The last home game of 2015, the last such game for longtime announcer Don Orsillo, also brings about some realizations about the Red Sox themselves.
As recounted in August, when the news first broke, none of the changes the Sox have put us through have had the same impact on the Nation as Orsillo’s disgraceful, classless dismissal. Even the departure of Terry Francona was seen, at least in some circles, as a change that had to be.
What exactly NESN was trying to fix by keeping Orsillo from the broadcast booth beyond 2015 is all but inscrutable. They’re hardly saying, short of a couple comments by Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner, who said something about “revitalizing” the broadcast. The Red Sox own 80% of the network and reports have indicated no decision of this magnitude would be made without ownership’s approval.
For his part, as every fan surely knows by now, Orsillo has been the very definition of class. There has been not a word out of place in his broadcasts, not even the slightest on-air hint of what his friends say has been his repeated career funeral when he shows up for work everyday.
On Sunday, Orsillo broke his silence with a tribute to his fans.
— Don Orsillo (@DonOrsillo) September 27, 2015
Enter Dave O’Brien
I’ve long felt Red Sox Nation was blessed with excellent options for fans, near and far, to follow their team on both television and radio.
In 2016 radio play-by-play man and Massachusetts native Dave O’Brien will settle in alongside, at least for some games, Jerry Remy on television. 2015 was O’Brien’s ninth season calling Red Sox games on the radio, his 25th calling MLB games overall. I’ve heard some who are critical of O’Brien’s ESPN and radio work, but I’ve always enjoyed it. I still get chills listening to his call of David Ortiz‘ 2013 grand slam against the Tigers.
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It hasn’t been announced who will join longtime Red Sox radio voice Joe Castiglione to replace O’Brien. The station has been trying out former Sox player Lou Merloni. On Sunday the Boston Herald reported that Orsillo had been offered the radio gig along with a salary that’s about a third what he’s has been earning with NESN.
With the shock of the decision behind us and the new reality setting in, there are some things that seem very clear to me.
- NESN made a bad decision, then made a bad decision worse by being tone deaf and hunkering down rather than facing up to their customers.
- Don Orsillo was treated badly, but his talent is undeniable and he will be successful elsewhere.
- Dave O’Brien is a good broadcaster, who will likely do well in his new role.
- The Red Sox have lost their sheen as a well run organization. Increasingly, they seem bumbling, tactless, conniving, and maybe even a little mean.
Fenway Sports Group, the parent company of the Red Sox and other sports ventures, is a big, high value company. Big companies often are compelled to make difficult, even unpopular decisions. But the fallacy for fans is believing that big companies, by their very nature, can’t be run well, that they can’t make decisions with integrity. That’s simply not true.
Somewhere along the line, the smooth, analytical, intelligent, professionally run Red Sox organization, turned into something else. Something other than friendly, something other than honorable, something other than admirable. And in the long run, that transition undermines the Red Sox’ brand.
It’s not just by the Orsillo debacle. Witness the transition of Sam Kennedy to replace Larry Lucchino, rumors of which started circulating some six months beforehand.
Look, too, at the badly needed but completely flubbed transition from Ben Cherington to Dave Dombrowski, where, in separate press conferences (by itself, an oddity), Cherington’s timeline of how events unfolded differed substantially from the one Werner and principal owner John Henry had tried to sell to the media just hours earlier.
Whether they choose to acknowledge it or not, the Red Sox family looks dysfunctional. The Red Sox business looks as though it can’t execute change, a fundamental element of success, without courting disaster.
Turn the page
Is it possible a winning 2016 season simply washes away the bad feelings? Perhaps so.
The outrage over Orsillo today isn’t what it was in late August. It will be all but gone a month after the season is over. Fans should and will come to embrace Dave O’Brien, who by no one’s account, had anything to do with Orsillo’s ouster.
Miserable 2014 and 2015 seasons on the field haven’t appreciably dampened customer demand for the Red Sox product, at least so far.
What no one knows is how much more customers will be willing to turn the page, let bygones be bygones, keep subscribing to NESN, and keep coming to Fenway.