The Return of Mike Francesa

Mike Francesa

“Goodbye.”

When Mike Francesa said that on Dec. 15, I was sad. The voice my grandfather had taught me about while driving me to hockey practice when I was young and the voice I had heard talk for thousands of hours wasn’t going to talk again from 1:00 to 6:30 on WFAN. The voice that had been a driving force in me wanting to work in sports media, and the reason I had wanted to and eventually did work for WFAN, writing blogs and hosting podcasts on their website, was retiring.

But that retirement didn’t last long. When Mike signs on at 3:30 on Tuesday, it will be 134 days since he said “Goodbye” to a career that essentially created sports talk radio and a career that made him more important than any columnist, blogger or TV or radio host and even more important on some level than players, coaches, general managers and owners. Mike (with the Mad Dog) had served as the voice of New York sports. Listening to the two in the car made them feel like they were actually in your car with you and watching them on YES made it feel like they were actually in your home with you. You could hear their voices echoing from the cars at tailgates and then watch them in the bars while pregaming. The next afternoon they would be there to share their opinion on what you watched or weren’t able to watch and from the moment their jingle or Mike’s jingle ended until the first commercial break was appointment radio. That all ended for good on Dec. 15.

I haven’t listened to the talk programming on WFAN since goodbye. To me terrestrial sports radio, a dying industry in now the podcast era, officially died when Mike left. Or at least I thought it was dead. It turns out it was just in a coma.

The nearly two-year retirement tour seemed to go perfectly from his perspective and from my perspective as a fan of his. From a story standpoint, he gave us all a few memorable days destroying the Giants and Ben McAdoo before his firing and he was around just long enough to give his reaction to the Yankees trade for Giancarlo Stanton. It was a remarkable sendoff for the GOAT of sports radio and the final hour of his final show, while sad, had served as a perfect finale.

Now I don’t know how to feel. I had had two years to prepare for Mike’s retirement, never really believing the day would come, or wanting the day to come. But it came and went and I was at peace with the fact that someone who I had listened to talk nearly every day (minus every summer day) since I was a kid on the way to youth hockey practice was gone. It sucked when Mariano Rivera retired and when Derek Jeter retired and Everybody Loves Raymond and King of Queens ended, but I moved on. It sucked when Francesa retired too, but I moved on from him as well. But now he’s back, and it’s not like I’m just not going to listen.

It’s obvious that Mike as a free agent was left wondering when his next big payday would come, if ever, like this past offseason’s MLB free-agent class. He wasn’t able to find an outlet that would pay him the salary he was used to earning in a media landscape that isn’t paying and overpaying for on-air sports radio talent anymore. There’s a reason WFAN isn’t owned by CBS anymore and a reason Les Moonves had been trying to sell off CBS Radio for years: radio is a dying industry, even for Francesa. So now he’s back at WFAN after a perfect storm of events that included Mark Chernoff creating the worst possible afternoon drive show in sports radio history, coupled with that show losing to The Michael Kay Show. If WFAN’s new afternoon drive show had beaten Kay then the Mike’s On jingle isn’t playing shortly after 3 p.m. on Tuesday and Francesa is left pitching his and CAA’s app/website creation to other media outlets. But his replacements sucked as bad as everyone thought they would and an old-school radio executive was left trying to avoid his station collapsing, and there was Francesa looking to have his voice heard again.

I’m sure the Stanton trade and 2018 Yankees hype, the wild NFL playoffs and Super Bowl, Villanova’s March Madness run, the Giants’ staff changes, the Yankees’ bad start, the Mets’ hot start, Matt Harvey going to the bullpen and this past week’s Giants-Jets quarterback drama must have been agonizing for him to be on the sidelines for. After 30 years of having a place, and not only a place, but the place to opine about every major sports topic, he had given it up straight up without slowly being weened out of it, and there was nowhere to turn with as big of an audience for as a big of a personality except to go back to where he had always been.

I will listen to Mike Francesa on Tuesday and every day he’s on just like I always have, and it will be like nothing ever happened other than that he took a four-and-a-half-month break. But the next time he leaves, there just can’t be another farewell tour, series of final live events and a grand finale show. The next time he says “Goodbye”, that’s all he should say.

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