Long Gone Summer: Angels were left out of 1998 home run chase

Jim Edmonds, California Angels
Jim Edmonds, California Angels /

While Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Ken Griffey Jr. were lighting up the home run leaderboard during the “Long Gone Summer”  of 1998, the Angels were watching from a distance.

ESPN rolled out its heavily anticipated “30-for-30” documentary on the 1998 home run chase Sunday night. While “Long Gone Summer” hearkened back to one of baseball’s highest points (even if it was shrouded in controversy in later years), the episode felt like it was missing something.

It certainly had plenty of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire mashing home runs and smiling. It had Ken Griffey Jr. doing his best to keep pace. No something else just wasn’t present during the home run explosion or the documentary.

Where were the Anaheim Angels?

Four years from winning their first World Series title, the 1998 Angels were starting to put the building blocks in place. Tim Salmon, Garret Anderson, and Jim Edmonds were the unequivocal leaders of the team, Darin Erstad was developing into solid major leaguer, and a rookie name Troy Glaus would make his MLB debut later in the season. Ultimately the team would finish 85-77, three games behind the Texas Rangers for the AL West title and well outside of the Wild Card picture.

So in a season that saw two guys go over 60 home runs, four total hit 50-plus, 13 players top 40 home runs, and 32 batters launch more than 30 bombs, were any Angels involved in the home run chase featured in “Long Gone Summer”?

When you look at a roster built around Tim Salmon, Garret Anderson, and Darin Erstad, you don’t expect an explosion of the likes that were seen in 1998. Salmon had his share of 30-homer seasons but managed just 26 in 1998. He was followed by Jim Edmonds, who hit 25 that season. However, no other Angels hitters managed to crack the 20-homer mark. Erstad would pop out 19.

Interestingly enough, the player that finished fourth was Cecil Fielder. Perhaps the player that ushered in the modern home run era when he hit 50 in 1990 (the first time since 1977), Fielder was in the final season of his MLB career. He finished with 17 for the Angels but was released by the team in August.

The Angels were even left out of the RBI-boom during the “Long Gone Summer”. While Sosa paced the majors with 158 and Juan Gonzalez managed 157 to lead the American League, the highest Angels hitter was Edmonds, who had 91 RBI and finished tied for 52nd in baseball. Salmon and Erstad managed 88 and 81 respectively.

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So while the Angels may not have been involved in setting MLB records or even blowing up box scores, they were planting the seeds for a championship. It may have been a “Long Gone Summer” for some, but it was the beginning of something better for the Anaheim Angels.