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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Like him or not, Craig Carton was a part of your New York sports family

Craig Carton, WFAN morning show co-host, rallies Jets fans

Craig Carton, WFAN morning show co-host, rallies Jets fans at Jets Fest at Hofstra University to support a "Bring Brett Favre to the Jets" movement on July 30, 2008. Photo Credit: Newsday / Kathy Kmonicek

Boomer Esiason was right Thursday when he said it was time for Craig Carton to leave WFAN to focus on his legal troubles, and he was right when he called Carton “one of the greatest radio personalities that we’ll have ever seen.”

OK, maybe that second part was a bit much. But Carton was good at his job. There is no disputing that.

He arrived in 2007 as a relative unknown to replace an iconic radio figure in Don Imus and for 10 years generated strong ratings while essentially inventing with his colleagues the sound of a New York sports talk morning show.

The fact that it all went wrong, resulting in his arrest on Sept. 6 and his resignation a week later, is a loss for his family, friends, colleagues and alleged victims, if he eventually is found guilty of cheating them out of investments.

But let’s not forget about his largest constituency of all: listeners.

Sure, those of us without a direct stake in this will go on with our lives, listening to other hosts, or none at all. Next man (or woman) up.

But like him or not, Carton was a part of New York’s mornings for a decade and kept his audience entertained for 20 hours a week, something that is far more difficult than it sounds.

Carton was in our bedrooms while we got dressed for work and in our cars while we endured traffic, part of why talk radio is personal in a way that television and print — and even the games themselves — are not.

And it is why stories about Carton and afternoon host Mike Francesa are web-click gold for every media outlet in the New York area. Some people like them, some people strongly dislike them, and many, many people are interested in them.

That personal connection is what made Carton’s sudden implosion so emotional for listeners, some of whom took to social media to lament losing him and more of whom mocked him for hypocrisy and worse.

Such is the price Carton must pay for destroying a carefully crafted brand. Had he gotten in hot water for another transgression, he might have been given the benefit of the doubt by fans. Not this.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if someday, somewhere, somehow, he’ll be behind a microphone,” Esiason said on Thursday morning’s show. “I don’t know where. I don’t know when. I don’t know if I’ll be a part of that or not. But I do know that he has resigned from WFAN, so that chapter at least, the ‘Boomer and Carton’ chapter, is now closed here.”

Carton deserves a chance to prove his innocence, but listeners who have read the complaint against him, leading to charges of conspiracy and wire and securities fraud, saw an unforgivable violation of the bro code he carefully cultivated.

Remember, as he often said: Lying to women and children is OK, but never to men. And failing to pay up on a bet always was considered a cardinal sin on the show.

How does that square with an alleged Ponzi scheme tied to a company purporting to resell event tickets? Um, not so well.

When WFAN hired Carton to replace Imus, he seemed a strange choice to succeed a guy who got fired for making racist and sexist remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Carton had been an accomplished irritant and pot-stirrer at a station in central New Jersey.

But for a decade he carefully walked a line, managing to be provocative without going too far as the station kept its fingers crossed and its advertising rates up. Maybe he was growing up. Then it all came crashing down.

“Anything that Craig was a part of in this studio unfortunately has been taken down and they almost, I think, took everything down of me, too, by the way,” Esiason said on air.

This is no time for gloating, even for Francesa, a frequent target of Carton. Heck, Carton has called me a “two-faced liar,” “clown,” “hack” and “joke” on the air, but it all was part of the show. No one should take joy from this.

For better, worse and everything between, Carton was part of the New York sports family. He will be missed.

New York Sports