In what passes for sports “journalism” today, you can get away with just about any outrage, as long as you avoid screwing up and saying anything true about race or sex.
Sports guru Mike Francesa has a problem. How to delicately put this? He’s a Yankees-Sniffer.
Francesa hosts Mike’d Up: The Francesa Sports Show in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut (“tri-state”) area, on NBC affiliate WNBC, immediately following the 11 O’Clock News.
In previous seasons – the show has been on the air since 2003 – Francesa’s baseball malady was not obvious. The Yankees were rightfully the toast of the town, and so it was understood that they would get the lion’s share of attention.
(Full disclosure: I am a Mets fan, and have been since 1968, when they were still lovable losers. However, except for when they play my beloved Mets, I have nothing against the Yankees, whom I have also watched, on and off, on TV since 1968. I support them, and have even, on two occasions, attended games in The House That Ruth Built, and That the New York City Taxpayer Rebuilt. I believe that Joe Torre is the best manager in the game – although Mets’ skipper and Torre-protégé Willie Randolph is rapidly gaining on him – and am a huge Derek Jeter fan. Back in 2001, I called Jeter, a la Lou Gehrig, “the Pride of the Yankees”; his only mistake in baseball is to play for the wrong team.)
Just before this season began, Francesa wondered aloud whether the retooled Mets, coming off their first winning season in four years, and with newly acquired veterans, slugging first baseman Carlos Delgado, set-up man Duaner Sanchez, and stopper extraordinaire Billy Wagner added to the mix, might be able “to knock the Yankees off the back pages.”
Well, they did, but not in Francesa’s parallel universe.
While the Yankees staggered out of the gate, the Mets roared off to their best start, 10-2, in club history. Still, Francesa led with the Yankees, and stayed with the Yankees.
He even started doing shows from the Yogi Berra Museum, for cryin’ out loud!
At one point, in early or mid-June, the Yankees had a hellish week, in which they couldn’t do anything right, while the Mets were virtually unbeatable. So, who does Francesa lead with? The Yankees, of course.
Francesa talked about the Yankees. And talked. And talked. It had to be seven or eight minutes long. And then he devoted about sixty seconds, as an afterthought, to the Mets.
That was it, for me. I’ll consider watching the show after the baseball season is over, but I haven’t tuned in since.
In spite of his undeniable talent, Francesa’s always been problematic, uneven, and overrated.
The first time I ever saw him was around 1989 or 1990, when he co-hosted a weekend TV sports show with Andrea Joyce.
They made for quite the odd couple. Francesa was a slovenly 300+ pounds, with a huge head of dark hair, and big, horn-rimmed glasses, while Joyce was a ravishing, slim (but not too slim), light-haired beauty. The beauty and the beast.
But Andrea Joyce was more than mere eye candy.
Francesa would stand around in professorial mode, while letting Joyce do all the heavy lifting. She would zip through all the scores – and there were a lot of scores – while he would chime in, now and then, with a “sage” observation. Except that his observations weren’t all that sage – he just said them in a pompous manner. Meanwhile, Joyce would somehow manage to be able to think and to breathe while zipping through all that information, and occasionally sandwich in brilliant observations … for which Francesa got the credit!
I remember once during that time, reading the favorite sports writer of my childhood, Newsday’sStan Isaacs. Isaacs was talking about the previous weekend’s Francesa-Joyce show, specifically, a brilliant observation Joyce had made – only Isaacs gave Francesa the credit!
(I’ve noticed a number of local female TV broadcasters in New York, who appear to outwork their male counterparts: UPN’s Monica Pellegrini and WABC’s Janib Abreu come to mind. And anyone who’s read me knows that I do not pander to women. Just keep ‘em out of the men’s locker room.)
Francesa is best known in the New York area via the talk radio sports show, The Mike and the Mad Dog Show, that he has co-hosted with Chris “Mad Dog” Russo since September 5, 1989, on WFAN-AM. Francesa and Russo kibitz and argue with each other, and with listeners who call in.
I have never tuned into the show, though I think I have caught a minute or two, while riding in a cab. The idea of spending four hours straight, cold stone sober, listening to people argue sports (or anything else), without being paid to do so, smacks to me of cruel and unusual punishment. On the other hand, if I had a job like driving a taxi 12 hours a day, the punishment of listening to sports talk might offset the punishment of driving. Choose your poison.
I did tune in on cable a few months ago. One of the New York channels carries Francesa and Russo’s radio show on TV. So, instead of just listening to them on the radio, you get to watch them talking with headphones on in a radio studio.
There were only 15 minutes left, and Russo was jabbering away, repeating himself like crazy – anything to fill air time.
During the late 1990s, a controversy swirled around Francesa, due to his friendship with then “New York” (read: New Jersey, since the team has played in the Garden State since the 1984 season) Jets coach Bill Parcells. Francesa was being paid to, among other things, cover the Jets. However, he announced that his friendship with Parcells came first, and that he would therefore never say anything critical about Parcells.
Francesa should have been cashiered for such unprofessionalism, but his job was never in danger. In what passes for sports “journalism” today, you can get away with just about any outrage, as long as you avoid screwing up and saying anything true about race or sex.
Francesa’s cronyism can get downright silly at times. When his TV show was relatively new, he would supposedly go through reader’s e-mails, and read the best ones on the air. But that sham soon became transparent, when almost all of the e-mails, week in and week out, were from the same Francesa radio fan, “Vince from Garwood” (New Jersey). The NBC suits apparently had Francesa cut out that time-filler. After all, the TV show only runs thirty minutes, including commercials; it doesn’t need any filler.
The above may sound as if I think Francesa is a blowhard with nothing to say. Au contraire. While he had little of value to say, back in his days with Andrea Joyce, that may have been because he was new to the medium. He has done excellent work, at times, on Mike’d Up, showing great intelligence and eloquence in discussing sports and individual athletes, and he does intelligent watchable interviews of local sportswriters. But during the spring and summer, the show’s title needs to be changed to Mike Francesa’s Yankees and Golfing, or Mike Francesa’s Anything But the Mets.
(Postscript: The last thing I discovered while re-writing and researching this column is that, like Billy Crystal, Mike Francesa grew up in my hometown of Long Beach, NY. However, to my knowledge, I never crossed paths with Francesa, who is four years older than I am. That I should have devoted two consecutive columns to guys who grew up in the same small town, was pure serendipity. I know of only three other famous people who grew up in Long Beach: Basketball player and coach Larry Brown, Hollywood producer David Brown, and the late producer-director-screenwriter, Alan J. Pakula. I do not plan on writing about any of them in the immediate future.)
Award-winning, New York-based freelancer Nicholas Stix founded A Different Drummer magazine (1989-93). Stix has written for Die Suedwest Presse, New York Daily News, New York Post, Newsday, Middle American News, Toogood Reports, Insight, Chronicles, the American Enterprise, Campus Reports, VDARE, the Weekly Standard, Front Page Magazine, Ideas on Liberty, National Review Online and the Illinois Leader. His column also appears at Men's News Daily, MichNews, Intellectual Conservative, Enter Stage Right and OpinioNet. Stix has studied at colleges and universities on two continents, and earned a couple of sheepskins, but he asks that the reader not hold that against him. His day jobs have included washing pots, building Daimler-Benzes on the assembly-line, tackling shoplifters and teaching college, but his favorite job was changing his son's diapers.