Desperation is mostly inseparable from masculinity. Men strain for fame, for female attention, for sad, trivial triumphs over one another. We are a people perpetually trying to figure it all out—flexing in the mirror, using lines we've heard before, trying to seem bold and dignified. We're not cowboys or poets. If we are, we wear it as a disguise. Mostly, we are vulnerable and self-conscious and probably masturbating for the third time on a Tuesday afternoon, because we're off and that Lea Thompson scene in All the Right Moves just came on. We are not men, but almost. Note: Columns may also contain William Holden hero worship and meditations on cured meats.
Mike Francesa is alone in a room in New York, and he is yelling.
That’s not quite accurate. People chasing trains yell. People who spot a dorsal fin in the ocean yell. People in the adjacent motel room yell. Mike Francesa is not yelling—Mike Francesa is making a noise like geysers of phlegm and blood are about to come spewing from his eyelids and every pore of his body.
It is June 26, 2009. Alex from Bedminster, New York, has called to tell Francesa that Joba Chamberlain—an occasionally commendable anthropomorphic bag of wet chicken fat—belongs in the New York Yankees’ starting rotation and not their bullpen. Mike Francesa needs Alex to understand that he is wrong. Mike Francesa does not “disagree.” He does not have “beliefs" or “opinions” or any desire to “see what you’re saying.” To say that he is capable of these things would imply that he is capable of doubt. It would imply that there is an alternative to Mike Francesa, and that is impossible. He doesn’t discuss or consider or decide. He recites the indisputable principles of his universe, of which he is the sole architect, from the constellations to the blades of grass, from the insignificance of the Big East Tawnuhment to the infinite supremacy of Sandy Koufax. Joba is a relief pitcher just as two plus two equals four. You don’t believe in four. It is just four.
Alex from Bedminster does not believe in four.
It is medically impossible to asphyxiate an electronic device, but here is Francesa, trying his best anyway. He is lurching and rolling in his chair and shaking a swiveling radio microphone as if the mic itself were Alex’s face. Francesa is sitting in his chair as upright as he is capable of, which means he is just sort of piled in it, like a bowl of melting ice cream, on the verge of sinking in every direction at once. Francesa’s ability and desire to stand remains theoretical.
Alex is yelling now, and Francesa is still yelling, but louder, until all you can hear is "ALEX ALEX WAIT A SECOND," and then "AX AX WAI’A SECON'," and then Francesa waves his hand to the producers on the other side of a plexiglass window.
“GET—GET RID OF HIM!” The guillotine slams, and then there is only Francesa. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. The Lawd o' New Yawk, ladies and gentlemen.
As of January 31, Francesa’s show was no longer simulcast on the YES Network. (Mike announced earlier today that he will be moving to Fox Sports 1 on March 24.) For a month and a half his callers speculated on his next destination, and Francesa reveled in their curiosity because it meant he is a commodity, something desirable, and he is a man who measures things only in terms of want and need and value. In early February, someone asked if he might reach an agreement with SNY. He dismissed the idea unequivocally.
“I GOTTA TELL YOU SOMETHIN' ELSE ABOUT SNY: I WOULD QUICKLY EXCEED THEIR BUDGET. I CAN PROMISE YOU THAT. IN A HURRY, I WOULD EXCEED THEIR BUDGET.”
It was as perceptible a smile as radio has ever transmitted—a gigantic, slow-motion, suspenders-snapping, you-betta-fuckin'-believe-it smile. Mike Francesa is on this planet to exceed things. Mike Francesa is not too big for his britches; Mike Francesa doesn’t even wear britches. His cock is there blowing over his shoulder as he rides through your questions in a convertible.
His every action can be presented as this sort of mythology because he is someone obsessed with spectacular things, with ENAWMOUSNESS and grand gestures, with kings and gods and presidents. His hair is an immovable lacquered mass, combed meticulously backward, every strand in place. His teeth are so pristine and countless and geometrically perfect, it’s as if he saw a sign in a store window for BIG WHITE TEETH and walked in and bought everything they had. He is all hyperbole and anecdotes about titanic homeruns; colorful windbreakers, unapologetic interruptions; THE BEST SHAWTSTOP WHO EVA LIVED. His show’s theme song sounds like Toto scoring a Mountain Dew commercial.
There is perhaps no one who has ever been so casually definitive, tossing out pronouncements about Pete Rose or John F. Kennedy conspiracy theories like chicken bones picked clean. No one has ever turned more half-considered opinions into absolute truths. This is a man who lives for heroic moments, for lists and rankings, hierarchies and morals, right ways and wrong ways; for gavel-slamming, mic-dropping, bell-ringing finality. Things have a beginning and an end; in between, we squint and prophesy, and when it's all over we shrug or nod or build monuments. These are toilet seat ruminations elevated to scripture by the solemn authority of a large man sitting in a chair breathing audibly out of his nose, pausing and thinking, waiting, making you wait, because he can, because he is numbah one, and he’s not goin’ anywhere, OK?
