The Red Sox seem to have lost the ability to control their own narrative.
Since the beginning of this month, the Sox have bounced CEO/president Larry Lucchino, general manager Ben Cherington, and popular announcer Don Orsillo, and each time the Sox bungled release of the news while making things awkward for loyal longtime partners/employees.
It started Aug. 1 when Lucchino finally acknowledged something the Sox brass had been denying since February: He was stepping down. Faced with questions from two Boston newspapers, Lucchino confirmed he was stepping down after 6 on a Saturday night, several hours after a day game at Fenway Park. New team president Sam Kennedy confirmed the story after 10 p.m. The next day, the Sox issued a glowing release about Lucchino’s 14 years of service.
Fast-forward to last week’s seismic shift in the club’s baseball operations department. At approximately 9:40 on a Tuesday night — in the late innings of a game against Cleveland — in the middle of the annual two-day Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon (also the day of manager John Farrell’s first chemotherapy treatment) — the Sox announced that Dave Dombrowski was coming on board as the new baseball boss and Cherington had opted not to remain with the team after 19 seasons.
A day later, Cherington differed with the timeline John Henry and Tom Werner gave as to when he’d been told of their pursuit of Dombrowski. Three days later, at the annual Sabermetrics, Scouting, and the Science of Baseball seminar at Boston University, when Cherington was asked how much of his time had been spent dealing with owners, he answered, “Sometimes, most of it, really.’’
This Tuesday, while the Sox were in Chicago, WEEI reported that Orsillo would be done with NESN at the end of this season. Sox owners and NESN officials (the team owns 80 percent of NESN) did not respond to reporters’ inquiries after word leaked, and Orsillo issued a polite “no comment” from Chicago.
At 7:50 p.m. Tuesday, shortly before the Sox played the White Sox, NESN issued a statement on its website confirming Dave O’Brien would replace Orsillo for the 2016 Sox season.
Ratings are down, the Sox are in last place for the third time in four years, and they can’t simply fire another pitching coach.
And so Don Orsillo is gone. Without any explanation from ownership or Orsillo’s bosses at NESN. And he’s apparently expected to finish out the season as if none of this is happening. Awkward.
News of Orsillo’s demise rocked Red Sox Nation. He has been part of the Sox broadcast team since 2001, and many fans enjoy Orsillo’s breezy style and in-game banter with partner Jerry Remy. Chad Finn’s account of Orsillo’s departure was the most-read story on BostonGlobe.com for more than 24 hours and generated hundreds of comments, most of them wildly supportive of Orsillo.
Historically, baseball fans get attached to those who broadcast games in a market for a number of years. Vin Scully is perhaps the most beloved figure in the history of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Detroit Tigers faced a fan insurrection when Ernie Harwell was pulled from the air after the 1991 season. Harwell was eventually restored to his booth at Tiger Stadium. The Red Sox faced significant backlash when longtime announcer Ned Martin was dismissed in the 1990s.
The Red Sox and NESN officials may have underestimated the reaction to their dumping of Orsillo. Channel 5 sports anchor Mike Lynch tweeted, “Orsillo is family,’’ and a New York Post story Wednesday was headlined, “Shock announcer firing is breaking point for Red Sox Nation.’’
The silence from NESN and Sox ownership only adds to the outrage. NESN’s clumsy late-night statement lauded Orsillo’s replacement but made little mention of Orsillo’s lengthy tenure in the booth. Remy wept late Tuesday when he spoke to the Globe’s Nick Cafardo about his longtime partner, but cowardly NESN officials have thus far taken no questions on the matter and offered no explanation for Orsillo’s firing.
And Werner — the man who runs NESN — is nowhere to be found when NESN makes a major change that outrages fans. Where’s the accountability?
Change can be a good thing. Maybe it was time for Lucchino to step down.
Given three last-place finishes in four seasons, the ouster of Cherington in favor of Dombrowski could be a very good thing for the Red Sox. And up in the booth, O’Brien is one of the best in the business.
But the clumsy firing of Orsillo has angered the loyal fan base. And the silence of the NESN lambs is insulting to everyone who cares about this team.