Let me say first that I like to listen to Mike and the Mad Dog. I enjoy the predictability and unpredictability of their show. There is always something new in sports and they talk about it and their callers call in about it and no one ever says anything that really surprises you. People play roles and fall into groups: those who think we ought to bench this player or trade for that player or sign this free agent, those who disagree, those who are in between, those who used to think one thing and now think another. There are the regular callers, obscure people who relish their stardom. There are the first-time (callers) long-time (listeners), obscure people with whom you identify, giddy with their long-anticipated moment. And in the middle of it all, there are Mike and Chris, like brothers, the bratty brother and the one who is supposed to be more responsible, with their half-real, half-cartoon personalities; half-adult, half-kid; talking with managers, players, and fans, living the fantasy of a million listeners driving home from jobs that are nowhere near as compelling as theirs. As in most families and groups of friends, the fun is just in the talk, in sharing the experience of following something you can’t control. When you get into the rhythm of a radio show like this, you marvel at the waste of your time, but you enjoy the relaxing sense of being locked into something that is lively and familiar. I like this. I know where I am when I listen to Mike and the Mad Dog.
But however much I like listening to their program, I do not enjoy it as a Mets fan. Mike and Chris broadcast on WFAN, the Mets station, and millions of Mets fans listen to them and hundreds of Mets fans call them. But they get this wise-ass pleasure out of hating the Mets and rooting against them. I know it’s part of the show, but I don’t like it. Mike Francesa is a Yankee fan, all cocksure and pompous, and Chris Russo (called the Mad Dog because he talks funny and often pretends to be out of control with excitement or anger) is a Giants fan. San Francisco Giants. This is one of the great irrelevancies of life for sports fans in New York. We have to deal with and think about some guy rooting for a team that none of us care about. And we have to put up with it because they are Mike and the Mad Dog and people listen to them and I suppose they think they have some kind of rapport and can’t be broken up. They couldn’t find a Mets fan who could do that job?
Mike and Chris know a great deal about sports and they have amazing memories for what happened in individual games. But they have this absurd belief that their knowledge and perspicacity entitle them to make judgments about what is likely to happen in a baseball game or in a baseball season. They tell you that there is no way a team is going to win the three games that they need to win in a series in order to get into first place and then the team will win the three games. They will tell you that a trade is a bad trade in a tone of voice, and with an insistence, that suggests that they know that it is a bad trade and then it will turn out to be a good trade. Sure they’re right more often than not, but they’re not right that much more often than not.
Baseball is like this. Studying it is like studying political elections. It is not like studying physics. Sober, objective analysis will not pick you a winner much more often than flipping a coin. The whole point of being a fan is rooting for unlikely but perfectly possible outcomes. But you’d never know this if you listened to Mike and Chris who love to explain to Mets fans why there is no rational or legitimate basis for their hope and faith. Do they think that we don’t know that Bennie Agbayani or Mike Jacobs are almost certainly not going to be Babe Ruths? Do they think that we don’t know that the adrenalin boost after 9/11 is unlikely to lift the team above the mighty Braves? When it comes to Mets fans, Mike and Chris act like unhinged priests who have become the most cynical rationalists and are trampling on the simple piety of their parishioners. They don’t understand Mets fans. They don’t understand how what we want to do, on late summer afternoons in the middle of a winning streak, is gather our wild fantasies, bringing them together to ignite in a big ecstatic conflagration. We want the pleasure and the power of our improbable dreams. We don’t want two guys with funny voices pissing on our bonfire.
We could live with it, perhaps, if they made their points just once. But this is a radio show, after all, and people are turning them on all through the show. So, if you are listening for more than an hour, you have to endure the familiar wavelike rhythm of a Mike and the Mad Dog schtick. An assertion stirs, gathers force, builds in intensity and then pounds the shore, only to recede, gather and build and strike again a short time later. Then it happens again, and again, and again, because all the callers waiting on the line are responding to the same goddamn thing. Normally a topic holds through an entire afternoon and nothing can dislodge it, until at some point, Mike and Chris just let it go without ever saying that they are letting it go.
As a Mets fan, I have the capacity to listen to endless repetition when what is being repeated has to do with the Mets and is interesting to me. But Mike and the Mad Dog have a knack for finding Mets topics in which I am not at all interested. For example, on Opening Day in 2006, they devoted their entire program to what they felt was the travesty of the Mets new reliever, Billy Wagner, using the same song to announce his entrance as Mariano Rivera has used for years with the Yankees. Oh my God! Over and over, we get told that you just don’t do that (why?). Mariano is the greatest reliever ever (so what?). Everybody knows what song Mariano uses (they do?). The Mets and Yankees play in the same city (they do?). You can’t use the same song if they play in the same city (you can’t?). There is something really numbing about listening to this kind of thing over and over.
To prevent things from getting boring, Mike and Chris will sometimes take opposing sides of an issue. You can tell that at least one of them is just pretending. Usually it is the job of the Mad Dog to take what will be designated as the “crazy” position, so that Francesa can do his rational, authoritative, if only intermittently grammatical bit. It’s funny, though, how I find myself agreeing with the Mad Dog more often than I agree with Mike. I think it’s because his holy fool thing, his respect for his intuition, is more appealing to me as an approach to baseball than Mike’s effort to come across as a wise man.
I don’t know. I will keep listening to them. And I will keep getting annoyed. And I will just hope that the Mets will do something that Mike and Chris have said was impossible. And then I will listen to them give the Mets a lot of credit for doing it. I will hear them having to hand it to them. But they won’t admit that they were wrong in a way that really means anything. They’ll just admit that they were wrong in that “have to hand it to them” way.
[As those who have read my book already know, this is in Mets Fan. But I know that there are readers of this blog who haven't had a chance to read the book yet, and so I've taken advantage of the resignation of Mad Dog to reprint it here. I have to figure out what I think about the breakup of Mike and the Mad Dog. I mean, I don't like them. I actually think they're pretty good interviewers but horrendously bad analysts. They don't seem even to be aware that there could be such a thing as poets or philosophers of the game so I can't evaluate them in those categories. The thing is that I've kind of gotten used to them. You know what I mean? I have to think this through.]