Editor’s note: In conjunction with Grantland’s oral history of the launch of WFAN, it’s only fitting that we open the Sports Guy’s Vault and relive the running diary of the Mike and the Mad Dog column from May 12, 2006. Just for fun, 2012 Bill wrote footnotes for 2006 Bill’s piece.
Recently, I realized something. Even though I have written 700-750 columns over the past five years for ESPN, there have been an alarming number of ideas that I always wanted to write and never got around to actually writing.
Two years ago, the YES Network installed cameras inside the “Mike and the Mad Dog” studios for a daily simulcast show. Why is this relevant? Because it’s my favorite radio show ever. As I have mentioned many times in this space, I despise pretty much all forms of sports radio at this point, and it’s mainly because Mike and the Dog are so entertaining. For five hours every day, you feel like you’re listening to two guys arguing at a sports bar (Kornheiser and Wilbon are like that as well). With Mike and the Dog, radio doesn’t feel contrived or forced, you don’t have to listen to guys screaming and fake-laughing at each other’s jokes, and they will absolutely not pander to the “hot button” subjects of the day. They’re just shooting the shiznit for five hours.
This also makes for a fascinatingly weird TV show. Dog (Chris Russo) fidgets the entire time and never stops playing with his glasses (they’re on, they’re off, they’re on, they’re off). Mike (Francesa) stares down at his desk most of the time, tapping his pen and rarely moving, like he’s working on a crossword puzzle. They rarely make eye contact with one another; sometimes, they won’t look up for five or 10 minutes. I’m not even sure if they like each other sometimes.1 But I’ve been waiting to keep a running diary of their show for two years, and with two big New York baseball series happening (Mets-Phils, Yanks-Sox), as well as the NBA playoffs, this seemed like the perfect time to cross this one off the “columns I always wanted to write” list.
Here’s what transpired Thursday
1:04 PM EST — Our first sight of Mike and Dog in the split-screen setup: Dog on the left, wearing an orange sweater and old-school headphones and looking like a cross between Henry Winkler and Vinny Del Negro;2 Mike facing him from the right, wearing a dark-blue cardigan and Walkman-like headphones and looking like he just had lunch by himself at Bada Bing! Mike is strangely intimidating on TV; he carries himself like a Superior Court judge who’s about to hand down a sentence.
Dog starts the show off the same way every day: “AhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhHHHHHHHH good aftahnoon ev-wee-buddy!” Never gets old for some reason.
1:07 — Discussing Wednesday night’s events (big wins for the Yankes and Mets), Mike says the locals “flexed their muscles,” adding, “Tommy [Glavine] gets a laugh-ah, a legitimate laugh-ah, an early-GAME laugh-ah.”
(By the way, if you love this show and you haven’t spent at least 100 hours imitating their voices I don’t believe you. Mike sounds a little like Yogi Bear, only if Yogi was an Italian bear living in the Bronx. Dog sounds like well, I don’t know if the Dog can be described. In fact, let’s not even try.)3
1:08 — One of my favorite running segments: The boys replay John Sterling’s over-the-top home run calls and “The Yankees win thhhhhhhhh Yankees win!” finishing call from the previous night’s game, with Dog giggling after each sound bite and Mike fighting off a smile. It’s very hard to get Mike to laugh unless he’s the one who just told the joke — he’s kinda like Adam Carolla in this way.
1:11 — Dog wonders how many times over the past few years the Red Sox have come into Yankee Stadium, won the first game of a series, then gotten smothered in the next two. I think he’s reverse-jinxing the Yanks tonight. He does stuff like this.
(Strange twist with the Dog: He’s a die-hard Giants fan who usually loves twisting the knife with Yankees fans; his joyous show after Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS should have been immediately sent to the Smithsonian. Meanwhile, Francesa is a huge, huh-yuge Yankees fan. See, this would never work in Boston — you could never have an anti-Sox guy hosting a drive-time show. He’d end up getting shanked by Murph and Sully one night outside the Cask ‘n Flagon after a tough Sox loss. And you think I’m kidding.)4
1:14 — Discussing Mussina, Dog says the phrase “tremendous job” for the first time today. If you were going to gamble on various aspects of the TV show, four of the wagers would have to be “Who says ‘tremendous job’ first?” “Who says ‘huh-yuge’ first?” “What’s the over/under for times Mike emerges from another room with a Diet Coke right as they’re coming back from a commercial?” and “What’s the over-under for times Dog has a laughing fit/seizure?”
