Wednesday was an emotional one at Fenway Park, with the Red Sox and NESN hosting an on-field ceremony to remember Jerry Remy, the beloved broadcaster and former player who passed away last fall. For any of the faults we can find with the Red Sox organization, they typically handle these types of ceremonies extremely well, and for the most part they nailed it for this one as well. They brought out former teammates and broadcast partners of Remy, and his former play-by-play partner Sean McDonough gave a wonderful speech highlighting many of the reasons Remy became such an important figure for so many Red Sox players, coaches, staff members, and fans.
But amid all of that, it was hard to not feel like something was missing as Don Orsillo was nowhere to be found in the ceremony. Now a broadcaster with the Padres, he did have a game to call that afternoon, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that he wasn’t there in person. Still, it was the expectation and hope of myself and I’d imagine most every other Red Sox fan that he’d at least get a chance to speak via video to pay his respects to a man with whom he grew extremely close over 15 years in the booth, and who he has credited for helping shape him into, in this writer’s opinion anyway, the best play-by-play man in the entire sport. After the game, we learned from Orsillo himself that he had recorded a video, but the Red Sox and NESN decided it wasn’t needed.
It’s hard to put into words how truly shameful this is, even now still not knowing the entire story. For anyone from my generation who started watching Red Sox baseball in the late 90s and really grew up on the team in the mid-aughts into the 2010s, the Orsillo/Remy team was a big reason why they became as big of fans as they did. The duo had the kind of chemistry that can not be faked, and has largely not been replicated in any other booth I’ve seen in any sport. They made the great moments greater, and they made what should have been dull blowouts must-watch television.
Remy’s legacy was greater than his time with Orsillo, to be sure, as he was already well-established as a broadcast mainstay by the time Orsillo joined the booth, but the two spent 15 years together. They’re forever linked in the hearts and minds of so many Red Sox fans. The total lack of acknowledgment of that era in the on-field ceremony — we should, however, mention that Orsillo was indeed part of the NESN tribute that was separate from the on-field event — was glaring and needed explanation immediately.
The cynic in me found it hard to believe this was anything but pride. The Red Sox have been reminded time and time again by this fanbase what a big mistake it was to let Orsillo go, and he certainly would have received a large applause had he been present, whether in-person or on video. That would have looked bad for the team. According to them, though, that’s not what happened, and we can only take statements as they are given. Via Chad Finn of the Boston Globe, the Red Sox have said Orsillo was invited but could not make it, and that they were not showing videos in the ceremony. Nobody has refuted that he was invited, so at this point there is no reason to doubt that.
It doesn’t leave the organization or the flagship broadcast network off the hook, though. There is absolutely, 100 percent no reason for the team to have not played the video. In the tweet from Orsillo above he shared the remarks from his video, and it would have been maybe a 45-second clip. It’s not as though they would have had to cut even a quarter of McDonough’s speech, or any other major part of the ceremony. They could have even simply delayed the game by an extra minute, tops, to fit the video in. I can’t believe they didn’t know that there would be backlash to him not being a part of this, and it ultimately takes away from what was otherwise, as mentioned above, a really nice ceremony. It’s an unforced error and a sign of an organization that, at least in this instance, can’t help but trip over themselves.
They continued to cover themselves in glory after the story started to spread and Red Sox fans rightfully voiced their displeasure, too. Senior vice president — and make sure you get that title right — Pam Kenn simply responded to former Red Sox historian and beat writer Gordon Edes by saying, “Two sides to every story.” If you’re not going to share your side of the story, making this statement does nothing but further fan the flames. Kenn’s husband, who does not work for the team, also jumped in, intimating that Orsillo sharing the contents of the video he’d hoped would be shared only served to take away from Remy’s tribute. It cannot be stated emphatically enough that the only thing taking away from this tribute was Orsillo’s absence, which could have been avoided quite easily.
Ultimately, against my judgement in the moment last night, I don’t think get the sense that this was anything malicious from the team or the network. Instead, it was simple incompetence and unforced errors from a PR perspective. Even taking them at their word that Orsillo was indeed invited, which again there is nothing to this point stating the contrary, they could have easily found room for a short video. They also should have seen the backlash coming from a mile away and gotten ahead of it. Anyone with half a brain cell knew that his absence would be noticed and people would want answers.
Orsillo just wanted what anyone who lost a loved one would want. He wanted to honor a mentor and a dear friend, letting the world know how special he was. Fans also wanted that, given how important that duo was to so many who root for this team. The Red Sox blew it, plain and simple, and it’s something that will take a long, long time to forget and forgive, if it ever even gets to that point.
Update (11:00 AM ET)
Since publishing, both Kenn and Red Sox president Sam Kennedy have released statements.