Column: Ending the Don Orsillo era

The author (right) stands with Red Sox broadcaster Don Orsillo, who did not have his contracted renewed by the New England Sports Network (NESN) , at Red Sox Winter Weekend at Foxwoods Resort Casino in January 2015. (Courtesy/Daniel Madigan)

It’s been a rough year to be a Red Sox fan.

With the team set for yet another last-place finish, this season seems to be the most frustrating of late, given all the big name offseason acquisitions like Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Ownership finally has had enough, ousting general manager Ben Cherington and replacing him with Dave Dombrowski, former president of the Detroit Tigers.

But none of these moves sent the fans of Red Sox Nation into a frenzy like NESN deciding not to renew beloved play-by-play announcer Don Orsillo’s contract

NESN is owned by Fenway Sports Group, the group that also owns the Red Sox and the Liverpool FC. On Aug. 25, the network announced Orsillo, who has done play-by-play for the Sox since 2001, would not be in the booth in 2016. There was no explanation, other than that WEEI play-by-play man Dave O’Brien will be taking his spot next season.

On Saturday, Red Sox chairman Tom Werner finally spoke publicly about the Orsillo situation, telling the Boston Herald that “It was nothing against Don. It was the opportunity to bring on Dave [O’Brien].”

There is no doubt O’Brien is talented and one of the best in the business. But that is not the point. It is the way it all went down, pushing out one of broadcasting’s best talents after 15 years of excellent work. 

Dave Dombrowski, the Boston Red Sox new president of baseball operations, speaks to reporters after being introduced at a baseball news conference Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015, at Fenway Park in Boston. (Josh Reynolds/AP)

With Orsillo out for the season and color commentator Jerry Remy working a limited workload next season, it marks the end of one of baseball’s best broadcasting teams since the turn of the century. 

To say Orsillo and Remy’s chemistry is excellent would be an understatement. It is so good, Orsillo once replaced one of Remy’s teeth on-air when it fell out mid-game. The two had a knack for nailing coverage and providing meaningful commentary in close games, and legendary for making blowout games worth tuning in for. 

I will never forget the reaction from the two in 2010 when Manny Ramirez caught a ball at the warning track, climbed up the wall, and high-fived a fan in the stands while managing to double up a runner on base. I have never seen the two of them laugh so hard in my entire life.

The two could not get enough of the play. They kept replaying it and kept on laughing, all without skipping a beat in the game broadcast. They made a great moment even better by being personable and having fun, all while doing what they loved. 

Just last week, on the day news broke of Orsillo not returning, the two were at it again. Orsillo and Remy were reminiscing about their previous trip to Cleveland, where it was extremely cold. At that game, Orsillo was mystified as to what the difference between gloves and mittens were. He just could not wrap his head around the difference.

As the two talked about that cold series in Cleveland, Orsillo still did not understand the difference. Remy tried his best to explain it, and sure enough, Orsillo finally got that gloves cover each individual finger.

These two great moments illustrate that sometimes these two were at their best when they were not talking about baseball, and that is okay. Baseball has its fair share of downtime, and the best broadcasting teams know how to take advantage of it. I do not think anyone has managed to do so better than Orsillo and Remy.

Ever since I was little, I remember tuning into Sox games and listening to Orsillo. He is so easy on the ears and has excelled with a revolving door of color guys during some of Remy’s absences. He is one of the most talented guys in the business, and certainly did not deserve to be forced out of his dream job in such a public manner.

He will certainly be working elsewhere next season, despite a change.org petition with tens of thousands of signatures from Red Sox fans hoping to bring him back. The damage has already been done.

Like the true professional he is, Orsillo has not commented publicly on the matter, and will honor his contract and finish out the rest of the season. With the Sox eons out of contention, many fans might not have a reason to tune in anymore. 

But I certainly will be. 

I want to watch as many of Orsillo’s final games as I can. He has been the voice for so many of the greatest Sox games, and so many of my childhood memories. Game 162 will be a sad one to watch when I hear him call the game one last time. 

In 2016, the Red Sox will certainly look different than they do now. A new president, general manager and likely new faces in the field are all on the way as the team hopes to rebound from two consecutive last-place finishes. While Orsillo may have never stepped onto an MLB field, he will be remembered as fondly as any Red Sox legend due to his excellent chemistry and phenomenal broadcasting skills.

Most fans will like the new players, and they will probably like O’Brien too. But almost all Sox fans, including myself, will need some time to get used to O’Brien. Not because he is better or worse, but because he is replacing a legendary voice. The voice of the Red Sox Nation.


Daniel Madigan is associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.madigan@uconn.edu. He tweets @dmad1433.