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Sports Media

Remy’s words are reassuring

Sox analyst eyes Monday return

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / May 13, 2011

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When a familiar voice isn’t heard for a while, the natural instinct is concern. That concern is magnified when the voice belongs to a public figure whose health problems have made headlines in the recent past.

Which is why Red Sox fans surely exhaled after hearing reassuring words from Jerry Remy yesterday.

During an interview with Channel 5 reporter Bianca de la Garza, Remy, the longtime analyst on NESN’s Red Sox telecasts, said he expects to return to the booth Monday after being absent since April 27 while suffering from pneumonia.

It might seem odd that a pneumonia diagnosis could be seen as encouraging news. But given that he was out from early May to mid August of 2009 as he battled depression and complications from lung cancer surgery, Remy understands why some were worried.

“Well, I’m sure it is in the back of a lot of people’s minds,’’ he said during the interview, his first public comments about his absence. “But, I mean, I would be honest if something was seriously wrong with me. I would be honest with people. It’s not the case, it’s really not. It has just been a drawn-out two-week battle with pneumonia.’’

Remy’s absence was surprising because he seemed to be at his best during the season’s early days: engaging with Don Orsillo, droll, and displaying that uncanny knack for predicting a play. But the longer he was gone — he has missed 14 games to date — the greater the concern became, as fans and colleagues recalled his candor about his struggles with depression and his ongoing battle to give up smoking.

In the first few days he was out, his communication with the network was limited to status updates to NESN personnel through Russ Kenn, producer of Red Sox telecasts. Going incommunicado was understandable because he was sick. But the question lingered: Just how sick?

While semi-regular updates were provided on Remy’s Twitter feed maintained by John O’Rourke, his friend and business partner, the progression wasn’t always reassuring. Remy first said he was benched by a “bad cold’’ April 27, then a “very bad flu’’ April 30, then a “bit of pneumonia’’ May 2 before the update that amped up the concern May 7: “FYI still have a viral coughing thing in my chest — Doc says some people had it for a month — thanks for all your concern.’’

But a moment of levity showed up in his feed a day later: “Watching the Lakers self destruct embarrassing themselves — it’s a beautiful thing — are you watching it too?’’

Enjoying a Lakers defeat is usually a sign of good health for a New Englander. Yesterday’s words of reassurance were even more encouraging.

Exciting deals Tuesday was a fine day for those who like their play-by-play announcers on the excitable side. Jack Edwards, the voice and designated soliloquist of NESN’s Bruins telecasts, signed a contract extension that according to an industry source takes him through the next three seasons.

The same afternoon, Fox Sports formally announced that it had hired longtime CBS play-by-play voice Gus Johnson in a prominent role calling college football and basketball games and the NFL. Johnson, who spent 16 years at CBS, has developed a loyal following for his zealous but seemingly genuine calls, particularly during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

He will have a particularly significant role in Fox’s Pac-12 college basketball and football coverage over the next three seasons, and he will remain the voice of men’s college basketball on the Big Ten Network, of which Fox owns 49 percent.

The sentiment here is that Johnson’s enthusiasm will be missed on CBS/Turner’s coverage of the NCAA Tournament, where his style is a perfect match for the madness of the event. He’s not as strong on football, where details such as down and distance tend to get lost. It will be interesting to discover whether his popularity with the YouTube generation will affect the ratings for Fox.

Focus on Tappen? The NHL Network has expressed significant interest in hiring NESN’s Kathryn Tappen to anchor its studio programming, according to an industry source. Tappen, who has been at NESN since 2006, currently serves as studio host on Bruins telecasts. She signed a multiyear contract with NESN in September 2008. While it’s uncertain when her contract expires (she did not respond to requests seeking comment), a three-year deal is the norm. Tappen has been on the NHL Network’s radar since at least January when Mark Preisler, formerly an executive producer of ESPN’s “SportsCenter,’’ was hired by the NHL Network with the same title.

Puck control The competition between NESN and Comcast SportsNet New England for the attention of the region’s sports fans is evident in the resources both networks are dedicating to the Bruins. CSNNE is poised to reap the benefits of its corporate synergy with NBC and Versus (Comcast owns both networks). Its coverage begins nightly at 6 with “SportsNet Central,’’ with contributions from Mike Giardi, Joe Haggerty, Bob Beers, and the Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont. As a lead-in to Versus’s and NBC’s game coverage, “Comcast SportsNet Extra’’ will air at 7 p.m. with Michael Felger and Tony Amonte previewing the game from the studio. NESN, which cedes all broadcast rights to the networks for the remainder of the season, will have expanded pregame and postgame coverage beginning with a 90-minute “Bruins Face-Off Live’’ tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. Tappen and Gord Kluzak will lead the Game 1 coverage from TD Garden, along with Andy Brickley and Naoko Funayama. Edwards and Barry Pederson will be stationed at the NESN television center.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.

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