By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author
REMY, ECKERSLEY AND O’BRIEN
The final weekend of the regular season was not filled with great baseball if you happen
to be a Red Sox fan. The Olde Towne Team staggered across the finish losing five of its
last seven games. That said, it was a wonderful week to be watching them on NESN.
That’s because Jerry Remy and Dennis Eckersley were together in the booth along with
play by play man Dave O’Brien.
Remy and Eckersley are both excellent analysts, a fact that was demonstrably highlighted
as a veritable cattle call of wannabes trooped into the booth to audtion next to O’Brien for
a few games at a time over the last weeks of the season, inflicting varying degrees of
winces on viewers at home. It’s not as easy at it looks, appearing relaxed and at ease
when on the air while at the same time being succinct and insightful. Add in being
careful not to step on the other guy’s lines plus dropping in a few paid announcements
here and there and it can, in its own way, be as stressful as trying to hit a slider on the
outside corner at the knees.
As good as the Remdawg and the Eck are individually, though, each was made even
better by the presence of the other during that final week (They also did a few games
together in early September but I was at the ballpark on those occasions and did not get to
hear them). They bring different sensibilities to a game, Remy that of an everyday player
and Eckersley that of a pitcher, both starter and reliever.
They have known one another for four decades; they both came to the Red Sox in the
same year, the roller coaster season of 1978, and they remained teammates with the Sox
through 1984, after which Remy retired, done in by a ten cent knee. Eckersley, on the
other hand, was just getting started; he was traded to the Cubs, then to Oakland where he
became the greatest closer of his generation and punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame,
then on to St. Louis. He finally finished up with the Red Sox again in 1998, by which
time Remy was well established as the Sox TV color analyst.
They brought all that history – and talent – into the NESN booth during that final week of
the season (discounting Saturday when the game was carried by Fox) and they were
terrific. With O’Brien sitting between them and directing traffic while at the same time
keeping the focus on the game, they traded anecdotes and insights about everything from
umpires to great plays to things that they regretted having done. And the whole thing was
as smooth as silk. It was just good, really good, baseball television.
They are two talented broadcasters with differing styles, and they genuinely like one
another; each brought out the best in the other. When the final game of the season was
over Eckersley said he hoped they’d be able to work togther next year on a regular basis.
I do too. I don’t know what the likelihood of that is because it would be an expensive
proposition for NESN, but it was fun while it lasted.
A word or two about Dave O’Brien. He is a consummate professional. He knows when to
get out of the way and does so willingly when it will make the telecast better, but at the
same time he is the guy who is responsible, the man in charge. He let his good instincts
take over in dealing with Remy and Eckersely in the same booth yet he made very sure
that viewers at home were up to date on what the score was, who was at bat and what the
count was; and he did it seamlessly. He’d encourage Remy or Eckersely to tell a
particular story while not forgetting their main purpose for being there was to analyze the
It was in the previous weeks that O’Brien’s professionalism really showed. He was oten
paired with guys who knew the game of baseball but had no idea about the business of
television. He had to hold the hand of some of them and encourage some others while at
the same time not letting us at home know he was propping them up. He managed to
somehow pull it off even though some of the recruits were obviously in over their heads.
When he took over from Don Orsillo as NESN’s play by play man two years ago it was
an awkward situation, not the making of either man. He handled it graciously (as did
Orsillo, who is now happily ensconsed in San Diego where he took over the Padres
telecasts from the great Dick Enberg).
O’Brien is a local guy with roots that go back to Quincy, but he has a national reputation
as one of ESPN’s go-to guys. Boston is lucky to have him.
In fact, Boston has been very fortunate for as long as I can remember (and that’s a long,
long time) in having first class broadcasters calling Red Sox games. One of them was
Ken Coleman, another Quincy guy.
Ken used to sign off the final Sox game of each season by reading a beautiful quote by a
devoted Red Sox fan who understood the romance of the game, former baseball
commissioner Bart Giamatti, a man of letters who had been president of Yale University.
“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring
when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer filling the afternoons
and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the
fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of
sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need
it most, it stops.”