There were many word choices by Red Sox chairman Tom Werner in his only public comments thus far regarding the decision to replace popular NESN play-by-play voice Don Orsillo with ESPN and WEEI’s Dave O’Brien next season.
But in that forum — Steve Buckley’s column last Saturday night on the Boston Herald website — there was one word in particular that practically bounded off the screen, leaving me as bewildered with Werner and NESN’s reasoning as I am with the decision itself. Here’s what Werner said: “I understand it has created some controversy. And I also understand that Don is a great broadcaster, but we felt that starting next year it was worth going in a different direction reenergizing the broadcast.”
Reenergizing the broadcast? Reenergizing it? I recognize that a vague verb such as reenergize comes in handy as corporate speak for, “We wanted to make a change, Dave O’Brien is great and his contract at WEEI is up, it’s our prerogative, and you and that little petition isn’t going to change our minds.”
What gets me is that a reenergized broadcast is precisely what NESN has had this year. What it hasn’t had, at least until the last few weeks in this long-lost season, is a particularly energized or effective baseball team, which is why ratings dipped in the second half after being the sixth highest in baseball among regional cable networks at the All-Star break.
None of this is on the broadcasters. In fact, I’d argue that Orsillo and Jerry Remy have had their most energized and enjoyable broadcasts in years. That especially applies to Remy, whose status for next year and beyond has been something of an afterthought amid the backlash regarding the graceless split with Orsillo.
If the banter between Orsillo and Remy — a huge reason for the initial growth of their mutual popularity in their 15 years together — had been minimized in recent years, well, there were understandable reasons. Remy had a recurring battle with lung cancer, which took him away from the broadcast booth for various and often extensive lengths of time. In August 2013, Remy’s son, Jared, was charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel. He pled guilty in August 2014.
Remy took an immediate leave of absence in 2013 after his son was charged. Upon announcing his decision to return last January during a meeting with a small group of reporters at NESN headquarters, he acknowledged how much the job means to him.
“It’s always been my comfort zone, for 40 years. I can’t sit there. I just can’t sit in my chair [at home],’’ he said. “I’ve been there long enough already. I’ve got to be busy. I’ve got to do something to preoccupy myself. I need to do something I enjoy. And this is what I enjoy doing and I always have . . . I still enjoy it. I’m not crazy about the 4 o’clock arrivals, but the game itself I truly love, and I always have and I still do, and that’s not going to go away.”
That enjoyment of the job was not evident last year. But this year has brought back the Remy of old, an incisive, sharp analyst with a knack for recognizing what might or should happen before it does. He is back in that comfort zone, and viewers are back to being comfortable with him. He should be back next year. He deserves to be back, and he is under contract, having signed what he said was a five-year deal in April 2013.
The question remains: Will he be back? When WEEI’s Gerry Callahan broke the news of Orsillo’s departure during last Tuesday’s “Dennis and Callahan” program, he also said that Remy would work a reduced schedule next year, possibly in the range of 40 games.
Reached by phone Thursday, Remy said he could not comment on his status. When asked for comment, NESN spokesman Gary Roy referred to Buckley’s nearly-week-old Herald column. In that piece, NESN president and CEO Sean McGrail said Remy is in the network’s plans for next season, but a role hadn’t been finalized. When asked if the role would be reduced, McGrail said: “We don’t know yet. We’re working through that. We weren’t going to talk about that until October, but he will be with us, for sure.”
It’s a shame that Orsillo is being nudged out of his dream job after doing it so well for 15 seasons. But with sentiment removed from the equation, an O’Brien-Remy pairing would probably be excellent.
If Dennis Eckersley, who is as good as it gets as a studio analyst and has filled in for Remy to rave reviews through the years, spent more time in the booth next season, that would not be a bad thing for viewers.
Fellow studio analyst Steve Lyons also has a cadre of supporters at NESN and significant experience (Fox national broadcasts, Los Angeles Dodgers telecasts) as a color analyst.
It should be noted that in the past, Remy has scoffed at the idea of taking on some studio duties. He has pinch hit in that role for NESN only when the Red Sox are in the postseason and the game broadcasts are ceded to the national rights holders.
“I consider myself a game guy,’’ Remy said in January 2014. “I don’t think I excel in a role in a studio. I just enjoy doing the games. If it was a decision between coming back as a game analyst or — I’m not knocking studio people — but it’s just not my cup of tea. I would’ve said no [if he were asked to do it before the 2014 season]. That’s not my comfort level.”
This season, Remy has rediscovered his comfort level, calling games and cracking jokes alongside his longtime partner, Orsillo. Remy was reenergized and so was the broadcast.
Now here we are, in this weird and unexpected place, with Orsillo calling his final month of Red Sox games, Remy in some kind of limbo, and more lingering questions than suitable answers.
Maybe the changes won’t be a bad thing. O’Brien is terrific, and some Remy/Eckersley/Lyons combination of analysts is more than suitable. So why does it seem like no one outside of the NESN boardrooms feels good about them?
Schilling suspension extended
ESPN’s suspension of Curt Schilling from its baseball telecasts will run through the end of the season. The former Sox pitcher was pulled from network broadcasts Aug. 25 after sending a tweet that compared Muslim extremists to the Nazi regime in Germany.
ESPN addressed Schilling’s extended suspension in a statement: “Curt’s actions have not been consistent with his contractual obligations, nor have they been professionally handled; they have obviously not reflected well on the company. As a result, he will not appear on ESPN through the remainder of the regular season and our Wild Card playoff game.”
Chad Finn can be reached at email@example.com.