From 1989 to 2008, when he and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo co-hosted Mike and the Mad Dog, he sat and pontificated when necessary. Then Russo left, and almost immediately it became impossible to imagine that Francesa ever had a partner at all, that there was another conception of reality that could coexist with his. His personality expanded to consume all empty space. Mike Francesa is a devourer—of arguments, of Diet Coke, of ice cream.
He seems bothered by everything. Bothered that sub-Francesa humans exist and get to have opinions that have not been approved by him first. Bothered by every single event that led you to you think the thing you just thought. No one has ever answered phones so begrudgingly. Not your father on a weeknight, not anyone. Mike Francesa swallows after hanging up on callers like he is digesting food. When you watch him on television, it appears to bring him an almost biological satisfaction, as if rejection provides nourishment. He is a man who can in moments seem bothered by both ignorance and intelligence. Everything besides hagiography and dominance seems tedious to him.
And yet you must stand in awe of someone willing to make such a wager: He is a man who believes profoundly in laying your balls on the line, without hesitation, and in exposing yourself to critical bankruptcy in exchange for the chance to demonstrate how miniscule and wrong the opposition is. He has liquidated all assets and sold the lawn furniture to go all-in on this philosophy. Most of what Francesa says could be punctuated with multiple exclamation points or foreboding ellipses. Question marks are used only to ask ARE YOU STUPID AW WHAT? And then he touches an icon on a screen to get rid of you. People exist to him only so he can eliminate them. He sees things through a prism of bombastic theatrics. He is a man certain to his bone fibers that he is right. He speaks with the inexplicable self-confidence of a Yahoo! Answers responder in a “What does this lump mean?” query.
He is impervious to criticism and fear, to a degree that is almost inspiring. He doesn’t hypothesize. Mike Francesa seems positive of every fraction of every thought he has ever had. You can imagine him driving home from picking up take-out, congratulating himself on his purchase the entire way. Had ta get the Kung Pao. Had ta do it. Fawmidable choice. He is invincible. When Dave in Red Bank, New Jersey called to ask him about relief pitcher Al Albuquerque, Francesa hung up in 14 seconds. Francesa had never heard of him, and therefore Al Albuquerque is not an actual human being, and Dave in Red Bank is wasting his time. When asked about the Colonial Mike Francesa parody, Francesa denied ever seeing it—denied any awareness of its existence, basically. There is no such thing as dialogue, just his blunt declarations, and the timid noises coming from the other end of the line. There is you, and there is him, and any attempt to imitate is effrontery, not a tribute. You could nevah BE me, OK? If you told Mike Francesa that there was a Mount Rushmore of radio hosts but that his face was not carved into it, he would reject superlatives as a concept. He would deny the existence of rocks.
Francesa is so delusional that he provides a beautifully escapist lack of context. He is a man who seems insulated from the world, from responsibilities, from pop culture and technology, by a matrix of on-base percentages and championships, thoroughbred odds, big dumb tabloid puns. This is his language. Sports to him are an Apollo mission, something crucial to our survival. Sweaty men taking heavy, milkshake-straw drags from a cigarette, looking over March Madness brackets and Super Bowl prop bets—this is the most essential conversation one could possibly have. For five and a half hours a day, arcana and insignificant hypotheticals are worth contemplating. Not as a parable but for their literal value. They are a component in an unending narrative. He maintains a meticulous, religious concentration on bullpens and salary data and television revenue, year after year. Mike Francesa cares about sports as people care about the weather; they are an anchor, a pulsing energy we orbit around as a matter of scientific obligation. We measure time with them; we catalogue memories with them. This is a power that Francesa believes in. To him, it is undeniable.
I grew up in the Connecticut suburbs, driving from the high school parking lot to the 7-11 and the mall in a dented, rusty Volkswagen, involuntarily accelerating under bridges, trying to get through the static to hear the rest of what he was saying, the rest of his completely arbitrary top-10 lists, one-sentence reductions of people and entire organizations. For him there has never been an urgent need to fill silence. There are never sound effects or cued-up quotes from press conferences. There has always been just a man, alone in a room, sitting there, sometimes not saying anything at all, waiting to claim something, basking in the emptiness so that he can then occupy it. Beyond him there is only the intermittent drone and hiss of AM radio waves in motion. He sighs and keeps thinking. None of it matters; except all of it matters. You are there, in a metal box with wheels, and he is there, in a rectangle in the dashboard. You are waiting; the car is idling in the driveway now, and you cannot believe that you care so much. Backaftahthis.
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