Don Orsillo, the affable and popular play-by-play voice on NESN’s Red Sox telecasts since 2001, will not return next year, according to multiple industry sources.
His contract expires at the end of the season and he will not be offered a new one by NESN. NESN wrote on Twitter that Orsillo will be replaced by Dave O’Brien, who currently is part of the Red Sox radio broadcast team on WEEI and also has a high-profile, multi-sport play-by-play role at ESPN.
ESPN said O’Brien’s on-camera role with baseball will be reduced, but he will continue his workload with college basketball.
Orsillo did not mention his impending departure during the Red Sox pregame telecast Tuesday night from U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.
Jerry Remy, Orsillo’s partner in the NESN booth since 2001, broke down in tears as he spoke about Orsillo after Tuesday night’s telecast.
“I just want to say that for the last 15 years it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with Don,” Remy said. “I’m truly going to miss him on a personal side and he’s become a very close friend of mine.’’
O’Brien, in a release issued by NESN late Tuesday, called his new job “a dream come true.”
“It will be a privilege to call Boston Red Sox games on NESN for one of the most storied franchises in Major League Baseball,” said O’Brien, a Quincy native. “And I look forward with great anticipation to working alongside Jerry Remy.”
The news, which was first revealed on WEEI’s “Dennis and Callahan” program Tuesday morning, is disheartening for those who appreciate his polished and often humorous approach. But it is not a shock to those in the industry.
Orsillo signed a contract in November 2011 that included an option for 2015. NESN showed no urgency in picking up the option last summer, making Orsillo wait out his fate. The deal was quietly picked up late in the season, without any fanfare.
It was speculated on “Dennis and Callahan” that the Red Sox ratings, which have dipped to 3s and 4s in a disappointing season, were a reason for moving on from Orsillo. That may be a factor, but it’s not the main reason.
According to industry sources, Orsillo was never a favorite of Joseph Maar, NESN’s vice president of programming and production/executive producer who arrived at the network in July 2012. Last year, Maar implemented the policy of having its broadcasters — Orsillo and Remy, in this case — take in-season breaks.
A NESN spokesman said last year that the policy was implemented to keep broadcasters fresh, but it also serves another purpose: A week off during the season for its broadcasters means they must make up the week of work outside of baseball season, which is unusual given their grueling schedule from April through at least September. Orsillo, known as a team player among his colleagues at NESN, was resistant to this approach.
Though the writing was on the wall for a while regarding his status, it was made clear over the weekend to Orsillo that he would not be returning. According to industry sources, consideration was given to removing him from broadcasts immediately. NESN was not planning on announcing his departure until January.
Orsillo, a Northeastern graduate, grew up in New Hampshire and California dreaming of becoming the Red Sox play-by-play voice someday. He spent 10 years in the minor leagues — five calling Pawtucket games — before getting the call to the majors in 2001, replacing Bob Kurtz on NESN.
He became the full-time Red Sox voice in 2005 when NESN took over airing all local telecasts.
He became a fan favorite through the years, in part because of his banter with Remy. (Remy’s status for next season is uncertain, though he is expected to be back in some capacity.)
Orsillo also proved his chops during Remy’s various absences through the years, working with 29 different analysts and bringing out the best in many of them.
TBS began using Orsillo on its postseason baseball broadcasts in 2007, though he was not a part of its coverage last year because of a reduced playoff schedule on the network. When Orsillo’s contract expired in 2011, TBS tried to hire him full-time, but he decided to remain with NESN.
NESN has not responded to multiple requests for comment.