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Mike Francesa: A Modern Day Dick Young



By Mike Silva ~ April 28th, 2011. Filed under: Mike Silva, Sports Media Commentary.

Back in the 1950s through the 1970s, here in New York City, there used to be a curmudgeonly sports columnist named Dick Young He was a right-wing conservative in every way and a brilliant baseball writer. He was the best-read and best-known writer in this huge market but as he got older, he became angrier and more detached from the players he covered. He began to spew out vitriolic opinions without the benefit of acquiring real facts to back up his rants. Readers began to whisper about Young in the same way fans watch the diminishing talents of an aging pitcher as he loses his fastball. Young’s readership eventually declined after many years at the Daily News and he left that newspaper.

The same thing is happening to Francesa, now. He is in the beginnings of a delusional state, seeing and ranting about things that don’t always have a basis in fact. Mike Fatcesa believes he can maintain his Arbitron ratings with silly, off the cuff, redundant remarks about his favorite targets: the New York Mets organization, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Rex Ryan, Tiger Woods, ESPNRadio and any callers who disagree with him, He’s become a laughable despot who is only surviving in this business because of the lack of existing talent to compete with the WFAN brand. He continues to laugh, truly laugh all the way to the bank and appears not to care one iota how people criticize his work. – Scott Mandal of Sports Reporters

I will preface this column by saying I don’t have much firsthand experience with Dick Young. I vaguely remember his NY Post column that suggested Mets fans “stand up and boo” when Dwight Gooden returned from his first drug suspension in June of 1987. With that said, there are enough stories passed down to get a good idea about what the man was all about.

The parallels between Young and Francesa are pretty strong. Both were innovators in their industry, both distinguished themselves with hard hitting analysis, both became agenda driven and curmudgeonly during the sunset of their career.

Dick Young is credited with being one of the first to infiltrate the clubhouse. The “milk and cookies” reporting was soon a thing of the past. Ironically, we have seen the mainstream media go backwards in this regard as corporate interests has made many beat reporter’s extensions of teams PR departments. Instead of waxing poetic about the games we watch, Young revealed what is going on behind the curtain. The world of sports isn’t paved with gold, and players aren’t drinking milk during the postgame.

Young’s hard hitting style didn’t make many friends, but later in his career it became apparent he was becoming more agenda driven. This was specifically the case with Tom Seaver’s contract negotiations. Young personally attacked Seaver calling him “greedy,” and citing Seaver and his wife’s friendship with Nolan Ryan and family. Many believe Young’s goal was to run Seaver out of town. He did, and to this day is blamed by that generation of Mets fans for what is now known as the “midnight massacre.”

This even happened later in Young’s career when he started to resist change, and spout off about “what his America is all about.” He specifically hated how television was becoming part of the media landscape, obviously since it was making his job harder. He was also becoming less relevant.

This is a carbon copy of what we see with Mike Francesa and WFAN today. When sports talk radio hit the scene in 1987 it was fresh, new, and innovative. The hosts were informed, news was broken on the air, and the feuds were real and entertaining. You didn’t have to wait for the evening news, or your morning paper to hear the latest in sports. It was also entertaining. Who can forget Kevin McReynolds wife calling Francesa and his partner Chris Russo because they criticized her husband’s weight? Bud Harrelson and Jeff Torborg quit their talk radio programs because of the tough questions. Even the hosts publicly feuded on the air, making for great drama.

Alas, that has changed over the last decade. The internet has created a more informed fan. The gap between the hosts and listeners is paper thin, in most cases the listener is better informed than the host. Instead of embracing change, you never see an independent blog, or some of the new age writers appear as guests. Paid guests are becoming more a part of the landscape. Even worse, corporate interests are sanitizing the content, forcing boring narratives and contrived debate as the soul of the product. The internet is what talk radio used to be in this town.

That angers someone like Mike Francesa. He talks about ratings, but a sign of someone who is past their prime is when they talk about how great they are. Instead of embracing change he fights the internet, twitter, and any social media. The internet to Francesa is what television was to Young. Its new, makes his job harder, and doesn’t respect his right to control the industry. Remember, freedom takes away leverage from those in power. When those in power are no longer relevant they need to stack the deck in their favor.  A perfect example of the power of the internet is a recent clip posted by Bob Blitz which catches Francesa lying to a caller about knowing something when he clearly looks it up in the newspaper.  Yes, there is a computer in front of him, but the paper is where Francesa gets his eight hour old news.

In order to survive Francesa needs his Tom Seaver. He needs to contrive debate to push his agenda, and continue the perception that he is relevant. He does this through angry calls. That is why you see him attack Jose Reyes, David Wright, and the New York Mets. That is why he goes after Rex Ryan and the Jets. The NFL is his latest target as he tries to portray himself as a defender of the fans. He lashes out against rich white business owners, but Francesa clearly values money and status when he judges people. Kiss enough butt up the CBS ladder and turn yourself into a sanitized talking head (see Jim Nantz) and you are a star to Francesa. Work your way from the basement to national baseball columnist (see Rob Neyer) and you don’t exist.

