledge that he has the most homers in team history by not shunning him. Stop making this such a big deal and it will go away. For christ’s sake, can that family do anything right?
For his part, McGwire has admitted he did steroids, mostly because everybody already knew, but he clings to a really weak argument.
"It was stupid to do." But he says he only did it to recover from injuries. Sure, whatever. And he says if there was drug testing back then he wouldn't have taken them. Well sure, and he’d have probably hit 38 homers.
Let's be honest. Without steroids McGwire and Sosa would have been among the better players in baseball in that era, and neither one of them would have put up anywhere near the numbers they did. The only good thing to come from baseball’s half-assed, inconsistently applied shunning of alleged steroid users is that it's kept Roger Clemens out of the Hall of Fame. He's an asshole and I'm glad he's not in and if that means Sosa, Bonds and McGwire have to pay for it, well, I'm fine with that.
But the Cardinals have no problem clinging to McGwire’s five years with the team and wrapping their arms around him. Hey look, here’s a nice shot of McGwire, Lassie Edmonds and LaRussa being inducted into the Parking Valet Hall of Fame.
This was the 1998 Cubs of documentaries. Fun at times, full of stiffs and it limped down the stretch so badly that it was basically like being stuck with Mark Clark starting game one of a very short playoff run.