1:17 — Dog struggles to say the word “Phillies.” He’s not strong with his l‘s and his r‘s. That’s part of his charm. I don’t think any of us will ever forget the time he attempted to say the name “Rheal Cormier.”
1:20 — After a Schiraldi-like gaze into the camera, WFAN’s John Minko bangs out our first 20/20 Sports Flash. That’s one of my favorite features of any televised radio show — the news guy doing his report with an uncomfortable, “Wait, I got into radio so I wouldn’t have to be on TV!” look on his face. Couldn’t we have a token hot chick in this spot? Would you rather see John Minko for 25 90-second spots, or Trishelle from Real World?
1:24 — “Sports radio, 66 THE FAN! W F-A-N!” Nobody has better jingles than this show. My favorite is the prolonged one at the start of the hour that goes, “They’re going at it as hard as they can! Mike and the Mad Dog, on the FAN. Nothing can get by ’em, turn it on and try ’em Mike and the Mad Dog! W-F-A-N!!!!!”5
(And if that runs through your head for the rest of the day well, now you know how I feel.)
1:25 — Joe From The Cell thinks Carlos Beltran looks comfortable. Dog agrees, then takes a big swig of a Snapple. This somehow morphs into a discussion about how Mickey Mantle hit better from the right side than the left side. This show keeps you on your toes, I’ll tell ya.
1:26 — Carl from Philadelphia admits that Philly is a bad baseball town, but blames Charlie Manuel and the crappy Phillies’ starting rotation (both theories skewered by Mike and Dog), followed by their dumping the caller and Dog theorizing that the ’94 strike killed baseball in two cities, “Philly and Toronto.” Apparently he hasn’t been to a Royals game lately. That’s followed by Artie from New Jersey babbling about bad umpires and Mike successfully using the word “ascertained.” I’m really enjoying myself.
1:36 — Mike reads a one-minute Mohegan Sun promo. I could listen to Mike read just about anything random — Star Jones’s autobiography, Michael Bolton lyrics, the Emergency Broadcast System’s test message, an erectile dysfunction ad, you name it — and be thoroughly entertained. But that’s just me.
1:38 — Now we’re cooking. Mike gleefully teases Dog about the tepid crowds at his recent book signings (he just released a book of sports lists). Dog wonders if it has been a little of a “been there, done that” thing after the success of his previous book, followed by Mike saying he’s puzzled by the planning of the signings against Yanks-Sox and Phils-Mets: “Yankees-Sox, that’s a special night, you don’t get too many!” Dog has higher hopes for his signing at a Bridgeport Bluefish minor league game next week, a revelation that ends up leading to the first “huge” of the day.
“They pack ’em in,” Mike gushes. “They pack them in. That team is a huh-yuge success. They are a smash. They are a huh-yuge success. They sell out every game!”
(Important note: In the summer of 1993, I once drove down to the Jersey shore with my college roomie JackO — we listened to Mike and the Dog for five solid hours, then spent the rest of the weekend imitating them. I’m not kidding. Stuff like, “Hey Dawg, I know this girl is as dumb as a rock, but if I can get her to come home with me, that would be huh-yuge” and “Hey, Dawg, I have a huge, huh-yuge hangovah right now.” Needless to say, neither of us hooked up that weekend. There’s a lesson here.)6
1:48 — A caller named Vinny wonders if Mike Mussina is a potential Hall of Famer, leading to a raucous Don Drysdale discussion (don’t ask) that includes Dog breaking out the Baseball Encyclopedia and reading Drysdale’s year-by-year stats as Mike decides if each good season was HOF-worthy with a definitive “yes” or “no.” In the end, they decide he’s a Hall of Famer. Strangely riveting.
2:06 — Dog reports that the parking lots around Yankee Stadium jump from $10 to $30 for Red Sox games. He’s outraged. Somehow that morphs into a 10-minute discussion about Leigh Montville’s new Babe Ruth book and a bunch of Ruth stories and anecdotes. By the way, it’s nice to hear the name “Babe Ruth” without bracing for the inevitable Red Sox joke that makes me want to punch someone in the face. One of the top-750 greatest outcomes of the 2004 World Series.
