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There’s a Toby Keith song that goes I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was. That’s been Mike Francesa for about the last five years. If a story captured the perfect storm of New York sports managerial incompetence, you still had to set a mental note to find WFAN on your radio dial, laptop browser, or phone app for what was sure to be a 98 MPH fastball of a monologue.
The issue is that the Mets, Giants, and Jets could only provide so many of those — having personal relationships with James Dolan, Francesa and his former partner Chris Russo just don’t go after Knicks brass with the same vigor — and the rest of the year Francesa frankly wasn’t engaged enough to put on an entertaining daily show. Nonetheless, with the right co-host he could’ve flourished. It was one of those things that everyone in the world could see but that was medicine he couldn’t bear to take.
You see this a lot in basketball, where alphas struggle making the adjustment to adapt their game and attitude to be less of the focal point and more of a complementary player. Think about how much longer Allen Iverson or Stephon Marbury could have thrived in the NBA if they’d been willing to either transform into a Jason Kidd like distributor, or embrace a role like Nate Robinson once had as a 15 or 20 minute spark plug as sixth man.
We don’t have to dwell on it much longer but if Francesa would’ve picked the right energetic sports talk up and comer under 40 or the right former New York athlete and worked toward a true partnership, he could still be no. 1 in New York drive into the 2030s. (As Andrew Marchand points out, he also could have recaptured magic part-time alongside Chris Russo on SiriusXM, but due to a combination of the money and enduring feelings over their split that was another bridge he wouldn’t cross).
We should also talk about the happier times because Francesa’s second retirement should prompt us to reflect on his considerable legacy. He’s a slam dunk member of sports talk radio Mount Rushmore. Mike and the Mad Dog popularized the sports talk and debate genre that has proliferated in the last 30+ years on radio and television. The medium existed before them, but they solidified the model for hundreds of 24-hour radio affiliates across the country. It’s going to be difficult for anyone else in this industry to match that combination of success, influence, and longevity in our lifetimes.
Francesa, for two decades with Dog and then about a decade on his own, was atop the ratings charts in New York City, the biggest market in the country. Will we ever see someone do that again?
He had a bit of a complicated relationship with the internet. There were legions of listeners on social media who, like myself, grew up listening to Mike and the Mad Dog in the back seat of their dads’ cars. When that group came of age and obsessively clipped his foibles, he thought people were laughing at him not with him. At his behest, lawyers shut down the aggregators in the early years of Twitter and YouTube.
But he appeared at Francesacon, the event that arose out of these wise-ass social media memers, and had more joy on his face than I’ve ever seen. He recognized that he was beloved:
However, this feeling didn’t last as he entered the declining years we spoke about earlier. He thought Twitter was out to get him. He wasn’t totally wrong, but there were also days where he was unprepared or disdainful.
The first time he retired, he couldn’t stay away. He says now that the pandemic has made him realize what is important to him, that he wants to spend time with his family and make the trips for his kids’ college visits. He wants to get a horse into the Kentucky Derby and spend more time in Florida. He does not intend to disappear, but does not want to be on a regular schedule.
The bottom line is that Francesa was one of the best to ever do this, and that his existence was profoundly influential in the sports talk industry. He’s earned the right to relax — hopefully this time he’s better able to.
2 CommentsLeave a Reply
He should have been forced to hang it up the first time he FELL ASLEEP ON-AIR.
He reminds me of Obama and others with unique voices and tones. They love to hear themselves speak more than caring about what they actually speak.