McFeely blog: 'Long Gone Summer' revives memories of 1998

ESPN's much-ballyhooed documentary of McGwire-Sosa home run chase has, of course, a local angle in Roger Maris

The Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa, left, and the St. Louis Cardinals' Mark McGwire talk to the media before the beginning of a game on Sept. 8, 1998. Christina Macias / Belleville News-Democrat / TNS

ESPN's documentary "Long Gone Summer" has revived talk of the 1998 home run chase between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs. It was actually a three-way chase, because Fargo's Roger Maris figured prominently.

McGwire and Sosa were both trying to catch and pass Maris' single-season home run record of 61, set in 1961 when the Fargo Shanley graduate played for the New York Yankees.

Fargo's reaction to McGwire and Sosa nearing the record —especially Maris' old buddies and especially when it became apparent the two modern sluggers were going to pass the hometown guy — was fascinating to watch as a young sportswriter at The Forum.

Dom Izzo and I talked about it Monday morning on his WDAY-TV and 970 WDAY show. My interview begins at the 1:00:00 mark:


Every major media outlet (and some non-major ones) made their way to Fargo that summer to chronicle what Maris' hometown thought of McGwire's and Sosa's pursuit of Roger. The verdict was bluntly summed up by Maris' longtime Shanley friend Wayne Blanchard, who was quoted in the New York Post as saying, "I hope (McGwire, Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr.) break their legs. ... Roger's record is something for us to hold on to."

In many articles, Fargoans were painted as hyper-provincial and protective of Maris' record. As the inevitability of the record falling became clear, most around town seemed to soften their stance.

The odd thing was, that summer's home run chase (tainted as it might seem now because of PEDs) shined a bright and positive spotlight on Maris and his accomplishment in 1961. It reminded America of how Maris, against all odds, overcame Mickey Mantle, a difficult New York media, a commissioner's office trying to protect Babe Ruth and the Babe himself to set the home run record. Ruth, baseball's greatest hero, had the record of 60 home runs.

McGwire helped, too. He constantly praised Maris and actually had the support of Roger's family, although it was admittedly with mixed emotions. The day prior to him hitting No. 62 in St. Louis against the Cubs, the Baseball Hall of Fame let McGwire hold the bat with which Maris hit No. 61.

It was Hollywood stuff.

The Forum was there to cover the final stretch. The newspaper sent Dave Kolpack (Jeff's older brother) to St. Louis for the start of the Cubs series and told us we were staying with McGwire and Sosa until one of them broke the record. MLB issued some 700 credentials for the series. The credentials were good for homers "59-62." More than 1,000 credentials were requested.

My overarching memory, among dozens of them, from that summer and that series: How McGwire's 62nd home run was a low line-drive that barely cleared the left-field wall at Busch Stadium and took just a couple of seconds to get out of the park, with McGwire missing first base as he celebrated.


It seemed like every homer McGwire hit that season was a moonshot, a high arching bomb that floated forever before landing in the seats. He hit several that were longer than 500 feet. That was the way No. 62 was supposed to be, so McGwire and the world could admire it as the baseball floated toward the record book. Instead, it was a low laser that left the park in a couple of seconds.

I saw it from 20-30 rows directly behind home plate. Another writer and I left the auxiliary media area and walked down the steps behind home plate to get a better view of McGwire's at-bat. Everybody was standing, every fan was cheering ... just as they did for every McGwire plate appearance.

Here are The Forum sports pages and news pages from those several days Kolpack and I spent in St. Louis. I wish we had color electronic reproductions, but our microfilm is black and white. Looking back at what I wrote, I was highly complimentary of McGwire (as was 99.9% of media who covered the home run chase that summer). The PED storyline was just a minor thread at this time (an Associated Press reporter noted androstenedione in McGwire's locker stall just three weeks before he hit the record-breaker.

McGwire, Sosa and Barry Bonds — the only three players ahead of Maris on the single-season homer list — are all suspected of using PEDs. Maris and Ruth remain the only two ballplayers with 60 or more homers who aren't suspected or admitted PED users.

Twenty-two years ago, that wasn't foremost on my mind or the minds of many others.

Forum sports section from Sept. 4, 1998:

090498 by inforumdocs on Scribd


Forum sports section from Sept. 5, 1998:

090598 by inforumdocs on Scribd

Forum sports section from Sept. 6, 1998:

090698 by inforumdocs on Scribd

Forum sports section from Sept. 7, 1998:

090798 by inforumdocs on Scribd

Forum front page from Sept. 8, 1998:


090898 by inforumdocs on Scribd

Forum sports section from Sept. 8, 1998:

090898 Sports by inforumdocs on Scribd

Forum front page from Sept. 9, 1998:

090998 Front by inforumdocs on Scribd

Forum sports section from Sept. 9, 1998:


Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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