2:18 — I’m enjoying the YES Network promos. “Tonight at 11 on Yankeeography John Flaherty beats the odds to become the most mediocre backup catcher in Yankee history! That’s followed by a special edition of CenterStage: The 250,000th Most Awkward Moments in the History of the Show, hosted by Michael Kay!”
2:27 — More Mussina talk, capped off by Dog asking Mike what he’d give Mussina for his next contract. Mike mulls it over, glances down, glances up, then definitively rules, “I’d give him 39 [million dollars] over three years,” as if there was no other possible answer. Then they play the Hall of Fame year-by-year game with Mussina. ’92, ’94, ’95, ’99, ’01, ’03 all get “yes” votes from Mike, who decides, “He’s clos-ah than we thought.” 7
(Note: I don’t even know how to react to this discussion. I mean, it’s Mike Mussina! Did you ever check the newspaper and say, “Wow, Mike Mussina is in town tonight! I need to get down to the ballpark and scalp some tickets! This is my one chance to see Mike Mussina!” Now he’s a borderline Hall of Famer? I give up.)
2:35 — Mike cracks Dog up for the second time today. Dog might have the most infectious radio laugh ever — he sounds like an absolute lunatic when he gets going. Reason no. 346 why I love this show.
2:36 — And here’s reason no. 347: So far we’ve had callers named Vinny, Nick and Joey and it’s not even 3 p.m. yet. By the way, if I were ever hosting one of these split-screen shows, I would go crazy after awhile — start growing crazy goatees and Fu Manchus, paint “YES!” on the side of my face that faces the camera, come back from a commercial shirtless, that kinda stuff. Wouldn’t you get bored? Wait, don’t answer that.
2:44 — Commercial note: I don’t think I will ever forgive Foxwoods for changing its theme song. It was tough enough when Loews dropped the “Thank you for coming to Loews, sit back and relax, enjoy THE SHOW” song. Now this?
2:48 — A new caller (Larry) gives the boys the “first time, long time” intro (always enjoyable), followed by a Jim Thorpe tangent and Francesa universally deciding that “no athlete in this country was ever screwed worse than Jim Thorpe was.” Dog decides against playing the “Wait, more than every black baseball player before 1947?” card. Disappointing.
2:57 — Sal from Yonkers is on the line! We’re one Mario and one Frank away from completing the Vinny-Nick-Joey-Sal-Mario-Frank WFAN quinfecta! I had 3:45 in the office pool.
2:59 — John from Philly tries to play the “it’s the owner’s fault that Philly baseball fans don’t care” card, followed by Mike and Dog massacring the argument, as Mike emphatically adds, “It’s not a good baseball town it is NOT a good baseball town.”
That’s a Mike specialty — making a point once, then repeating the same point by slowing down the sentence and emphasizing the word “not.” For some reason, this has not gotten old in 15 years. This has NOT gotten old in 15 years.
3:12 — On the phone right now: Boxing historian Bert Sugar discusses the career of Floyd Patterson, who died Thursday. Informative and interesting, especially because no other drive-time show would consider spending a segment remembering a boxing champ from 45 years ago. Also, Dog just tried to say the word “trilogy” three different times (he went 1-for-3).
3:30 — We’re at the 25-minute mark with Bert Sugar on a day with Yanks-Sox, Phils-Mets and the NBA/NHL playoffs happening. I think Mike and the Dog reached collective “I’m Keith Hernandez” status about 12 years ago.8
3:45 — Now we’re getting Patterson calls. I’m openly zoning out and reading the YES Network news ticker. How in God’s name did Jason Kidd make the All-Defense first team? Who was the other guard, Steve Nash? If you give up 40 points to Anthony Johnson in a playoff game, shouldn’t the vote be reversed?
3:48 — Coming out of a commercial for Michael Kay’s interview with Danica Patrick on CenterStage — and that sentence is funny in itself — Mike shakes his head in disbelief and says, “I know she’s an attractive lady, but her claim to fame is that she led the Indianapolis 500 for a lap?”
(Hey, Mike, would you feel better about that CenterStage booking if you knew that their other options were Rick Cerone, Frank Stallone and Danny Almonte?)
