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The Suffocating Insecurities of Mike Francesa

Pity Mike Francesa. He’s a very insecure man. Today he interviewed James Hirsch, the author of the wonderful Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend [1], and turned the conversation as well as the remainder of his show into a referendum (with his vote the only one that counts) on Mickey Mantle being better or more clutch or more forthcoming or a nicer person than Willie Mays. Even in begrudgingly acknowledging Mays’ unsurpassed all-around greatness, Francesa had to keep injecting Mantle, Mantle and more Mantle into the program.

I found this fascinating, not for the content, but for what it reveals yet again about Francesa, New York’s most listened-to sports talk host and highest-profile über Yankees fan. He couldn’t stand the idea that his childhood idol Mantle wasn’t being celebrated. The book, mind you, covers Mays’ entire life and career. It’s not a comparison of centerfielders at whom New Yorkers and baseball fans were fortunate enough to marvel during the same era. Mantle is not disrespected in this book. He’s just one character in a sweeping biography. Hirsch wrote about Mays, not Mantle. There are plenty of books about Mantle. This simply isn’t one of them.

Not good enough for Francesa, who immediately told Hirsch  — because it mattered to Francesa — that he’s “pro-Mickey Mantle” and, therefore, “anti-Willie Mays”.

This is a delineation a six-year-old makes.

It also fits the pattern of Francesa endlessly dismissing the Mets, the Jets and just about anything that isn’t the Yankees or that he can’t somehow connect to the Yankees. The football Giants, since they used to play in Yankee Stadium (and employ a coach who once served under his onetime BFF Bill Parcells), seem exempt from such condescension. I noticed on his performance art showcase that aired on Channel 4 the Sunday night after the Jets clinched their playoff spot that Francesa had to lead with an observation on how badly the Giants had played that afternoon, but we’ll get to them later…oh yeah, the Jets made the playoffs.

This was obviously the fault of the Jets for rhyming with Mets, which automatically devalues them to Francesa, the six-year-old who can’t stand attention being paid to anything that doesn’t smack of pinstripes.

Willie Mays? An all-time great? The subject of a new book, which is why you have on the guest you have on? So what? WAAAH! I WANNA TALK ABOUT MICKEY MANTLE! HE WAS MY FAVORITE PLAYER WHEN I WAS LITTLE! Reminded me of another misguided listening adventure many years ago when I tuned in to hear Francesa and his erstwhile brain-free partner speak to actor and Mets fan Tim Robbins. First thing Francesa said to Robbins was, hey, we should get you together with Chazz Palminteri, he’s an actor and a big Yankees fan!

Robbins was too polite to ask what I would have in that situation:

“What the fuck does Chazz Palminteri have to do with me at this moment?”

I don’t recall the impetus for Tim Robbins appearing, but I do know it wasn’t Subway Series Smack Talk or anything like that. Alas, Robbins was a Mets fan, and that couldn’t be taken at face value. Francesa had to make it about the Yankees, because that’s what a preternaturally insecure, hopelessly childish Yankees fan does.

Perhaps you’ve encountered examples of such behavior in your own life, off the air.

I have a hunch Mike Silva’s interview with Hirsch this Sunday evening at 9:00 on NY Baseball Digest [2] will be far more focused on the subject matter at hand.