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Why WFAN's Mike Francesa Is The Maestro Of Sports Talk Radio

Jul 3, 2019
Originally published on July 3, 2019 6:30 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are halfway through the Major League Baseball season. There's a record number of home runs and Oakland's Mike Fiers pitched the 300th no-hitter in baseball history. Commentator Mike Pesca isn't paying attention to these accomplishments, though. He's been listening to a painful and familiar tale of disappointment, as told by a maestro of sports talk radio.

MIKE PESCA: The Mets 83rd game of the year, played last Thursday, will not be looked upon as an inflection point. The Mets had just lost three games in a row to the Phillies in a manner both dramatic and predictable. The Mets get a lead. Philly stage a comeback. Phillies win the game. But last Thursday's game promised to follow a different script.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "MIKE'S ON: FRANCESA ON THE FAN")

MIKE FRANCESA: That's the biggest hit the Mets have had this year.

PESCA: Sports radio station WFAN'S Mike Francesa was on the air doing his daily show. Now, no player, coach or general manager has lasted as long in the New York market as Francesa, who, over the decades, has attempted to enforce some accountability to all those who wear the uniform of any New York team, and as the dean of sports talk radio, watched this game on a monitor inside his radio studio. The Mets' Todd Frazier hit a ninth-inning home run to put the team up by two.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "MIKE'S ON: FRANCESA ON THE FAN")

FRANCESA: Frazier pumped blood into the Met corpse.

PESCA: Francesa builds drama, concocting hope from near hopelessness - this could be a big win for the Mets, they could head into their upcoming series with the Yankees having momentum. He doesn't dwell on the rational, folks, this is a team that's seven games under 500. Let's be real. He gives voice to the emotional.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "MIKE'S ON: FRANCESA ON THE FAN")

FRANCESA: You cannot lose this - not this game. This game has to be the Mets. Case closed.

PESCA: The Mets relievers had to shut down the Phillies, just had to get out of the inning. Now listen as the game unspools before him.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "MIKE'S ON: FRANCESA ON THE FAN")

FRANCESA: This game has got to be the Mets. It's tied.

PESCA: Yes, the Mets were ahead. Then the game was tied, as described by Phillies broadcaster Tom McCarthy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM MCCARTHY: In the end of left-center field. Going back on it is McNeil. It is done.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASEBALL FANS CHEERING)

PESCA: And so was Francesa.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "MIKE'S ON: FRANCESA ON THE FAN")

FRANCESA: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Can't happen.

PESCA: He screams. He laments. He continues to describe the action to his radio listeners, who, to be clear, could listen to the regular official game broadcast just one click away on the radio dial but would rather stick with Francesa's show, an alternative universe of heightened stakes. Turned out to be the more rewarding choice, as the inning continued and Phillies slugger Jean Segura stepped up to the plate.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "MIKE'S ON: FRANCESA ON THE FAN")

FRANCESA: Let's see if he can get Segura out first. Segura hits a shot. Home run. Unbelievable.

PESCA: Sports talk radio is id, exultation and catharsis. It also gives voice to rage, a rage more articulate - or at least more amplified - than the frustration that one fan can muster in isolation. Think of it this way. No matter what theology officially teaches, when the clergyman offers his prayer, it does seem more likely to reach God's ears. Francesa performed this function last Thursday.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "MIKE'S ON: FRANCESA ON THE FAN")

FRANCESA: This is a disgrace. I don't - I can't even believe it. You got to be kidding me. Get rid of all of them.

PESCA: Had the Mets won, they would have had a record of 38 wins and 44 losses, just as certainly, the same sad, desultory and underachieving team they are. But had they won, we would have been denied one of the great clutch performances of the year, not on the mound, but on the mike.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Mike Pesca hosts the Slate podcast "The Gist." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.