3:55 — All right, we might need to buy poor Dog’s book. Mike is killing him about the book signing turnouts; now he’s saying that Dog might have to go door-to-door next week to boost sales, prompting Dog’s third laugh/seizure of the day. Also, they just announced that Hubie Brown is coming on later today! I can do spot-on impressions of only six people — Mike, Dog, Hubie Brown, Sugar Ray Leonard, Paul Maguire and Neil Diamond singing “Let’s Go to Bed” by The Cure, and three of these six people will be interacting at the same time? Are you kidding me?9
Mike: Hey Hubie, what about Elton Brand?
Dog: He’s having a big series, Mikey, big series. No question.
Mike: A huh-MON-guss series.
Hubie: OK, you’re Elton Brand. You can get your shot against Phoenix anytime you want. You know that you are going to have a HUGE series.
Mike: Huge series. Huh-yuge series.
4:07 — Dog correctly kills the NBA for not scheduling a playoff game tonight. Inexcusable. I hate them for this. I’m off to make a tuna fish sandwich — back in 10 minutes.
4:20 — John Minko reports that Floyd Patterson is still dead.
4:23 — Where do they find some of these commercials? We just sat through a 60-second ad for the Ronald Reagan Silver Tribute Proof coin. Only 10 bucks with shipping and handling.
4:28 — When Sam on the Cell Phone tries to defend Philly baseball fans by blaming ownership (a recurring theme today), Dog fires back with, “How does that explain these last three days? You’ve won nine in a row, you got New York coming in there, and you’ve sold 20,000 seats for Pedro Martinez on a Tuesday night? And you’re supposedly a big sports town? I mean, Sean, you can’t have that [in a big series], you can’t have the Mets fans overtaking your a-wena!” Dog needs to get riled up about something once a day — it’s in his contract.
4:37 — Back to the Ruth biography — Mike decides someone needs to write a Mantle book next. (Yeah, we need a Mantle book; it’s been nine months since I heard Bob Costas and Billy Crystal give their thoughts about him. Let’s get on that.) Then Mike throws out the idea of someone writing “the definitive Jordan biography.” (Now THAT would be interesting.)10 Then they start talking about different books they’ve read, leading to a Katharine Hepburn discussion and Dog calling Howard Hughes “a big loser, as far as I’m concerned,” then revealing there’s a “HUGE biography out right now about Ava Gardner,” followed by Mike saying, “That will be a juicy book. That will be a juicy book.”
(No CAPS on the second “juicy” so he can’t be that excited about it. By the way, name me another drive-time sports radio show that could segue to an Ava Gardner biography.)
4:50 — On the phone right now Frank from New Jersey! We’re 5/6th of the way to completing the Vinny-Nick-Joey-Sal-Mario-Frank WFAN quinfecta! Come on, Mario! Where are you? Let him through! Let him through!
4:51 — Pete from the Bronx claims to “work with celebrities and sports figures” (translation: “I drive a limo”) and says the three best tippers were Frank Sinatra, Bruce Willis and Dennis Rodman. The cheapest? MJ. “Well, we all know that,” Mike says, almost derisively. (Not me. I didn’t know that.)
A little later, Mike tells us that Tiger doesn’t tip, either. I’ve actually heard that one — the blackjack and craps dealers in Vegas always complain about him. Couldn’t this be its own show, The 20 Cheapest Athletes in Sports? They could interview cabbies, strippers, craps dealers, strippers, waitresses, bartenders, strippers 11
4:59 — Dog on Randy Johnson’s latest problems: “When you get right down to it, he’s dealing with the fact that he’s mortality, he’s immortal; it came so easy to him. Now it’s not coming so easy, he’s having trouble with that.” Don’t worry, it sounded 10 times worse when it happened live. I think the boys are getting punchy. Me, too.12
5:01 — Bob Heussler replaces Minko with the 20/20 Flash under strict instructions: “Make sure you look as uncomfortable as possible.” He doesn’t even bother with a cursory look at the camera, choosing instead to grip his piece of paper like he’s holding on to a map during a tornado. We need to have a “most uneasy flash guys on a televised radio program” contest.
5:06 — Time for Joe Torre’s weekly segment, sponsored by Anusol! Let’s hope he makes it through the next 20 minutes without breaking into tears.
5:10 — Not exactly the most overpowering endorsement of A-Rod against the Red Sox from Torre here: “Sure, he’s one of my players. Do I defend him? Sure. But even at times when he hits home runs, there have been a lot of questions about how important was it. At least last night, if you had to refer to something, last night was important. Hopefully, it does relax him somewhat and he has a little more fun, because he has so much ability when he lets it play out on its own.”
