I often find myself thinking about how baseball wound up taking over all other sports for me as my clear favorite when I was a child, especially given the sport’s relative popularity lagging behind football and basketball among my peers. There are plenty of reasons that I won’t bore you with when I dig down in to it, some of them personal and others intrinsic to the sport itself. But then there are also reasons that really just come down to happenstance, the biggest of which I often think of as the fact that I was born in the Boston area at just the right time for my coming of age as a fan to occur just as Pedro Martinez was hitting his peak with the Red Sox. Those sorts of things build fanbases.
Yesterday had me realizing that there was another bit of happenstance, and another individual in the game, which had a hand in my baseball fandom. On Sunday, we received a big blow as Red Sox fans and baseball fans in general as we learned Jerry Remy had passed away at the age of 68 after another battle with cancer. The Fall River native spent seven years playing for his hometown team, and soon after started what would be a 33-year broadcasting run with the organization as well.
That long of a run means generations of fans spent night after night with Remy in their living room with them hanging out as they watched their favorite team play day in, and day out. He was the voice of the team for so many of us in the truest sense of the phrase. But it was also more than that. “The voice of the team” implies he was an outside force guiding us through games. Rather, he was one of us, albeit with a microphone in front of him, simply hanging out and watching his favorite team play day in, and day out.
Remy was what broadcasters should aspire to be. No one, to be fair, should be expected to so flawlessly and effortlessly straddle the line between curmudgeon and lovable, but the basics of who he was as a broadcaster should be, and needs to be, attainable for all who try to follow him. Remy had everything you were looking for. He was extremely knowledgable about the game, doing everything from breaking down swings, providing insight into every conversation happening on the field, and giving us constant glimpses into the minds on the field during every individual pitcher/batter matchup. But he was also endlessly entertaining, knowing when to take things less seriously and remember this is all supposed to be fun.
Remy was absolutely a Red Sox fan and was rarely shy about his homerism, but it never reached caricature status and he was always willing to dole out criticism where it was warranted. He was an old school mind who embraced the new school enough to not spend his nights yearning for yesteryear. He was larger than life, but also was not afraid to embrace and speak up about his very human struggles.
It’s a funny thing to say, but being a baseball fan — an every night kind of baseball fan — can be daunting. It’s almost literally every night for six months, and even putting aside the life responsibilities that can get it the way it can just honestly get... boring. There are games in the middle of the summer that just aren’t as entertaining and are blowouts from the third inning on. For all of the very real and valid worries about the state of baseball and the difficulties of attracting new fans, this is one that I think needs to be addressed in the booths. But instead of turning the game off, when I was growing up these were almost the games to look forward to most, because you knew Remy was going to say or do something hilarious that would make it all worth it.
Like I said, broadcasters everywhere should be trying to match the style of Remy, his ability to step back and forth between modes depending on the state of the game that given night. Without that in my own life, I’m not at all certain I feel the same way about baseball as I do today. It’s just happenstance that I was born at a time and in a place to listen to a broadcaster who one night would preach the virtue of the hit and run, the next break down an epic ninth inning showdown in a detailed but understandable manner, and the next break down a pizza flying through space into a man’s face in a detailed but understandable manner. And I couldn’t be more grateful that was the case.