Mike Francesa brought new meaning to the term “back afta this” Tuesday, returning to WFAN after a 4 ½ month hiatus so seamlessly it seemed as if it had been little more than a commercial break.
First three guests? Alex Rodriguez, Jay Wright and Eli Manning. First caller? Ira from Staten Island.
It started with a much-anticipated open shortly after 3 p.m. that was less momentous than many had expected. After a brief introduction that referenced the strange circumstances, he got down to business with the Yankees-Astros series.
Actually, Francesa’s first words were, “C’mon, Mink, hurry up,” to his longtime update man, John Minko, when his report began slightly late after Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott took one last call right at 3 p.m.
Francesa began by alluding to the fact the studio from which he was speaking is named after him — originally as a parting tribute in December — then said, “It’s nice to be back, a little surprising to be back.”
Rather than explain how it happened right off the bat, he said, “I’m not going to sit here and give you a litany of what happened, because some of it is none of your business, and the rest of it I’ll tell you as we go along.”
Regarding fan reaction to his absence and subsequent return, he said, “It was overwhelming, all the nice messages and warm greetings that were sent my way, so I thank everybody for that.”
Before going to break, he said, “I missed everybody. I missed doing this. That’s part of it, there’s no question.”
When Francesa did later discuss the reasons for his return, he reiterated several points he made in an interview with Newsday on Friday, alluding to the digital arm of the show that is expected to launch in late summer.
Francesa said he partnered with CAA Sports, which led to the digital project. He said, “We’re not charging anybody any money yet.” He later said the app will be “mostly subscription” based.
He said the radio show was the best method for promoting and providing content for the app in partnership with CAA and Entercom, which owns WFAN.
“I didn’t really feel like I had to come back,” he said. “I wanted to come back.”
Francesa said one of his other options was to join the Las Vegas-based gambling network being run by his old CBS colleague Brent Musburger and Musburger’s nephew, Brian, but he said in the end he considered it an ill fit.
Rodriguez asked to be one of the first guests, and he got the nod at 3:30 p.m., despite ESPN’s customary restriction on its personnel appearing on competing local stations.
In addition to Rodriguez, Wright and Manning, Francesa was joined by Jets GM Mike Maccagnan. Francesa inadvertently referred to both Rodriguez and Ira from Staten Island as “Eli.”
Three hours before his show began, Francesa met at WFAN’s lower Manhattan studios with Carlin, Gray and Scott, who were displaced by his return, in an effort to clear the air and find a way to peacefully coexist.
“I met with them,” Francesa told Newsday when it was over. “We are all on the same page.”
Carlin declined to comment to Newsday on the meeting, which lasted about 20 minutes, but he said on the air when asked about it by a caller, “We’re all on the same page.”
Mark Chernoff, the station’s vice president of programming, also was in the meeting. He told Newsday last week that he planned to have everyone talk through things, and Francesa said he was open to doing so if asked.
Starting Tuesday, “CMB” moved to 1 to 3 p.m. from 2 to 6:30 to make way for Francesa’s return from 3 to 6:30.
Francesa and Carlin have had a strained relationship for years, one not helped by the new schedule lineup.
Francesa said on the air that he would not talk about any shows other than his own, and he never referenced Carlin, Gray and Scott during his return show.
When a caller accused Francesa of pushing aside “CMB” and of overplaying his hand in searching for a new job outside WFAN, he said he had other offers and did not originally plan to return to the station he left Dec. 15.
“I decided to come back and do this because in the talk we had and the partnership that we built with CAA and with Entercom, that’s what the owner of the company (CEO David Field) wanted me to do,” he said. “That’s what was important to him.”