(Translation: “I wish he didn’t choke in the clutch so much. How the hell did this guy win the MVP last year?”)13
5:12 — After rehashing Steinbrenner’s mini-meltdown Tuesday night, everyone has a laugh at George’s expense. That was fun. Even Torre doesn’t take him seriously anymore.
5:14 — Really interesting conversation about pitching to Big Papi versus pitching to Manny, with Torre admitting Manny is a better all-around hitter but Big Papi is a little more dangerous, then remembering the one time he walked Big Papi to pitch to Manny and paid for it. “You don’t want to wake him up if he’s sleeping,” Torre says. “Sometimes it looks like he gives some at-bats away. But if you ever stir the pot, he’s right there and he’s not afraid of it.”
(Note: That might win the 2006 ESPY for “Best Backhanded Compliment.” But he’s right. When you intentionally walk Big Papi, it’s almost like giving Manny a Ritalin tablet.)
5:18 — Another interesting tidbit: Torre doesn’t sound optimistic about Sheffield coming back anytime soon. Funny how these alleged steroids guys all seem to be breaking down the past two years. Hmmmmmm. By the way, Yankee fans, I hope you enjoy Melky Cabrera’s work for the next four weeks.
(That reminds me, during Tuesday’s game, a couple of innings after Melky dropped a ball in the wind to basically clinch the win for the Sox, he stroked an RBI single in the eighth, followed by Kay announcing, “That shows you something about the intestinal fortitude of Melky Cabrera. He makes a big error then steps up to the plate and gets himself an RBI.” The score at the time? 10-3, Red Sox. You have to love the YES Network — it’s a combination sports network/propaganda machine.)
5:22 — Torre leaves to do some stretching and nose-picking exercises before tonight’s game, but not before mentioning the key to Mussina’s resurgence this season: arm strength. I don’t even have a joke here.
5:29 — Mike and Dog figure out which Mets have expiring contracts this season, followed by Dog saying they were forgetting someone, then Mike joking, “They’re still paying Mo Vaughn” and cracking himself up. This is reason no. 145 why I would never want a televised radio show — I would laugh at all of my own jokes like Mike does.
5:39 — Just to twist the knife with Mets fans, they bring up Scott Kazmir’s shutout last night, which came on the heels of Victor Zambrano blowing out his elbow over the weekend. Indefensible trade at the time, reprehensible now.14 Mike claims the new all-Mets Network glossed over the highlights last week, probably so Mets fans didn’t try to kill themselves at home.
(Note: If you’re ever looking to torture a Mets fan at work, just keep sticking Kazmir baseball cards on their desk whenever they’re out of the room. They won’t be able to handle it. Just buy 100 of them on eBay for 10 bucks. Best money you will ever spend.)
5:47 — Our final segment Mr. Hubie Brown! He starts off with a new trick — instead of saying that the Spurs picked up Finley and Van Exel, Hubie refers to them as “a Finley and a Van Exel.” Have you noticed this new announcing trend, throwing the “a” in front of guys’ names, like they’re a BMW or something? When did this start? I’ll tell you, when you hear a Hubie Brown do it, or a Mel Kiper Jr., or even a Joe Theismann, it’s pretty disarming.
5:51 — While discussing Avery Johnson’s successful smallball adjustment in Game 2 (with Devin Harris, a fantastic move), Hubie says that he doesn’t think the Spurs should change what they’re doing, because you should never be the one reacting to someone else’s adjustment — you always want to be the one causing the reaction. Well, unless you’re Doc Rivers.15
5:56 — Hubie on when you know if Shaq is about to have a big scoring game: “It depends on the personality of the three guys who are reffing the game. If they come and allow Shaq to dip the shoulder and go in to your chest, now you are in for a long night.”
(Wait, why am I in for a long night? I’m just sitting here. What did I do?)
5:58 — All right, you’re Bill Simmons. You have been keeping a running diary of the Mike and the Mad Dog Show for the past five hours, and you are THOROUGHLY enjoying the interview with Hubie Brown, who was threatening to talk for five straight minutes in the second person without taking a breath. And just like that, the YES Network decides to switch to a wide shot of Yankee Stadium, and you know that the televised version of the show has come to an abrupt end. You cannot believe the YES Network would do such a thing.
(On the bright side, you are delighted that you were finally able to keep a running diary of your favorite radio show of all time.) 16