Monday was another awkward night for the 2015 Boston Red Sox.
As the last-place local nine came home from one of their better road trips and prepared to play the playoff-bound New York Yankees, many Sox fans were still consumed with the shabby treatment of longtime NESN play-by-play announcer Don Orsillo.
In a clunky season that has featured whopping underachievement, the abrupt departures (some would call them firings) of CEO Larry Lucchino and GM Ben Cherington, and a manager who has stepped aside to wage a battle with cancer, it’s the impending departure of Orsillo and the classless manner in which it’s been handled that is most bothering many of the fans.
Monday was Orsillo’s first day back at Fenway since news of his firing broke last week. A few Orsillo protesters held signs and handed out fliers in front of the Cask ‘n Flagon as fans filed into the ballpark. One flier read, “Save Don’’ with an image of Orsillo holding up his right fist. Another sign read, “#Save Orsillo.’’ By the time the Sox took the field against the Yankees, an online petition to keep Orsillo had been signed by more than 50,000 fans.
“It’s just such a shock to everyone,’’ said 25-year-old Ben Gould of Sox Lunch. “I’ve probably heard him talk the most of anyone in my whole life.’’
“A lot of groups are springing up,’’ added Annie Bresnahan, one of the officers of the Orsillo and Remy Fan Club.
To prevent a potentially embarrassing scene, NESN moved its pregame show from Yawkey Way to a more secure spot near the Red Sox dugout.
Adding to the drama, we had Orsillo and his replacement, Dave O’Brien, doing television play-by-play just three booths apart from one another on the fifth level of Fenway Park. O’Brien was handling the ESPN broadcast while Orsillo was sitting alongside Jerry Remy in the NESN booth as he has been for the last 15 seasons.
Remy delivered a tearful homage to his partner when the news broke in Chicago last week, but he has refrained from commenting since. Orsillo and O’Brien maintained their public silence Monday night at Fenway.
The bosses at NESN have offered little in the way of explanation other than one interview with the Boston Herald’s Steve Buckley on Saturday. In that interview, Sox chairman Tom Werner said the change was being made to “re-energize” the Sox broadcasts. The Globe’s multiple attempts to get an explanation from Werner or anyone at NESN have been ignored. NESN PR director Gary Roy sent this e-mail to the Globe’s Chad Finn on Monday: “I don’t have anything right now. Just what Tom Werner and Sean McGrail [NESN President/CEO] told Buckley on Saturday.’’
Since the NESN boys don’t want to comment, I will tell you how this went down based on information gained from three sources with direct knowledge of the situation.
Red Sox owners and NESN bosses like O’Brien (currently working Sox radio broadcasts) and didn’t want to lose him to another team network. In the second week of July, Orsillo — whose contract expires at the end of December — learned from a third party he would not be returning to NESN. When Orsillo confronted his NESN bosses with this rumor during the second week of August, he was told it was true. The Sox planned to keep the news secret from the public until a team caravan in January. Keeping the news secret until January would have killed any chance of Orsillo getting another play-by-play job for next season.
Orsillo kept quiet about his sacking, but not everyone was as discreet.
When Gerry Callahan broke the news on WEEI last Tuesday morning, NESN went silent until 10 minutes before that night’s Sox game, when a statement was issued explaining O’Brien would take over for Orsillo next season.
Werner’s explanation was not delivered until Saturday afternoon, while the Sox were playing the Mets in New York. Orsillo and Remy read Werner’s comments online between innings while working the Sox-Mets game.
In his comments to the Herald, McGrail was vague about Remy’s role next season. Asked if Remy might have a reduced role, McGrail said, “We don’t know yet.’’
Remy has expressed no desire to leave the booth or work in a reduced role.
Orsillo deserved better than this. In 15 years he worked with more than 30 partners, many of whom were filling in while Remy dealt with serious medical and family issues.
He has been an excellent broadcaster and a perfect ambassador for the Red Sox. In the words of WCVB’s Mike Lynch, “he’s family.’’
To Orsillo’s credit, nothing has changed on the Sox broadcasts since this dirty laundry was aired.
Game after game, Orsillo continues to deliver the story of the 2015 Red Sox with no acknowledgment that he has been fired by the team. He is killing them with class.
Clarification: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story made reference to signs being confiscated at Fenway Park. The reference has been removed because the Globe could not independently verify that any signs were confiscated at the ballpark. This story has been edited to describe the degree to which NESN intended to keep the news of Don Orsillo’s departure confidential. The network did not intend to keep the information from Orsillo until January.