Friday, September 14, 2012

The Mind of Mike

This week, the video of New York sports radio host, Mike Francesa, falling asleep during an interview on his show was the talk of the internet.  For most people, it was just an amusing video of some guy falling asleep during his job, but those of us who've hate-listened to Francesa for years, it was like a mass Baptism of new people to share our beliefs.  "Look at how terrible this guy is," we told the newcomers who came just to laugh at this person who would ordinarily be fired.  "This is what passes for sports radio in New York."  

When Francesa offered excuses and a complete non-apology two days later, nobody was surprised.  

Here is the whole story.  

Mike Francesa had never seen a more beautiful sunset. 

"It's uh pahfect bookend to da day," he thought to himself, recalling the way that he'd watched the suns first rays creep through his living room window that morning. At the time, he'd thought it was the silver lining to staying up all night to deal with his son's asthma, that if he couldn't get any sleep he could at least have this moment to himself. He'd run his hand over Jack's head as the boy rested in his lap, and as the rays crept through the window and along the floor, he'd felt like the luckiest man in the world.

Until that evening. 

Francesa took another sip from his Diet Coke and watched as the waning sun's light reflected as a million golden shards on the gentle waves of the Long Island Sound. "Pahfect." 

At about five o'clock that morning he'd decided that, with his sleepless night, he was in no condition to go to work that day. "I ehned it," he'd rationalized, having worked a grueling Footfall Friday three days earlier, a Football Friday during which, he noted, he was also able to jam in about two hours on the collapsing Yankees. He'd followed that up with his first NFL Now of the season on Sunday, and pulled double duty, replaying every single angle of the controversial Mark Teixeira play for the benefit of those watching him on television. For those listening on the radio? "Whatevah," he'd told his producer, Ray. "Dey saw dah play. Everyone saw dat play. It was a disgrace." 

"Well, maybe some people weren't watching the game," Ray had said. 

"Whattaya talkin' about?" 

"Some people weren't watching the game. Some people don't like the Yankees. Maybe they were watching the Mets, or college football, or out with their families."

Mike had stared at Ray for what seemed like ten minutes.

"Whattaya talkin' abowt, Ray? What else are they gonna do? This is playawf baseball. What else is happening last night? Da Mets? Get outta here. Yah lawst." 

After that blow-up, he'd gone home for ten grueling hours of football, and just as he was settling down for bed, he heard Jack wheezing in his room.

"Poor kid," he thought to himself as he took another sip of Diet Coke and watched the waves.

He'd called out at seven that morning, but had been planning his day since he realized that sleep wasn't going to be available to him. He had decided to take the boat out on the sound. "Don't want to waste the beautiful Septembah weathah," he'd told his wife. "Don't have too many boat days left. Out dah it's like San Diego out dah."

It had been a beautiful summer for the boat, he recalled, having spent 75 of his 90 vacation days speeding along the sound and doing circles in the water around Jones Beach. Now it was coming to an end, and he knew that if the summer had to close, and he'd soon be stuck behind a microphone while the blizzards raged outside, that there was only one person he'd want to spend that remaining free time with

"Anothah beeh, Brandon?"

Brandon Inge had been lulled into a light doze by the bobbing of the boat, but at Mike's words, he stirred in his deck chair, his eyes flittering awake under the bill of his A's cap.

"No thanks, Mike," he said, holding up a half-full Shock Top with his good arm, his other arm in a sling from the shoulder operation he'd received earlier in September. "I'm good." 

"That's good," Mike said, as the waves sloshed against the bottom of his boat.  "Dis is nice, right?" 

"It's great, Mike, thanks for having me out."

"Yeah," said Mike. "Anytime." 

They let the silence hang between them until it was pierced by the roar of a passing speedboat. Mike fiddled with the cap of his Diet Coke bottle. 

"Hey, uh, Brandon..." Mike began.

"What's up, Mike?"  The Oakland third-baseman turned to face him. 

"Well, uh...this is a little hahd, but uh....I like you, Brandon."

Brandon smiled. "Hey, thanks Mike," he said. "I like you too. You were always nice to me whenever the Tigers were in town." 

"I like you a lawt."

Brandon laughed. "You too, Mike. Thanks."

"No, Brandon. You don't undahstand. I like you a lawt." 

The silence was deafening as the smile slowly retreated from Brandon's face. He took his cap off and ran his hand through his hair. 

"Oh, wow. To hear you say that, Mike, it's's just like....finally, you know?" 

He sighed as he sat up straight to look at Mike. "Oh, Mike..." 



Ray's voice in his ear shocked Mike awake and as he looked around, the Long Island Sound and the golden sunset was replaced by the cold, sterile walls of WFAN's studio.

"Teixeira's absence is part of this, the Yankees have been a little affected by left-handed pitchers lately, and they're gonna face two of them in this series..."

Inge's voice was replaced by that of WFAN's Yankees beat reporter Sweeney Murti, and as Mike shook off the cobwebs, he glared through the glass at Ray who was staring in shock at his host.

"Where's Brandon," Mike mouthed at Ray, who only shook his head, uncomprehending. 
"What?" Ray mouthed.

"Brandon," Mike mouthed again. "Who're you..." 

 Then, it began to dawn on him. As reality overwrote his subconscious and the dream evaporated, Mike slumped down in his chair, resigned, and continued the interview. "Alright, we're talkin' to Sweeney obviously as we get ready ahhh for a trip to Boston and back, the weekend against Tampa..." 


