By Jason Keidel
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Cultural stereotypes aside, Mike Francesa is indeed the Godfather of sports talk radio.
He’s been doing this longer, louder, and better than anyone since the genre was hatched in the ’80s, before you knew there was a glowing beacon in the static netherworld between news, weather, and Howard Stern.
Everyone has an opinion on Mike. Cynics assert he’s a surly radio boss whose tongue whips the first caller who questions his logic. Others, like Chazz Palminteri, listen to him daily, even from the treadmill, because of his frowning, no-frills cadence and his Rain Man recollection of sporting events.
He’s our avuncular avatar of the old-school media, before sports reportage morphed into shock-jock histrionics, sexual sidebars, and wretched attempts at humor. All that’s missing on Mike is the fedora, cigar, and typewriter.
Love him or loathe him, you listen. He stomps ESPN Radio in ratings. Indeed, if it were a little league game, the Mercy Rule would have been invoked a decade ago. Some of his criticism has been earned; some has been envy.
Love or loathe him, you listen. Because he’s one of us. No matter his status he’s always been consistent in his calcified, New York cynicism, a burly countenance that has you yelling at your radio at least once an hour.
One of his trademark affectations is “Wait a second!” which usually means someone on his show tried some semantic subterfuge, ducking his question, answer, or lecture. You knew, if nothing else, that Mike would not allow anyone to get past his stop sign.
Except when Alex Rodriguez is the guest.
No one seems to have Francesa’s number more than No. 13. In my opinion, if there’s a soft spot in the ornery host’s heart, the beleaguered third baseman has found it and feeds on it during the most taxing time of his life.
If you haven’t seen it or heard it, then you’ve read it. A-Rod spent one of the most memorable 45 minutes in sports history with Francesa this week.
Rodriguez, in what can only be described as a performance worthy of an Oscar, Emmy, or Tony, stomped and stormed his way out of an arbitration hearing with MLB, and then speed-dialed his greatest public advocate on the planet who’s not on his payroll.
To be fair, Francesa asked A-Rod all the pertinent and poignant questions, including the obvious – did you take PEDs? – to which A-Rod, at his indignant best, claimed utmost innocence.
It was a stunning display of hubris, dishonesty, and myopia. A pathological liar before the Biogenesis scandal broke, A-Rod now wants the world to believe he’s the victim of some celestial conspiracy, led by Bud Selig, who A-Rod says hates him, New York City, and long, lucrative contracts.
His list of transgressions, misdeeds, and malaprops is longer than the Magna Carta. We can only give you the Cliffs Notes. You can figure out the rest.
A-Rod said he didn’t give that woman in the stands his digits. We know he did. He said he didn’t know Tony Bosch. Then said he did. He told Katie Couric he never took steroids. Then said he did. A-Rod said he didn’t know Selig refused to testify at the hearing this week, when we all know he did.
A-Rod said it’s absurd for Selig to refrain from the hearing, when, in fact, Selig has never testified at any such proceeding under the Joint Drug Agreement. A-Rod said his lawyers didn’t know Selig wouldn’t show up. Yet his lawyer, David Cornwell, knew damn well because he represented Ryan Braun at an identical hearing.
A-Rod said the entire apparatus is warped and tainted and slanted in MLB’s favor, when, in fact, this is the very system negotiated by his union, the most powerful labor entity in the galaxy.
A-Rod said his hissy fit at the hearing wasn’t staged, when, in fact, it was. A-Rod said he couldn’t wait for his day in court, to tell his side of the story, when, in fact, he ran right before it was his turn under oath.
And then he had the gall to use his daughter as a shield, saying baseball took him away from his child’s birthday. Forget the stupidity and duplicity of his legal defense for a moment. Billions of parents have missed a child’s birthday because they had to earn a living, buying the very birthday cake the kid will cut later that week.
None of you get to take your child on a private plane to a private party anywhere in the world your child desires. Forgive us, Alex, if we don’t think your daughter will be scarred for life, at least not because of that.
This is all part of A-Rod’s rampant sense of entitlement. It’s the very ethos that compels him to tell Esquire that Derek Jeter isn’t the Yankee you worry about when playing the Bronx Bombers. It’s what compels him to kiss his reflection in the mirror for a magazine.
It’s what compels him to sun shirtless in Central Park or eat popcorn from the bejeweled fingers of Cameron Diaz on national television. It’s what compels him to fly strippers around the country while his wife is either pregnant with or caring for his offspring.
It’s what compels him to play in underground poker games with Spider Man and DiCaprio. It’s what compels him to say Mariano Rivera is “one of the greatest” closers of all-time. (Is someone better?)
Alex Rodriguez says he scoured the planet looking for “cutting edge” supplements, which miraculously led him to Miami. Alex must be the most unlucky athlete on earth, as his innocent quest for herbal truth landed him with Tony Galea and Tony Bosch. Can’t a brother catch a break?!?!
Forgive the nauseating cliche, but where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and there’s a towering inferno under A-Rod, who clearly lost the line between veracity and mendacity a long time ago.
A-Rod will run from the truth, as he always has, whether it’s in an MLB office or federal court, which is where this could take him next. Why bother? Almost every legal analyst on TV or radio has said a judge almost never overturns an arbitration ruling.
It’s all part of the camouflage, a stack of shills and legal bills that has become A-Rod’s life. For someone so talented he’s awfully tormented. He should have the world in his hands, yet he’s probably the world’s loneliest man. Even Richie Incognito feels sorry for him.
A-Rod is running the Pete Rose playbook. Deny. Deny. Deny. He came to WFAN because he knew it was friendly turf, a padded echo chamber where Francesa – notoriously ornery with guests who run afoul of Johnny Law – listened and nodded with almost saintly sympathy.
It is only so surprising because it’s Mke Francesa, the baritone bard of New York sports since Doc and Darryl ran this town. A-Rod is exactly what Francesa normally detests: style over substance, superficially victorious yet spiritually vacant, a man glued to personal glory over team goals.
But I guess we all have a love affair with someone bad for us. There’s a bit of a wild child in us all. And it turns out A-Rod is Mike Francesa’s Amour Fou. If only we could tell Mike that No. 13 is truly unlucky, and will break his heart for the world to see.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.
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