Because of my well-documented dislike of the zeppelin-sized Mike Francesa, I often use his home station–WFAN–as a byword for sports talk idiocy. But all is not lost on the self proclaimed New York’s #1. Well, most of it is lost (or, to use Francesa’s vernacular, LAWST!!!), but there is one chunk of the broadcasting weekday that isn’t a total waste of time. I am speaking, of course, of Steve Somers, aka The Schmooze.
I was reminded of Somers’ greatness by a recent appreciation of him written by Michael Brendan Dougherty over at The Awl. Mr. Dougherty usually writes for The American Conservative, so I assume he and I don’t see eye to eye on a number of issues. But love of Steve Somers transcends petty political differences.
As Dougherty deftly points out, Somers is the anti-Francesa (without ever mentioning Francesa by name). This is especially pronounced because Somers’ show comes on right after The Sports Pope. Francesa acts as the judge, jury, and executioner of his own little courtroom, making pronouncements and banging his gavel against anyone who dares disagree with him.
Worst of all, he never sounds happy. Ironically, his two biggest sports loves (if you can call it love) are New York’s two most successful teams: The Yankees and the Giants. And yet, their triumphs never seem to bring him any satisfaction. They just fuel more tweaking of the teams he doesn’t like. Perhaps because he’s so used to winning (by proxy), he simply expects victory, and so can’t enjoy it. He’s only satisfied when making other people miserable.
Somers’ favorites are perennial losers or hard luck teams like the Mets, Jets, and Rangers (he’s the only WFAN personality who actually talks about hockey, save Boomer Esiaison). And yet, there is always joy in his voice. Or at least a kind resigned, bemused attitude of oy, can you believe this? His attitude reminds you that, even though sports can give us agita and make us want to tear our hair out, at the end of the day they’re supposed to be fun. The season’s going down the toilet? Laugh about it already!
He opens all his shows with the same greeting: “Good evening to you and how you be?” Then he launches into a long, pun-filled monologue (he refers to the injury plagued Mets as the Medical-politans), occasionally spiced with audio collages. It’s difficult for callers to bash his favorite teams because he is usually the first one to dig at them. If a caller does manage to take a shot at The Schmooze, he will defuse the hostility with self-deprecating humor.
But my favorite Somers move comes on those rare occasions when he does have something to gloat about. He will speak long and slow and in a barely audible voice about a game, building up to his point at a glacial pace, then all of a sudden say, “and then THIS!”, followed by a soundbite of an amazing play from the game. It always kills me.
When a caller praises Francesa, he gives a perfunctory thanks and urges them to get on with their point. When a caller praises Somers, he sounds genuinely touched and says something like, “I’m happy enough to have a job already!” Perhaps it’s false modesty, but it must be hard to get a big head when your show is regularly preempted to broadcast Nets games.
In a way, Somers reminds me of the previous generation of sports radio voices, like Mel Allen and Bob Murphy. They didn’t exactly ask hard hitting questions, but they never ceased to be amazed that they actually worked in sports. It’s an attitude that runs completely counter to the trend in sports yakking. In order to get on sports radio or ESPN these days, you have to be loud, obnoxious, have some sort of schtick, and usually be very ANGRY about a subject that shouldn’t warrant such vitriol. Somers, on the other hand really does sound like he’s happy to have any job, let alone to talk about sports for a living.
It is we who should be grateful that Somers is where he is, doing what he does. So here’s to you, Schmooze, one of the good ones.