His humiliating so-called apology over, Mike pushed the mic away with frustration and groaned as he stood up, forgetting that his earphones were still on. He could hear the techs in the next room snicker through the glass as his head was yanked downward. He pulled the earphones from his head in disgust and walked into the control room. 

"Twenty fawr yeahs on the aiyah and I gotta answer for 15 seconds," he bellowed as he pushed open the door. "I give dese people twenty fawr years of my life and I screw up once, and they pounce all over me. I can't believe those clowns. And you," he pointed at Ray, "How could you let me fall asleep on the aiyah? You keep it so warm in that studio, how could I not nod off? It's like an incubatah in theyah!" 

Ray stood rooted in place in the middle of the room, frozen as his hands hovered over the keyboard he was leaning over. His face grew hot as he realized that all of the techs were staring at him. He was dumbfounded as he looked at Mike, who was glaring at him from the doorway.

"I'm..." Ray's tongue was dry, and he swallowed hard. "I'm sorry Mike." 

"Yeah, youah sorry, I'm sorry, everyone's sorry," Mike said. "I'm sorry I let an amatah like you evah produce my show! It's a wondah I'm still numbah one! If you evah let that happen again, you're fiahed!" 

He waved his hand dismissively and began to waddle down the hall to the kitchen for a Diet Coke. Ray looked around, and all of the techs quickly buried themselves in their computer screens. Ray looked at Mike's back walking down the hall, and was suddenly aware of the heat in his face, and he clenched his fists and something inside him broke. 

"You're an idiot." 

He saw Mike freeze in the middle of the hallway, and as the radio host turned, Ray saw anger smolder in his eyes behind his glasses. 

"What'd you say tah me?" Mike growled. 

"I said you're an idiot," said Ray, who almost couldn't believe his own ears. He looked around the room and all of the techs were looking up from their computers, mouths agape. He saw one tech, Pete, give him almost an imperceptible nod. 

Yes. Do it. 

"You had a chance to make this whole thing go away and maybe even make yourself seem a little more human, and you blew it," said Ray, feeling bolder with every word out of his mouth. "You could have come on the air, had a little fun with it, shown a little humility and this whole thing would have been over. You could have joked around with Sweeney during your next interview that you had your coffee and were good to go, but no, that's not you." 

Mike's face began to redden. It almost looked like he was shaking. 

"Your job, for five hours a day, is to talk about sports. Wait, no. After all of the commercials, and the updates every 20 minutes, you spend roughly 25 minutes per hour talking about sports. It's one of the most easiest, most fun jobs that I can think of. Me and my buddies, we go out to the bar, and we talk about sports with each other for hours, for free. It's a job that millions of people would kill for, and you act like it's beneath you. Everything about your demeanor says that you can't possibly be a more miserable person. People wait for hours to get on the air with you, and they genuinely mean it when they say "Great show," or "Good to talk to you," and all you say is "Ok, go ahead." And then when they do go ahead and start to talk about what they waited for hours on hold to talk about, you cut them off after 10 seconds to make your own points."

Mike raised his hand, "I don't have tah listen to dis...." he went to wave and turn around but Ray's voice stopped him. 

"No, you listen," Ray said. "I'm not one of your callers, that you can just wave away, and not have to deal with. You were on the air making every excuse possible, and straight out lying to people, when all you had to say was, "Yeah, I fell asleep, so what?" You had the chance to make a small bit of your miserable existence likable and you blew it." 

Ray was almost preaching now, and the techs were hanging on every word, and, for once, Mike Francesa was at a loss for words. 

"It is a wonder your show is still number one. You dole out information that's downright wrong and then backtrack when someone calls you on your bullshit. Even worse, you routinely throw everyone that you can under the bus! How many times have you berated one of your staff on the air for your own screw ups?" "It's a wonder we can still get any guests on the air with the way you treat them, as if they're there to feed YOU topics. We have Terry Collins on a weekly basis, or maybe I should say HAD. I'm not sure how eager he's going to be to come back on the show since you said he should kill himself!" 

"You're a joke, Mike. You're fat Skip Bayless with a horrible accent. You're the worst kind of troll, one who doesn't even realize what he is. More people listen to you because they hope you'll fuck up so they can mock you on Twitter, or put it on YouTube than because they value your opinion. You're a pompous ass, and maybe if you didn't act as if the entire city of New York owed you a giant favor for showering them with your wisdom for two hours a day, people wouldn't be so quick to, 'pounce all over you.'  You've even defended Scott Boras for fuck's sake!"

Ray went on for what seemed like hours, an endless litany of Francesa's faults, from the time he picked his teeth on tv and ate it, to his complete disdain and misunderstanding of technology. And as he went on, Francesa stood, stonefaced in the hallway, his face flushed red with anger, now actively quivering. 

"And do you know what your best show ever was, Mike? Do you want to know? It was the time you shut the fuck up for two minutes and just played songs about summertime. That was the greatest show you've ever done in 24 years." 

The room was silent. Ray blinked several times, still barely comprehending what he'd done. He looked at the techs who stared back at him with an equal mix of awe, shock and terror. He looked at Mike. The big radio host was trembling now, as he ran his hand through his hair, the first time he'd moved since Ray had started talking. He removed his glasses and ran his hand over his face and let out a sigh, and as he looked at his producer, Ray thought that he saw Mike's eyes welling up. He put his glasses back on, and as he stared at Ray, the techs, breathless, waited for his words.  Mike's heavy breathing was the only sound in the room until...

"Cool it down in that studio. I evah fall asleep in there again and yowah fiahed," Mike said, as he turned around and walked down the hall for his Diet Coke.