It's been 22 years since Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa captured baseball fans with their epic race to break Roger Maris' 1961 single-season home run record. But for as exhilarating the summer of 1998 was, McGwire and Sosa's home run chase is just as tainted by the use of performance-enhancing drugs. On Sunday, ESPN will air its latest 30 for 30 documentary focusing on that summer and the McGwire-Sosa showdown. The new film, "Long Gone Summer," directed by AJ Schnack, will look back on the summer of '98 and its lasting impact on baseball today.
We've got you covered with information on how to watch the documentary, as well as ten things you need to know before the film airs.
How to watch 'Long Gone Summer'
- Date: Sunday, June 14
- Time: 9 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN
- Streaming: ESPN app
1. Maris' 1961 record at stake
Even before the summer of 1998, it was clear that Roger Maris' single-season home-run record (61) set back in 1961 was in danger. The year before, Mark McGwire and finished just three shy of tying Maris' record. When the '98 season got underway, it was expected that this would be the year Maris' 37-year old record would fall, with either McGwire or Ken Griffey Jr. taking over as the new record holder. Griffey would fall out of the race during that summer while Sammy Sosa was able to keep up with McGwire's pace.
2. It was a close race until the end
McGwire and Sosa were neck and neck for most of the chase. Here's what the leaderboard looked like by the All-Star break: McGwire (37), Griffey (35), Sosa (33).
The race stayed competitive until the end of the season. During the final weekend of the regular season, Sosa and McGwire were tied at 65 homers. Sosa took over the lead and record for a brief moment during a Sept. 25 game against the Astros, before McGwire tied it back up with a homer of his own that night in a game against the Expos. McGwire went on to hit four more homers before the season's end, while Sosa finished his last three games homerless.
When McGwire broke the record with his 62nd homer, it happened to come against Sosa and his Cubs. Sosa hit his No. 58 in the same game. McGwire would ultimately be the first one to break Maris' mark, but Sosa was never that far behind. And Sosa managed to keep hitting home runs, even after the record fell. When all was said and done, McGwire notched 70 homers and Sosa finished with 66.
3. Sosa had an absurd June
Sosa's June performance is what really propelled him into the subsequent spotlight. He hit two home runs on June 1 and then homered in four straight games from June 3-8. In a June 15 game against the Brewers, Sosa homered three times.
Less than a week later, in a pair of games against the Phillies, Sosa recorded back-to-back two-home run games. Sosa would go on to finish June with a record 20 home runs to break Rudy York's 1937 record of 18 home runs in any one month. It's a record that still stands to this day.
4. We'll get to hear from Sosa and McGwire themselves
What makes "Long Gone Summer" interesting is the fact that both McGwire and Sosa were interviewed for the film. We will get a chance to hear about that summer in their own words. "I didn't know anything about Sammy Sosa until he hit 20 home runs in June," McGwire says in the documentary trailer. "I was hungry to be somebody," Sosa says. This will be the pair talking at length about the 1998 season for the first time in over two decades, and there's a chance fans learn something new from their interviews.
5. Don't forget about the performance-enhancing drugs
At the time, the summer of 1998 brought baseball fans a feel-good storyline when the sport was just four seasons removed from the 1994 strike. Looking back, the chase was tarnished by the rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs.
It's also important to note that there was not a widespread outrage over PEDs during that season. In August of that season, Steve Wilstein of the Associated Press wrote about the bottle of Androstenedione, a testosterone-producing pill, McGwire kept in his locker and used. At the time, it was not a banned substance in baseball, though it was prohibited in the NFL, Olympics and in the NCAA. Anti-doping efforts and outrage in baseball came later, during the Mitchell Report investigation, BALCO and Biogenesis scandals.
6. Sosa didn't win the race, but he took home MVP
When the 1998 season awards were handed out, 29-year-old Sosa beat 34-year-old McGwire to take home the National League Most Valuable Player Award. Sosa received 30 of the BBWAA's 32 first-place votes, with McGwire snagging the other two. It would be Sosa's first and only MVP honors of his 18-year long MLB career.
7. Sosa's Cubs also made the postseason
While both Sosa and McGwire enjoyed individual success during the 1998 regular season, only Sosa's Cubs would make it to the postseason that year. Chicago faced the 106-win Braves in the NLDS that year and was swept in three games. The Cubs finished their 1998 season with a 90-73 record and second place in the NL Central, while the Cardinals finished in third place with an 83-79 record.
8. Home run records
We're no strangers to the rampant use of steroids during that time, and to some fans, the home run records no longer carry the same significance as it once did. In a way, the game has become more home run dependent than it was 22 years ago.
In 2019, the record for total home runs in the league was absolutely crushed, and over recent MLB seasons, we've seen a steep rise in the number of home runs hit per game and team. Part of the reasoning for this is a widespread emphasis among hitters on elevating the ball via an increased launch angle. But an even bigger factor, however, appears to be the structural changes to the baseball itself.
9. McGwire's record was short-lived
Just three years after McGwire broke the record, Barry Bonds became the new record holder when he hit 73 home runs in a single season. Bonds' chase to break McGwire's three-year-old record didn't bring the same joy to fans as the '98 chase, and instead, only shined a brighter light on the illegal PED-use in the sport. Bonds would later admit to receiving and taking performance-enhancing substances from his trainer, Greg Anderson, as part of the fallout from the BALCO scandal.
10. Their Hall of Fame cases are completely tarnished
Their Hall of Fame chances were completely impacted by their association with steroids.
For McGwire, he was not elected into the Hall of Fame during his first 10 years of eligibility. For election, a player needs to be listed on 75 percent of the ballots cast. McGwire's highest percentage of votes came in 2010 when he garnered 23.7 percent. He was finally eliminated after receiving just 12.3 percent of the votes in 2016, and did not gain enough votes when he appeared on the Hall's Today's Game committee ballot the following year.
For Sosa, he's still on the Hall of Fame ballot but he's never received more than 13.9 percent of the votes since his debut on the ballot back in 2013.