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Love him or hate him, you still care about Mike Francesa

Mike Francesa during an interview at WFAN studios

Mike Francesa during an interview at WFAN studios on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. Credit: Newsday/Chris Ware

Mike Francesa returned to WFAN one year ago Wednesday. Happy Anniversary?

The big guy has admitted his comeback 4 ½ months after a much-chronicled departure was less comfortable than he had hoped, among other things because of understandably ruffled feathers among his colleagues.

And he has suggested he might leave again to focus on his app, although it has been more than six months since he first said so publicly.

So one year in, can we call his change of heart a success? That, like everything else when it comes to Francesa, is a matter of opinion.

On one hand, he is under siege more than ever from social media critics, aided by clips on Twitter from his online bete noire, @BackAftaThis.

And his long rivalry with ESPN New York’s Michael Kay has become a ratings race so close that the winter report devolved into a dizzying debate over measuring methods.

But Francesa’s job is not to be right, or to be liked, and never has been. It is to be cared about and listened to.

Gregg Giannotti of WFAN’s morning show, whom Francesa called to yell at on Tuesday, got it right in an amusing, exasperated rant on Wednesday about life in and around the Francesa vortex.

“I fully get it, and I wouldn’t want it any other way, because so many people care,” he said. “That’s the caveat . . . Everybody’s got a take. It’s great. But that’s the Catch-22 of it all, is you wouldn’t want it any other way.

“For three years over on CBS Sports Radio, I could have said anything. I could have done a whole show in Farsi, and nobody would have ever known. It wouldn’t have mattered. But here, it’s every day! It’s exhausting.”

When Francesa called Giannotti and Boomer Esiason to take issue with their comments about his comments, the aftershocks were predictable.

The story shot up Newsday.com’s most-viewed list. A column about Francesa landed on the early back page of the New York Post. On Wednesday, WABC radio’s morning show, which is not primarily about sports, spent an entire segment on Francesa and Giannotti – with audio clips.

Is any of this rational? No. But like it or not, Francesa is the sort of love-him-or-hate-him personality people seem unable to resist.

Two things for perspective: The real story in the ratings race is the rise of Kay, not the fall of Francesa. Including streaming, he beat Kay this winter, 6.2 percent of the audience among men 25-54 to 5.9.

In the spring of 2014, it was 7.0 to 4.3. In the spring of ‘15, it was 6.0 to 3.7. In the spring of 2010, Kay had a 2.0.

As for Francesa’s much-chronicled foibles, I refer you to my column from Feb. 6, 2007, which could have been written today, if you deleted the Chris Russo part and replaced a reference to the message board “mikefrancesa.com” with “Twitter.”

It mentioned Francesa interrupting interview subjects, losing patience with callers, getting things wrong, going down dangerous paths on societal matters.

It was then that I swore off getting sucked into being a forum for listeners’ endless gripes, and swore off listening to entire shows.

“Like a taste tester at Peeps factory, I overindulged in an otherwise harmless treat and it soon turned my mind to sticky, marshmallow goo,” I wrote of over-listening.

Less about listening to, working with and covering Francesa has changed this century than Twitter would have you believe. The good news —for him, his station and Web Clicks Nation – is that people absolutely, positively, indisputably care.

The bad news? Let’s go to the Gio videotape from Wednesday:

“I hope that it comes across that I don’t enjoy these things. I don’t. But I get sucked into it, because it’s impossible not to . . . People are like, ‘Oh, you love that! You guys are drumming this up.’ No! It’s exhausting.

“I call my wife on the way home and say, ‘I can’t do it! I can’t do it! It’s too much!’ . . . It’s like every day there’s something else.”

Join the club.

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