Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
It was New York sports media theater at its best, a featured attraction that breathed new life into the Great A-Rod Circus of 2013, just when it seemed the show might not go on much longer.
Mike Francesa knew he had a "great story" on his hands when he was informed -- on 20 minutes' notice -- that Alex Rodriguez was bound for his WFAN studio Wednesday. But even he did not know quite how good it would be.
In his best performance since the 2009 playoffs, A-Rod came bearing bombshell quotes while displaying a range of emotions, from near-tears to anger to smiles, capping a daylong public relations tour de force from him and his team.
Whether that momentum can be sustained remains to be seen, but for one day at least, Rodriguez magically was able to morph into at least a somewhat sympathetic figure.
The centerpiece was his visit with Francesa, an only-in-New York sit-down featuring two of Gotham's most combustible lightning rods -- simulcast on the Yankees' very own YES Network.
It did not fail to deliver, in part because Rodriguez, joined by lawyer Jim McCarroll, came ready to talk, and Francesa was happy to oblige.
There were times the tone got a tad chummier than it needed to, but the questions and answers were to the point.
"I felt like I asked him every hard question you could possibly ask him," Francesa said in a phone interview after the show. "I don't think there's anything I could ask him about that wasn't asked."
Francesa knows he still will be accused by some of offering Rodriguez an overly friendly forum, but he said he is not bothered by that.
"When you're the big guy and have been the big guy as long as I have, you're going to get it from every angle; I'm used to that," he said, adding Rodriguez presumably chose him because of his large audience, because the two have known each other for many years and because A-Rod believed he would get a fair hearing.
Francesa would not say which of Rodriguez's representatives called to ask whether he would be interested in having him on the show, only that his response was, "What do you think?"
What was he thinking at that point, with no time to prepare or to promote the interview? "I'm thinking I have a great story, that I got the get," he said. "I got the guy everybody wants . . . I was thrilled."
That feeling only grew as Rodriguez started to talk about his decision to storm out of his arbitration hearing earlier in the day.
"I was surprised how keyed up he was; I could tell he was really angry," Francesa said. "He almost started to cry the first time he started to talk. I could see his eyes welling up . . . His lip was quivering and I actually thought he was going to cry. But he looked me in the eye every time."
Francesa said there were no preconditions, and that he only preplanned one aspect of the interview in his own mind.
"If he gave me an opening I was going to go for what I knew was the headline, which is, did you or did you not use performance-enhancing drugs?" Francesa said. "When he answered so definitively and boldly the first time and didn't dodge it at all, I knew it would be a very open topic."
Before Rodriguez left WFAN's lower Manhattan studios, Francesa said he spoke to him during a commercial break and advised him, "If you're square about everything, you have to fight this; you can't not fight this."
Then Francesa returned to his callers, and Rodriguez was taken through a back exit to avoid the camera crews that had gathered outside the building.