For Red Sox viewers and listeners, the news is all good
Now that the various roster moves and lineup alterations to NESN and WEEI’s Red Sox broadcast teams have been announced, here’s a takeaway that jibes with the natural optimism a new season (and World Series defense) ought to bring:
There is a lot of good news.
The best news is that Jerry Remy is back. Remy, who suffered a recurrence of lung cancer last August and was on leave receiving treatment as the Red Sox made their run to their fourth World Series title since 2004, announced in November that he is cancer-free. A Red Sox color analyst since 1988, Remy won’t travel as much this season but expects to do between 80 and 90 games.
More good news? Remy and Dennis Eckersley will join play-by-play voice Dave O’Brien in a three-man booth for at least 30 games, perhaps more, beginning with the home opener against the Blue Jays April 9. Eckersley announced Wednesday that he has signed a five-year extension with NESN and will be in the booth for 85 games this season.
Eckersley and Remy are excellent individually — Eckersley is every bit as engaging as a baseball analyst as the acclaimed Tony Romo is on NFL games — but the former Red Sox teammates in tandem get to an even higher level of entertainment and insight.
“It’s a special combination with those two guys,’’ said O’Brien, who is entering his third year as the play-by-play voice of NESN’s broadcasts after spending nine seasons alongside Joe Castiglione in WEEI’s radio booth. “They get in the booth and they perform like teammates.
“They fall immediately into that pattern of give and take and yin and yang with each other, topping each other’s stories off. It’s really an absolute pleasure. I can sort of sit back and call the game and hopefully weave it together.”
The correspondence delivered to this address regarding the O’Brien-Remy-Eckersley booth when NESN used it last summer offered almost universal raves, which rarely happens with anything in sports broadcasting nowadays.
The interaction is effortless among the three (and especially amusing during one game when Remy and Eckersley began reminiscing about a wild night at Studio 54, the trendy ’70s New York City club). So it’s interesting to hear O’Brien say there was some uncertainty about how it all would work.
“Last year when we started doing it, nobody was positive how that would sound and how the interplay would go,’’ said O’Brien. “And it was five times better than we ever anticipated.
“They bring out the best of each other, and there’s a lot to bring out. They’ve got truckloads of stories and they’re both very candid about the lives that they’ve had in and out of baseball, which I think adds so much depth to the broadcast.”
O’Brien also will be part of WEEI’s Summer of a Dozen or So Voices approach to filling the vacant seat alongside longtime radio voice Joe Castiglione on the flagship station’s broadcasts. Rather than hiring a single replacement for Tim Neverett, who left in December and is now with the Dodgers’ radio and television broadcast teams, WEEI and parent company Entercom Communications will use several broadcasters, including O’Brien, Sean McDonough, Josh Lewin, Mario Impemba, Chris Berman, Tom Caron, Lou Merloni, and Dale Arnold.
The best news about WEEI’s approach is that it brings McDonough back to a Red Sox broadcast booth. An acclaimed television voice of the Red Sox from 1988-2004, McDonough is expected to call around 30 games on the radio this season.
O’Brien, whose 10 radio assignments will come on the nights when the Red Sox are playing on national television and thus won’t air on NESN, said he and McDonough, a fellow Syracuse alum, have talked for years about calling some games together.
“We’re finally going to get a chance to do that,” said O’Brien, chuckling, “along with about 100 other guys. There are going to be several games where Sean and I or Sean, Joe, and I are going to be together. And I’m really looking forward to those. They’re two of my best friends.
“I’ll be doing far fewer games than a lot of the other guys that have signed on. But I’m intrigued by it. I think it’s going to be interesting for listeners to sample different broadcasts. The radio thing is going to be really fascinating. I don’t know anyone that has done this before.
“I’m a small part of it. The real challenge will be for Castig, because it will be a juggling act, but luckily he’s working with a bunch of very good announcers.”
On the television side, NESN has added former Red Sox players Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Carlos Pena to the spring training analyst mix, though it’s uncertain how many regular-season games they will end up doing. (More good news: Jonny Gomes, who must have been paid by the non sequitur, is not part of the broadcasts, having landed a gig as the Diamondbacks’ outfield and baserunning coordinator.)
It will be interesting to see how it all works out, on radio and television. This much is certain: There will be no shortage of opinions from the listeners and viewers.
But the surest thing right now is that O’Brien will be working with two of the best baseball analysts around.
“I’ve got Rem and Eck,’’ he said. “And that’s it, for the most part, once the season starts. I’m really looking forward to that, to the stability of it. The fans enjoy that.”