Who's gonna buck me up this summer? Who's gonna remind me that when things look bad that they really look good? Who's gonna tell me to forget everything I know and instead remember everything I don't?
Who's gonna boost my cahn-fidence?
It's been said that one of the profound effects of losing a parent is that you lose someone who was generally a cheerleader in your life. If that's so, what's it like to lose somebody who talked to you like you were a three-year-old but always with the intention of making you believe that the thing you had a child's attachment to was very, very good?
Who's gonna lead our vapid cheers now that Fran Healy has been invited to keep himself at a safe distance from the Mets cablecasting booth?
The whole Fran Healy thing has been the longest-running mystery in Mets history. Some people wonder why Kenny Rogers was sent out to pitch the eleventh. Others scratch their heads over why Randy Myers wasn't warming up in order to face Mike Scioscia. There are probably fans who want to know who thought placing a ballpark at the far end of the Delta runway at LaGuardia was a bright idea. But those are easy compared to deconstructing this stat:
MOST SEASONS ANNOUNCING METS ON TV AND/OR RADIO, 1962-2005
Ralph Kiner: 44
Bob Murphy: 42
Fran Healy: 22
Lindsey Nelson: 17
Gary Cohen: 17
Tim McCarver: 16
Gary Thorne: 13
Howie Rose: 10
Rusty Staub: 10
Ed Coleman: 10
How wrong is this? Look at it this way:
You wake up Metsopotamians of a certain vintage in the middle of a sound sleep even now and ask them to name Mets announcers, and the name Lindsey Nelson will come up no later than fourth as they gather their thoughts. That's how strong his imprint was on the collective Met consciousness. That's how identified the original trio of Lindsey, Ralph and Bob is with the franchise still.
Fran Healy is the third-longest tenured Mets announcer in team history. He's five seasons ahead of Lindsey Freaking Nelson! LINDSEY FREAKING NELSON!
As best as I've been able to determine since 1984, Fran's first year as SportsChannel broadcaster for the New York Mets, no Mets fan likes Fran Healy. Sure, some people may not hate him, or they tolerate him, or they say it doesn't matter who does the games because they're going to watch the games no matter what. That is the highest praise I've been able to divine.
Fran Healy — he was not always minded.
Somebody calls your games for nearly a quarter-of-a-century and there should be more than that. Somebody should be a cherished institution. Beloved. That voice should be conjured in January to produce a smile. “Wow, if I close my eyes, I can hear Fran Healy. April can't be too far off now.”
I don't often speak for every Mets fan but in this case I will. Nobody — nobody — felt that way about Fran Healy.
We're in the early stages of 20th anniversary mode here, right? If you were creating a pitch-perfect Old Timers Day to celebrate 1986, you'd want as many touches as possible. You'd be willing to put aside your animus for certain guys for an afternoon. Me, I can't stand Gary Thorne, but I'd want to hear Gary Thorne introduce some players from '86 (he can do Randy Niemann). Tim McCarver's been estranged from the organization but Tim McCarver should come back. Steve Zabriskie should come back.
Fran Healy, who called close to half of the games of the best season in the history of this enterprise, should come nowhere near Shea Stadium for the occasion. Should come nowhere near Shea Stadium at all in 2006.
And he won't, at least not in the capacity that he has for the past 22 seasons.
Surely you've heard by now that Snigh has gone the ex-Met route to complement Gary Cohen, that the fearless Keith Hernandez and the adjective-to-be-determined Ron Darling will be the new house voices, and that everybody else we've heard on Mets TV of late will either be deleted or reduced.
And that Fran Healy will have nothing to do with anything. Fran Healy, as SportsNet New York dryly replied when asked if he was in their plans, is under contract to MSG Network for another year.
So don't cry for Francis Xavier Healy. He continues on the Dolan dole. I've seen him on SportsDesk a couple of times over the winter as their Baseball Analyst. He's looked lost. John Giannone or whichever host is on duty tosses him slow curves (“Fran, what about second base?”) and Healy fouls them off. He no longer has to tell us that Willie Randolph (or Dallas Green or Buddy Harrelson) is going to work wonders with Kaz Matsui (or Jeff Kent or Gregg Jefferies), so he searches for actual analysis. It's not there. He tells us that, uh, yeah, that could be a problem for the Mets.
That's not what Fran Healy tells us. Fran Healy tells us Kaz is coming around in winter ball or is working out vigorously in Japan or getting first-class tutoring from Matt Galante and that he's going to come to camp rarin' to go.