Unfortunately, Francesa is a bit more relevant than Dick Young at a similar time in his career. This will change, I assure you. Tough times are coming for talk radio and WFAN. I predict wireless technology will soon allow people to listen to internet radio in their vehicle. That is when the 25 and under crowd will turn on “The Jonah Keri Podcast” before they listen to Francesa spout ignorance. When the value of your show is “tweets” that mock your performance you know the end is near.

We never got to see how ugly the end for Dick Young would be since he passed away in August of 1987. He was 70, but I don’t think he was close to hanging it up. I suspect Mike Francesa, although in a different medium, will perform the closing act that we didn’t see with Young. When he goes talk radio changes. It’s coming, but the sad part is he doesn’t know or care. He soon will.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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8 Responses to Mike Francesa: A Modern Day Dick Young

  1. tnt1528

    you forgit to mention that after calling seaver greedy,young left the news for the ny post for more money……if the mets left wfan there will be no reason to put it on.(see 620 am)

  2. Michael Maggi

    WFAN….LOL….that’s all I have to say

  3. ira

    Gee whiz, that guy Mandel wrote his column in May 2010, a year ago, and you are just now rehashing his column to criticize Francesa? Evidently, you could not think of anything original to write, so you used someone else’s idea to write an easy column attacking a person. You also never read Dick Young’s column on Dwight Gooden, which has been distorted by the Dick Young haters. The column was written in 1987, on the day of Gooden’s first game back from drug rehab. Here’s what Dick wrote (and I am paraphrasing): when Gooden comes out, boo him to express your displeasure that he was using and abusing drugs. When he leaves the game, applaud him, welcome him back, and forgive him. You may not agree, but it is not a neanderthal thought. Stop picking on Francesa.

  4. Bud Fiisher

    You are going to regret this column. You will someday be as irrelevent as you think Francesa is now. (And “Fatsesa”? Reallly? Is that degree from kindergarten? You are are already out of the PC thinking of today’s vital youth. They are sex blind, color blind, sexuality blind and WEIGHT blind. Dude, Francesa needs a partner. But everyone does, And I agree with the person before me. Leave him alone. He does a relevent talk show.

  5. Mike Silva

    @ Ira

    First, what does it matter “when” Mandel wrote the article? If anything Francesa is equally as bad, if not worse, than a year ago. I found the piece and piggybacked on the idea. Not sure why that bothers you? Second, how do you know what I did and didn’t read? I am 34, do I remember Young? Not really, but as a young baseball fan I remember the Gooden column. I also talked to those that do remember Young, and they agree with much of my sentiment about him.

    Picking on Francesa? How can you be comfortable or “leave alone” someone who clearly is mailing in an effort with the kind of money he makes? On Friday, a caller says Jose Reyes clearly “didn’t have a hamstring injury” in 2009. Francesa didn’t even point out the guy had surgery. His agenda each day is to pick on the easy target so he can rack up the calls on a show that very rarely has unpaid guests. For five million dollars a year is this an honest effort? If you put in the effort at your job that Francesa does at his job would you still be employed? This “leave Francesa alone” mantra is not progressing radio which is falling behind the internet in terms of relevance.

    @Bud

    I don’t agree with Mandal using the term “Fatcessa.” You deal realize that quote in italics was not my words, but a citation of another column. Francesa weight is always off limits in my book so we agree there. As for regret about this column? I will never regret letting the reader know what a sham talk radio in this city has become. A guy making 5 million dollars a year needs a couple of interns to tell him what is going on in the hockey world. He rarely watches any games, and takes calls all day. Is that really a hard hitting expert? Or is that Debbie the Time Life Operator?

    As for you praising this “vital youth” lets not wax poetic about this generation and their values. The 25 and under crowd leaves much to be desired. Just like Baby Boomers, like yourself, need to stop giving passes to relic talk show hosts because you feel comfortable with the status quo.

    Weak arguments by both of you – with all due respect of course.

  6. Ira

    I don’t know who you spoke with about Dick Young. Bill Gallo? Lupica (who was no fan of Young and visa versa)?

    Your column did not “bother” me, at all. Please do not project sentiments that I do not feel.
    I would be remiss if I did not point out the irony of your accusing Mike with being lazy, when you admit that you “piggybacked” on top of someone else’s year-old column and did not add any new thoughts to what Mandel offered. Now THAT’S mailing it in!

    Since it is your column you will have the last word. You can satisfy yourself with snappy rejoinders, but methinks thou protesteth too much!

    …with all due respect, of course!

  7. Mike Silva

    Ira

    Look at this site and radio show, which I do by myself, plus a full time job, and I guarantee you I have worked harder on this thing than anything Francesa has done in well over 15 years. If the effort of the stars in radio mirrored what I do that column would never come to fruition.

    Bottom line: you are a Francesa apologist.

  8. Dan Berman4

    Insightful column. Francesa s a curmudgeon and he is becoming a boor. He had a good thing going with Russo.

    http://pinetarandbrickbats.blogspot.com/2011/05/nothing-left-to-say.html

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