Before he was “The RemDawg,” he was Jerry Remy, Red Sox All-Star second baseman.
On a splendid Halloween Sunday morning, Red Sox Nation learned that Remy over the weekend lost his seventh and final battle with cancer. No more will we hear him explaining the fine art of bunting and what it was like to grow up worshipping Yaz in Somerset and then make it all the way to Fenway’s infield where he was Carl Yastrzemski’s teammate for six seasons.
After his big league playing days were over in 1984, Remy grew to be the face and voice of Boston’s vaunted baseball franchise as a color analyst on NESN. He opened restaurants, wrote books, sold RemDawg merchandise, and was elected president of Red Sox Nation. The RemDawg was popular with baseball diehards, casual fans, and even those who didn’t know Manny Ramirez from Hanley Ramirez.
But all this started because he was a terrific baseball player.
Jerry Remy was a local ballplayer who made good on the diamond. Born in Fall River, a Globe All-Scholastic in 1970, he found himself playing second base for manager Dick Williams and the California Angels just five years after graduating from Somerset High.
When Nolan Ryan threw his fourth no-hitter on June 1, 1975, Jerry Remy led off and went 1 for 3 against Brooks Robinson and the Orioles in Ryan’s 1-0 masterpiece.
Decades later, Remy was famous to a new generation of local baseball fans, ever self-deprecating as he sat in the broadcast booth and told hilarious stories of visiting Studio 54 with Hall of Fame teammate Dennis Eckersley when the two were young ballplayers in the swinging 1970s. Younger fans would have little way of knowing Remy was a pretty good ballplayer in his time.
He was. Remy was a career .275 hitter with 208 stolen bases over 10 major league seasons. He hit over .300 twice. In 1978, he was one of seven Sox players sent to the All-Star Game in San Diego.
Remy was Sox manager Don Zimmer’s favorite ballplayer. Zimmer asked management to trade for California’s second baseman after the 1977 season and, in December, the Red Sox acquired Remy for promising young righthanded pitcher Don Aase.
“I’ll drive Remy to Fenway Park from California if they want me to,” Zimmer said.
With the ill-fated ‘78 Sox, Remy was part of an everyday lineup that included Yaz, Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Dwight Evans, Butch Hobson, Rick Burleson, and George Scott. They won 99 games, but blew a big mid-summer lead and lost the infamous one-game playoff to the Yanks at Fenway. The Bucky Dent game.
Let the record show that when it mattered most, Remy was at his best in that game.
Minutes after Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson gave the world champion Yanks a 5-2 lead with a homer in the eighth, Remy led off the bottom of the eighth with a double off Hall of Famer Rich Gossage. After Hall of Famer Rice flied out, Remy scored on a single by Hall of Famer Yaz. Hall of Famer Fisk followed with a single. Another single by Lynn cut it to 5-4.
With the Sox still trailing, 5-4 in the ninth, Remy hit a one-out single off Goose Gossage — a ball that temporarily froze Lou Piniella in right. The rally and the season ended when Yaz popped up against Gossage.
There. Surrounded by Hall of Famers, in the biggest moment of his baseball life, Remy had two hits in two innings against Gossage. Not bad for a 5-foot-9-inch, 165-pound fireplug from southeastern Massachusetts.
He hit .307 in the strike-shortened season of 1981, but knee problems shortened his career. Remy played only 30 games in 1984, missed the entire ‘85 season, and gave it one last shot before he was forced to quit in spring training in 1986.
Two years later, Remy joined NESN and came under the guidance of the estimable, elegant Ned Martin. It was not until the 1990s that new broadcast partner Sean McDonough nicknamed Remy as “The RemDawg."
“It was a time when everybody was ‘dawg’," McDonough recalled. “I think dawg was getting attached to a lot of people and things. Like hey, ‘Dawg.’ The Sox had a gritty team and Jerry was calling them ‘Dirt Dogs’. And, of course, Jerry had been that type of player. Scrappy. A hard worker. Not a lot of flash and dash. It just came into my head and I said, ‘Well, you’re the RemDawg.’ And it stuck.
“He really liked it. He sold RemDawg hats and T-shirts and scorecards. I told him many times over the years that I was still waiting for my cut.
“This is really sad. I just loved Jerry.
“One thing will stick with me forever. Jerry was not a real warm and fuzzy guy. He was a man of the people, but socially awkward in many ways. People sometime might mistake that for him being aloof, but he was just not comfortable.
“In August, knowing how hard he was battling cancer again, I wanted to do something, so I called into the Jimmy Fund NESN-WEEI telethon with a donation. My phone buzzed about five seconds after that call and it was a text from Jerry and it said, ‘I love you.’
“I get choked up just thinking about this . . . My dad [Globe sportswriting legend Will McDonough, who died in 2003] was not a big ‘I love you’ guy so when he told you that, it got your attention. Same with Jerry. You knew he meant it.
“I treasured the nine years we worked together. We went through a lot. And he was a wonderful guy. The last time I talked to him I told him my goal was to do another game with him. I’m sad we’re not going to have that chance.”