Fran Healy whispers sweet nothings in our ear. We say we don't want to hear it anymore but when the time comes to be told unpleasant truths (“no, Gary, Kaz hasn't improved one iota and the Mets may as well leave a Pitchback out there if they don't want Reyes to break a leg covering his position as well as Matsui's”), will we be able to handle it? Have we unknowingly become dependent on Fran Healy spoonfeeding us his own special brand of analysis? Will we still want to buy tickets if neither Mex nor Ronnie has the presence of mind to tell us that those Cubbies will be coming to town on the 8th, 9th and 10th and that Shea will be rocking?
It's not like we haven't had time to work on our withdrawal. Seen any Hot Stove Report? Me neither. That was Fran's baby. MSG, a fair and balanced sports operation if ever one existed, pulled the plug. Hence, nobody has appeared this offseason to ask David Wright what it's like to compete in the most intense city in the world, to inquire of Paul Lo Duca what it will be like to compete in the most intense city in the world, to get a feel from Jerry Grote for what it was like to compete in the most intense city in the world.
Likewise, there will be no Spring Training Report (I always liked how Fran felt it necessary at winter's end to explain how it and Hot Stove weren't the same thing), no chats with Omar Minaya around the Indian River Plantation Resort conference room about which relievers might have the stuff to compete in the world's most intense city. And, finally, there will be no New York Mets Inside Pitch television show popping up more often than Doug Mientkiewicz with men on base, no interviews with Steve Trachsel about what it's like to compete in the world's most intense city.
That was just the Fran ephemera. Fran Healy didn't really come alive until gametime. For every nine innings of Mets baseball on cable — my god, we paid for this — we got six of Fran. More in extras. Every Met victory called by Fran Healy was a triumph of the human spirit. Every Met loss called by Fran Healy was a mere aberration. A team as good as the New York Mets hadn't so much lost as it had delayed winning another night. Shea will be rocking.
Why couldn't Fran Healy pull it off? Why did we so embrace Bob Murphy's optimism on behalf of a team that frequently found itself chanceless as the stuff of eternal heart and soul and dismiss Fran Healy as a shill and a tool, corporate and otherwise?
For a million reasons, I'm guessing. Bob was warm. Fran was calculating. Bob gave us hope. Fran misled us. Bob was real. Fran was a fraud. Bob Murphy was a Hall of Fame announcer who painted a word picture. Fran Healy stepped all over the action with Calls to the Bullpen sponsored by Omnipoint and Build-A-Bear Workshop Day spots.
Then there was the problem of figuring out what on earth Fran Healy was doing in the Mets booth. Ralph Kiner was a Pirate and Tim McCarver was a Phillie, but they were part of the family in no time at all. Fran Healy had been a Skank. Not just a Skank, but a Skankcaster. He was whooping it up with the Scooter for several seasons before alighting with the Mets in '84.
Not only was there an anti-connection in terms of where he came from, but what suggested he would contribute anything? Did you ever watch a game and learn anything from Fran Healy? I mean in the way Tom Seaver can tell you about pitching and Ralph Kiner can tell you about hitting and Tim McCarver can tell you about catching? Healy wasn't an All-Star but he wasn't Bob Uecker. He had a decent career. But he brought nothing of substance from that phase of his life to his viewers. Did you ever, say, see the wheel put on and think, “oh yeah, Fran explained why they do that”? He came across as the ex-jock who figured the fans would be none the wiser as long as he offered no wisdom.
There were various rumors and theories given for why Fran Healy endured for two-plus decades as a Mets announcer even though nobody liked him and he wasn't any good at it. Charles Dolan wanted him there. Nelson Doubleday wanted him there. The sponsors wanted him there. Halls of Fame was too valuable a property to screw with. After a while, I think Fran maintained his spot the same way Milton did in Office Space. He had been laid off years earlier but a computer glitch kept spitting out paychecks, so Fran just kept coming to work until somebody dared to snatch his red Swingline stapler from him.
One more possibility: In every establishing shot, Fran appeared far taller than everybody he worked with. Maybe the powers that be were afraid to tell him to take a hike. Milton burned down the Innotech office park when he was pushed into the basement. Why risk an unhappy confrontation?
I wish I could be more charitable toward Fran Healy as he doesn't approach the 23rd season of his Mets broadcasting tenure. I can be for everybody else who won't be a Mets announcer anymore. While I won't cobble black armbands to mourn the departures from Met matters of Ted Robinson, Dave O'Brien and Matt Loughlin, I appreciated their professionalism and wish them well. I do hope Kiner (the classest of acts) and Seaver (an on-air disappointment but still Tom Seaver) are given something to do because of who they are and what I think they still have to offer.
But Fran Healy? The excellence of Gary & Howie on radio was only half the reason I turned down the sound on my TV these last couple of years.
Find more thoughts on what Snigh is and isn't doing at the snappily redesigned Gotham Baseball.