Red Sox

Don Orsillo says Jerry Remy was the main reason he got Red Sox play-by-play job

"He got in [Red Sox general manager] Dan Duquette’s ear, and the NESN people," said Orsillo.

Don Orsillo (right) and Jerry Remy shared the Red Sox broadcast booth for NESN for 15 seasons. JIM DAVIS

Before Jerry Remy became Don Orsillo’s broadcast partner and close friend, before all of those moments of side-splitting hilarity that they shared in the NESN Red Sox booth during their 15 seasons together, before any of that, Remy was something else to Orsillo:

He was his advocate in getting the coveted play-by-play job in the first place.

“Jerry was so much more than just an analyst to me,” recalled Orsillo during a conversation after Remy died last Saturday night from lung cancer at age 68. “He was largely the reason that I got to the big leagues.”

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Orsillo laughs, a familiar sound to any sad or sentimental fans that spent time this past week watching highlights of his broadcasts with Remy. “I had been in the minor leagues for 10 seasons, and let’s just say there really was not a huge projection of me getting to the big leagues at that point.”

Orsillo, a Northeastern graduate, had spent five of those seasons (1996-2000) calling Pawtucket Red Sox games. The PawSox were renowned for sending broadcasters to the big leagues — among the alums now calling MLB games are Gary Cohen, Dave and Will Flemming, and Dave Jageler.

But a half-decade in Triple A is a long time, and Orsillo began wondering if he’d ever get the call.

“I was sort of at a crossroads,” said Orsillo. “We had just had my first child at home and we were becoming a family. [Orsillo and his then-wife had two daughters.] You don’t make a great deal of money in the minors. A tipping point was coming.”

At the time, entering the 2001 season, Red Sox broadcasts aired on Ch. 25 and NESN. Remy was the color analyst for all games, but the play-by-play job was split. Sean McDonough called the Ch. 25 games, while the role on the NESN broadcasts opened up when Bob Kurtz left to become the voice of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.

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“With Kurtz leaving, Jerry reached out to me to see if I had interest in moving up,” said Orsillo. “We knew each other a little bit by then, but I was like, ‘You’re kidding me.’

“And he went to bat for me. He got in [Red Sox general manager] Dan Duquette’s ear, and the NESN people. He was as big a part of getting me to Boston and the big leagues as anybody, maybe more than anybody.”

That doesn’t mean that the bond that was so evident through their time together in the broadcast booth was immediate.

“He was tough on me my first few years,” said Orsillo. “It was tough love. It really was. But I realized it even at the time that he was teaching me everything I needed to know. That was just him. He was the most real person I knew. You knew where you stood with Jerry instantly.

“There’s was no filter, no talking you up insincerely, it was matter-of-fact, this-is-it, this-is-genuine, you need to do this. And he was 100 percent right.”

Orsillo acknowledged that he had a lot to learn when he got to big leagues.

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“I didn’t know anything,” he said with a laugh. “Ten years in the minor leagues I didn’t know anything about the majors, that’s for sure. I didn’t know anything about TV after doing 10 years of minor league radio.”

Remy helped him, just as Ned Martin, McDonough, and Kurtz had helped Remy.

“He was my teacher, my friend,” said Orsillo. “He was everything to me in this business. I’d be nowhere without him, and that’s 100 percent true.”

Orsillo landed with the San Diego Padres, on the other side of the country, after Red Sox management decided not to renew his contract at the end of the 2015 season.

But technology helped him keep his connection with his friend.

“I still used to hear from him 3-4 times a day via text,” said Orsillo. “Any topic, whatever you woke up to that was online or in the paper, whatever, you’d get his take. I could have predicted most of them because I know how he felt about a lot of people and things.”

Orsillo paused. “I’m going to miss that so much,” he said. “There’s such a void there now. There was no one like Jerry. I’m so grateful for having had him in my life and in my corner.”

Facts are in jeopardy

Back in April in this space, I praised Aaron Rodgers’s guest hosting stint on “Jeopardy!” After watching him spew dangerous and debunked misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines on “The Pat McAfee Show” Friday, I’m grateful he didn’t get the full-time gig. The only show he should host is one in which the answers can be anything you want them to be, facts be damned … WEEI (850) barely registered in the ratings after becoming an ESPN Radio affiliate in September 2011, when the local lineup moved over to FM at WEEI (93.7). But it is a shame, as a few loyal listeners have noted, that it’s now dedicated primarily to BetQL gambling content, a switch made a couple of weeks ago … ESPN plans to officially shut down ESPN Classic at the end of the year. It’s probably time — YouTube long ago replaced the channel as the go-to for vintage sports content — but it was awfully fun when it first came around, especially in its Classic Sports form before ESPN bought it. It was so delightfully random. One hour you could watch the Ice Bowl, and in the next, Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, and then that would be followed by a 1970s arm-wrestling match hosted by a young Al Michaels.

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