About the baseball thing . . . Maxx Client Bart Scott knows you are skeptical. He knows he has work to do. He knows he is a football guy in a baseball town, and about to be handed a microphone to talk baseball on 50,000 watts of clear channel radio.
“To me football and basketball are like breathing; I’ve watched it my entire life,” he said before a recent warmup show in advance of his official Jan. 2 debut as one of three new afternoon hosts on WFAN.
“In baseball, I’m going to struggle with that. It’s up to me to do the research and do my due diligence.”
Scott, 37, has an outsized personality and is the biggest name in a trio that also includes Chris Carlin and Maggie Gray, so why focus here on something as specific as baseball knowledge, or lack thereof?
Because it’s New York, he is on the Yankees’ flagship station, he is a former football player, he grew up in Detroit and during three December shows he experienced some early wobbles when talking baseball.
Scott said he views the challenge as no different from coming out of a non-major program at Southern Illinois University and having to “get myself up to speed” against NFL competition as an undrafted free agent.
“I look at it the same way,” he said. “It’s baseball. It just means I have to pay attention to it, that’s all . . . It’s in the details. I’ll get the details cleaned up.”
Boomer Esiason, WFAN’s morning co-host, and Chris Simms, who was offered but declined a spot on the afternoon show, are former NFL players but grew up in the New York suburbs, giving them an edge Scott lacks.
“It’s important for me to get a sense of the history of the Mets and the Yankees,” he said, “because I’m a Tigers fan. I’m a Red Wings fan. I’m a Pistons fan. I’m a Lions fan. I’m a Michigan State fan. I can speak those things.”
He then congratulated Alan Trammell on his recent election to the Hall of Fame and waxed nostalgic about “Sweet” Lou Whitaker and Cecil Fielder. See, he has nothing against baseball!
“It’s up to me to go back and get the history,” he said. “I’ll get there.”
There is no time to waste. “The Afternoon Drive,” as the program will be called, will face intense scrutiny from the start as WFAN’s first afternoon show of the post-Mike Francesa era.
Scott, a linebacker for the Ravens from 2002-08 and Jets from 2009-2012, widely is viewed as the wild card, an unpredictable font of opinions and stories. If all goes well he will straddle the line between provocative and incendiary, leaning toward the former.
“That’s me anyway,” he said. “People say (former WFAN morning co-host Craig) Carton was like that. Stephen A. (Smith of ESPN) is like that. I’m comfortable with being uncomfortable. I’m comfortable saying what people are afraid to say, because that’s the only way I’ve always been.
“When people hear me say something, just know that I believe it. And if I’m wrong, I’m man enough to say it.”
Asked what Scott’s personality will bring, Carlin said, “I think it brings an edginess; I think it brings an unabashed lack of fear. It’s funny. When you’re in radio you can be around some people you work with and they can have that and it can scare you. Are they going to say the wrong thing?
“I look at Bart and being around him I know how smart he is. He’s exceptionally smart. He knows what works and what doesn’t on that front.”
Scott’s final season with the Jets included a brief (and failed) attempt at a media boycott, and ripping fans for heckling players at halftime of the infamous “Butt Fumble” game against the Patriots. And that was only in November!
Earlier that season, he physically threatened a reporter who had taken his picture in the locker room. So, Bart, um . . . welcome to the media?
“It’s white noise,” he said. “I’ve heard some of the criticism. ‘Oh, how could anybody hire him? He was against the media, blah, blah, blah.’ That’s baloney.”
Scott had extensive radio and TV experience during his playing days, and from 2014-16 he was on CBS’ “The NFL Today” studio panel. So he said he has nothing against the media in general. He said he was angered in 2012 by media depictions of the Rex Ryan’s Jets as “clowns.”
“I’ve always lived in a glass bowl; that’s what being an athlete is,” he said. “You put yourself in the forefront, you are going to be criticized. It never bothered me. But one thing you’re not going to do is attack my integrity, my professionalism.
“You can say whatever you want about me; I’ve never had a DUI, no incidents off the field, no illegitimate children, no beef with my wife, no domestic violence. So you can’t lump me into that. I won’t tolerate that. But if you want to say I can’t tackle, I can’t run, I’m horrible in coverage, so be it . . . Hakunah Matata. Stuff rolls off.”
Scott admitted he struggled with the NFL pregame format, in which thoughts must be limited to 10- or 15-second sound bites. CBS replaced him after last season with Nate Burleson.
“We’re big fans of Bart’s,” CBS Sports president David Berson said. “This new opportunity he has on the radio is a platform, I think, to showcase all of his strengths.”
Mark Lepselter, Scott’s agent, said WFAN executives saw his potential after midsummer fill-in shifts. “I think he has more space now, more real estate to convey his thoughts, show his personality,” Lepselter said.
Scott is unconcerned about three voices being a crowd, but he urged listeners to be patient.
“We’ll find our groove,” he said. “You go back and think about ‘Mike and the Mad Dog’ and their history, sometimes we forget the beginning and the journey because we see them at the end when they get to the destination. We’ll figure it out. We’ll get our sea legs.”
One goal is to reach new potential listeners given the younger, more diverse cast.
“That’s what I’m hoping,” Scott said. “Look at the perspectives we have. We always laugh that Carlin represents the middle-aged white man. Maggie is a young woman. You talk about where can the industry grow? It’s with women.”
Like Esiason, Scott will provide a former athlete’s point of view, a view he thinks often is discounted by fans.
“If you just know me from [saying] ‘Can’t wait!’ and just think I’m a raging lunatic that’s not sophisticated enough or intellectual enough to hold a conversation outside the athletic realm, that’s not who I am,” he said. “There are many layers to me, like an onion. I always get, ‘Oh, you’re so articulate.’ What’d you think I was, a Neanderthal?
“I’m a college graduate. It’s like saying, ‘Oh, you sound so smart.’ Like, what the hell does that mean? You think I’m some dummy? But that’s kind of what you deal with: stereotypes. I love that I get an opportunity to raise the bar.”
Scott’s off-air pursuits include working with Morgan Stanley to counsel athletes on financial strategy.
The WFAN gig also is an opportunity to recreate a flicker of the old athletic juices. “When you retire you look for something that gives you the butterflies in the stomach, that makes you nervous,” he said.
Given the attention that is to come, this job should qualify.
“You talk about replacing an icon, an institution, somebody like Mike Francesa, what he’s meant to the business, the industry, it’s big shoes to fill,” Scott said. “But it’s not anything I’m not prepared to handle. I knew what I was signing up for.”
In other words: Can’t wait! Yeah, that, too. Scott uttered his trademark phrase seven years ago on ESPN, after the Jets upset the Patriots in a divisional round playoff game and he looked toward the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh.
Does he mind still being known for that?
“I love it,” he said. “It’s not like ‘Butt Fumble’ where you want to make fun of it five years later . . . I got a positive one. At least we were victorious. It’s not like, ‘Oh, you were the dummy who ran into the back of the lineman.’ Nobody wants to be that guy.”
By Neil Best, Newsday