It’s never a good thing to end a season on a low note, but this year the Red Sox didn’t have much of a choice. Sunday’s game—the final home game of the season—felt more than a little bit like a somber event, and it was one of the Red Sox’s own making.
The game wasn’t just disheartening because the Red Sox had an absolutely terrible season this year, but also because this it marked the end of an era in the broadcast booth atop Fenway Park. Unfortunately, the era didn’t end because one member of the team is retiring, but instead because one of them was terminated by his employer. Don Orsillo, the beloved TV voice of the team, won’t be returning in 2016 due to The New England Sports Network not renewing his contract.
It can’t have taken more than a few hours for NESN to realize just how bad of a decision this was. From the minute the news was broken by WEEI’s Gerry Callahan, there was a tsunami of fan pushback. Orsillo supporters flooded the comment sections of articles relating to the story, and an online petition garnered more than 60,000 signatures asking NESN to change their mind, and bring Orsillo back.
Of course, the TV home of the Red Sox and the Boston Bruins did not opt to bring Don back, and the reasons for that are beyond me. However, that won’t stop me from making a few guesses. I have two theories as to why this might have happened.
The first one is the idea that is widely spread as the reason for his ouster, and it makes some sense. NESN requires its baseball broadcasters to take a vacation in the middle of the season. This seems like something that would be fairly popular with the broadcasters, but that isn’t the case with Orsillo due to a certain catch in the clause.
An in-season vacation requires Orsillo and his broadcast partner Jerry Remy to make their missed time up in the offseason—something that is extremely unusual for a baseball play-by-play man. The MLB season is a grueling one to cover. There are 162 games, 80 of which are on the road. Forcing someone who has to cope with that calendar to make up time that they didn’t want to take off is flat out ridiculous.
Having met him several times, I can honestly say that Orsillo is one of the most mild-mannered, kind individuals in the industry, but I can definitely see him putting up a stink about something like that. After all, who wouldn’t? According to industry sources of The Boston Globe’s Chad Finn, Orsillo “was never a favorite” of Joseph Maar, the Vice President of Programing at NESN, and I think that the in-season vacation policy is the reason why. Maar implemented the mandatory vacation at NESN when he signed on as an executive, and has done the same at other regional sports networks that he has worked at. According to other sources of Finn and the Globe, Orsillo was “resistant” to the policy, and it makes a whole lot of sense that that resistance may have played a role in his canning.
Theory number two is, well, a complete conspiracy. Eighty percent of NESN is owned by the Fenway Sports Group, which effectively means that the Red Sox own a majority share of the network. Nothing this big at any network would happen without the stamp of approval of the owners, and in this case those owners just so happen to be the owners of the Sox. There’s no evidence that I have found that indicates that the ownership group didn’t like Orsillo, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them may have had it in for him. I know it’s crazy, because who would ever have it in for Don Orsillo, but between Maar and one of the Red Sox owners, there had to have been enough bad blood to want sack the most popular telecaster in New England.
The last thing that should be mentioned on this topic is the legacy that Orsillo leaves behind. And it’s a damn good one. His professional on-air nature is something that all broadcasters should strive for, and his ability to make big moments exciting will long be missed on the airwaves in Boston. But in all honesty, those qualities aren’t really what we’ll miss the most about Don Orsillo. It will be the funny moments during games, like the infamous pizza throwing incident, and his everlasting chemistry with Remy, that will be irreplaceable.
Don’t get me wrong, Dave O’Brien, his successor—who since 2007 has been doing the radio broadcasts on WEEI-FM—is also great, but he just isn’t Orsillo. Like almost every Red Sox fan, I wish him luck in what lies ahead, but his presence will be missed on summer nights in my home, as it will countless others across New England.
Contact Jasper Goodman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jasper_Goodman