They are all veteran voices now, long established as the four primary and familiar Red Sox broadcasters. They provide the lyrics for the soundtrack of the New England summer and, in the most memorable seasons, the exclamation points in autumn.
Joe Castiglione and Dave O’Brien, the radio tandem on flagship station WEEI, and NESN broadcasters Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy, have called 98 seasons’ worth of baseball games among them entering the 2014 season.
Castiglione is the senior of the foursome, breaking into the big leagues with the 1979 Cleveland Indians of Bobby Bonds and Andre Thornton, having given up a full-time job as a sportscaster to make $12,000 as a television play-by-play voice — $300 per game for 40 games.
Orsillo is the least experienced, and yet an accomplished veteran in his own right: this will be his 14th season calling the Red Sox, and his 24th in professional baseball, having served a 10-year apprenticeship in the minor leagues.
Remy has been a NESN color analyst since 1988, four years after his final season with the Red Sox. O’Brien, now an ESPN staple on college basketball as well as baseball, got his big break with the 1990 Braves, working alongside legends Skip Caray, Pete Van Wieren, and Don Sutton.
For all they have accomplished individually and as part of Red Sox’ broadcasts, they all have vivid recollections of breaking into the major leagues as broadcasters — of the nerves and thrills that came from their rookie seasons in the booth.
Rookie pitcher Billy Rohr earned a place in Red Sox lore by taking a no-hitter into the ninth inning in 1967 in his first big league start. Thirty-four years later, Orsillo did him one better in a sense — he did get the no-hitter in his debut as NESN’s play-by-play voice in 2001. Hideo Nomo delivered the masterpiece, beating the Orioles in the second game of the season (and first NESN broadcast) for the franchise’s first no-hitter since Dave Morehead pitched one against the Indians in September 1965.
Orsillo took some criticism for his understated call of the final out, a fly ball to left fielder Troy O’Leary. He’s expertly called a pair of no-hitters since (by Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz), but he looks back at that first one and chuckles at how nervous he was — especially after he found out with an inning to go that his audience was about to multiply.
“I was sweating bullets,’’ said Orsillo, who actually had called three games in 2000 as “a September call-up” on Fox 25 when Sean McDonough had college football commitments. “I remember going into the ninth inning and my producer talking into my ear. I wasn’t used to people talking while I was talking, having done radio for a decade in the minor leagues and still not quite being used to TV. He said, ‘The nation is joining us. ESPN has just picked up the broadcast,’ and that really did not help my situation at all. I was very, very tight. I just wanted to make sure I had the right number of outs, and the right people catching the ball, and make sure that I didn’t blow it.
“It was very nerve-racking. I could have used a 14-1 game there for that first one,’’ he laughs. “But no. I look back and wonder what I was so worried about. But first game, ESPN, all of that. That’s why.”
Orsillo, a former student of Castiglione’s at Northeastern who interned on Red Sox radio broadcasts in 1989 and ’90, joked that he was much more relaxed for his second game. “After a no-hitter, what was going to top that?” he said.
Castiglione almost didn’t make it to a second game. He had called just two baseball games in his life before the Indians’ April 5, 1979 matchup with the Red Sox at Fenway.
“The Western Mass. championship in ’67 and the state championship the next week on the Cape,’’ Castiglione said. “That was it. For WDEW in Westfield. Westfield won the state. Other than that, I hadn’t done another game other than sitting in the stands with a tape recorder at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, practicing in my own time.”
Castiglione, who was 32 at the time, can recite the details both meaningful and trivial from his debut. “Dennis Eckersley and Rick Wise were the starting pitchers. The Red Sox won, 7-1. Dwight Evans hit one into the screen, the first home run I called, but of course then I was calling it for the other side.”
After the game, the Indians boarded a plane and headed back to Cleveland, where the teams would play two more games. But one of the teams almost didn’t make it.
“Our plane got hit by lightning,’’ Castiglione said. “I’ll never forget [Indians catcher] Bo Diaz standing at baggage claim in tears. It was that shaky. We always flew commercial flights in those days after a day game, and the Indians liked to get out after a game to keep from spending a night at a hotel. We had a lot of scary travel in those days, but that was the worst. My first game was almost my last.”
The fear of embarrassment sometimes made the fledgling broadcasters wonder if the next game should be their last. After Remy’s debut as color analyst in 1988, Boston Herald media columnist Jim Baker wrote that the hiring was clearly a mistake and Joe Giuliotti — a Herald baseball writer — should have been hired instead.
“[Baker] ended up liking me, but he was right at the beginning,’’ Remy recalled. “I was so awful I used to root for rainouts. I was repeating what happened on the field and nothing else. I just didn’t know TV. I was just all messed up with the TV aspect.”
A common thread among all four Red Sox broadcasters is that they were advised and welcomed by those who had already made a name in the field. When Castiglione came to the Red Sox in ’83, he’d sometimes ride to the games with legendary play-by-play voice Ned Martin, who also served as a mentor to Remy.
“Ned would kick me in the shin if I used a certain phrase he didn’t like,’’ Remy said. “He was a great guy to start with because he took it seriously and offered constructive advice.”
O’Brien said he appreciated “learning at the feet” of Caray, Van Wieren, and Sutton even as it was happening.
“It was one of those classic who-doesn’t-belong-here situations,’’ O’Brien recalls. “Me at 26, having not even done minor league baseball, and three Hall of Famers. One of these does not belong. It was a classroom every day.
“I was confident that I could do it. But I didn’t know for sure,’’ said O’Brien. “Then came the first half-inning I did in spring training for the Braves. It was 1-2-3, three grounders to short on something like six pitches. It was probably the best thing that could have happened. It was easy from the mechanics of describing everything, over fast. But what I remember best is what happened right after. I was working with Pete Van Wieren and Pete leaned over during the commercial break and said, very quietly, ‘welcome to the club.’ I remember it like it was yesterday.”