Saturday, March 15, 2014

A day in the life of Mike Francesa-Neil Best, Newsday

3/15/14, "A trip to Mike FrancesaLand," Neil Best, Newsday

"Ignore for a moment the high-definition televisions and it was easy to imagine the rooms in their original, mid-20th century masculine glory.

The wood is dark, the fireplaces work and the favored figures in frames include John F. Kennedy, Mickey Mantle and assorted race horses.

This is where Mike Francesa watches most of the games he talks about on the radio: an upstairs office and basement viewing room in the Manhasset home he shares with his wife, Roe, and three children.

The spaces look as you would expect of a prosperous, old-school baby boomer on the cusp of his 60th birthday Thursday, but also one busy keeping up with 9-year-old twins and a 7-year-old.

When he walked downstairs before leaving for work this past Thursday, he encountered Elmo emoting on the largest of three big screens. He switched over to Fox Sports 1, which will simulcast his WFAN show starting March 24.

It still was early on another day he would spend entertaining, informing and frequently maddening metropolitan-area sports fans, a job he has been at for a quarter-century during which he has become an iconic New York lightning rod.

Francesa is fine with that.

"The one good thing is nobody has ignored me," he said. "You don't have to have them love you. You don't have to have them hate you. You just have to have them want to listen to you no matter what.

"I have people say to me, 'I never miss you. You drive me crazy.' I say, 'You know what? That's music to my ears.' "

Kennedy, Ruth and Imus

Francesa rises at about 6:30 or 7 each morning, helps get twins Jack and Emily and their brother Harrison ready for school, then takes them to the bus stop near the end of his driveway at 8:25.

The next couple of hours are reserved for reading, making calls and preparing for that afternoon's show, most of that time spent in the office at the heart of the first floor.

The family bought the 74-year-old house in 2008 and spent a year renovating it before moving in from another part of town. (They live a few blocks from WFAN morning co-host Boomer Esiason.)

The office was a key element of the project. It prominently features a series of pictures of Kennedy, one of them taken from behind in the oval office. It was a gift from Francesa's former partner, Chris Russo.

An entire cabinet is filled with books on the former president. "I know more about John F. Kennedy than I do about the New York Yankees," Francesa said.

The spacious viewing room, complete with full bar, is where he usually settles in for hours-long events such as the NCAA Tournament and NFL Sundays.

It adjoins a hallway full of framed memorabilia, most of it gifts, including an image of Babe Ruth signed by his now- 97-year-old daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens.

There also is a picture of a 25-year-old promotional ad on the side of a building in the city featuring Francesa, Russo and Don Imus. It is one of Francesa's favorites.

Morning drive time

Come 11 a.m., Francesa got into the passenger seat of the SUV in which Julio Rosa drives him to the WFAN studios in lower Manhattan each morning.

To call Rosa merely a "driver" is to sell him far short. He is a retired New York City police detective who has been with Francesa the past four years as a protector and confidant. "He's part of the family," Francesa said.

Rosa now lives in Center Moriches but once was known as a frequent WFAN caller, Julio from Bay Ridge, whose passions were the Yankees and 49ers.

He got to know Francesa when he was on duty at Yankee Stadium and would insist on accompanying him to his car after games.

"I'm always thinking like a cop," Rosa said. "I'd say, 'Mike, what the hell are you doing walking by yourself on Gerard Avenue?' I'm a little cynical."

Rosa said it was mere weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when Francesa first brought up the notion of hiring Rosa after he reached retirement age -- then more than eight years away.

"I don't miss the police department, but I do miss the bonds, the camaraderie," Rosa said. "We have that every day. We get in the car and talk about movies, books . . . Sometimes it reminds me of my old career."

Francesa conducts extensive personal and professional business sitting beside Rosa, so trust is a must.

"He's in on every conversation," Francesa said. "There's nothing that Julio doesn't know -- nothing."

Being driven to Manhattan frees him to get work done. This day he traded texts with producer Brian Monzo, who got OKs for interviews with Greg Anthony and Manhattan basketball coach Steve Masiello.

It was an easy travel day, with arrival at 345 Hudson Street before noon. Not every commute goes that smoothly.

"We had one recently where I said, 'Turn down this block! What the heck are you doing?!' '' Francesa said. "I'm cursing at [Rosa] in the car and yelling and screaming at the poor guy. Nothing gets me angrier than being late."

Tardiness, he said, "drives me nuts. That day I actually made them play commercials until 1:08 so I wasn't late."

Two Diet Cokes in five hours

Between noon and 1, Francesa ate lunch in his office, opened the first of what he insisted would be only two 20-ounce Diet Cokes for the day and made a call seeking information about Darrelle Revis' deal with the Patriots.

It would be a topic-rich show, including Justin Tuck leaving the Giants and the Big East Tournament underway.

Francesa agonized as he watched his alma mater, St. John's, blow the chance to complete a comeback over Providence, uttering a series of disgusted groans during a botched late possession.

At 3:45, Eric Shanks, the president of Fox Sports, visited to welcome him to the fold. Francesa told him he was concerned about the relative lack of distribution of Fox Sports 2, which will simulcast him from 4 to 6 p.m.

Francesa dismissed complaints that the station is not in HD on many systems. "There are certain people you need on TV in HD," he said. "I'm not one of them.""...(video of Francesa at link)

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