Musings: The Return Of Sean McDonough

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

THE RETURN OF SEAN MCDONOUGH

I don’t know about you, but the only time I listen to radio broadcasts of baseball is when

I’m in the car. When I’m home I watch on TV, never with the sound turned down. I’m a

big fan of Dave O’Brien, Jerry Remy, and Dennis Eckersley. That said, there are usually

a couple of times a week when I’m either going to or coming from someplace when a

game is on, and I’m always tuned in to it. Sometimes, if I’m close to home, it’s for as

little as half an inning; at others, such as the summer season when I often make day trips

to Cape Cod, I’ll have baseball to keep me company for four or five innings as I’m on my

way home.

I used to get a full diet of baseball radio broadcasts on Fridays thirty years ago when I

was living in Washington, D.C. In the summer I used to make weekly drives to my then

cottage in Wellfleet on Cape Cod. If the Baltimore Orioles had a day game, I’d listen to

Jon Miller’s call of the game, which would last through Delaware and onto the New

Jersey Turnpike. By the time I got onto the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, the Red Sox

game would be starting and Ken Coleman and Ned Martin would keep me company all

the way to Wellfleet, first on the Hartford affiliate of the Red Sox network, then on the

Providence station, and finally on the Cape Cod outlet. Those games, with gifted

announcers at the microphone, greatly eased my nine hour commute. They gave me an

appreciation of how entertaining baseball on the radio can be when it’s in the proper

hands.

That’s a long-winded way to preface what a pleasant surprise it was recently when I

flipped on the car radio and heard the unmistakable voice of Sean McDonough calling a

Sox game. It was like unexpectedly running into an old friend you haven’t seen for a long

time. It’s been fifteen years since he’s been in the broadcast booth at Fenway Park but he

hasn’t lost anything off his play-by-play fastball. He was insightful, descriptive in his

calling of the action, and comfortably conversational with his partners, Red Sox radio

legend Joe Castiglione and former infielder-turned broadcaster Lou Merloni. He was, in a

word, terrific.

It was more than thirty years ago when, only in his mid-twenties, McDonough landed the

gig as play-by-play guy for Sox TV games. He quickly established himself as the real

deal and built a unique relationship with his partner, analyst Jerry Remy, that led to “the

Rem-Dawg” – remember those days? – becoming a major media personality in these

parts. So good was McDonough that he was soon hired by both CBS and ESPN to cover

high profile events such as the World Series, the NCAA men’s basketball tourney, and

the Masters golf tournament when not otherwise committed to his duties with the Red

Sox. In 2004 the New York Mets tried to hire him to be their play-by-play man. New

York, of course, is the largest media market in the country, and one would suppose that

the pay would have been considerably higher than the Red Sox job, but McDonough, the

son of the late Will McDonough, the legendary Boston Globe sportswriter, was a local

product, and he opted to stay with the team he grew up loving and for what he thought

was job security.

There is no such thing as job security in radio and television. Not even for someone like

Sean McDonough.

In those days TV coverage of the Sox games was split between over-the-air television

and cable, which was then just coming into its own. McDonough handled the over-the-air

games while a young announcer, Don Orsillo, did the games on NESN.

When it was decided to put all the games on NESN, there was room for only one play-by-

play guy. Orsillo had by then proven himself to be more than competent in the booth,

plus he was paid far less than McDonough, who had built a national reputation. The

bosses at NESN made the smart business decision; they decided on the less expensive

guy, and McDonough, who had just turned down the lucrative Mets job, was the odd man

out.

It’s not like we have to run any benefits for him. He’s been very busy these last years

doing all kinds of games on ESPN. In 2016 he was named play-by-play announcer for the

ratings powerhouse Monday Night Football telecasts; but after 2017, when analyst John

Gruden was convinced to return to coaching by the Oakland Raiders, ESPN opted to

totally revamp the MNF telecast, so that gig came to an end.

Meanwhile WEEI has decided to use a round-robin of broadcasters to work with

Castiglione this year – of which McDonough is only one – before choosing a permanent

partner for Joe beginning in 2020. Chris Berman, for example, will also do a number of

games.

For all the other sports that he has covered, football, basketball, golf, and more, his few

days in the radio booth illustrated clearly that he is a baseball guy. He obviously enjoyed

himself and that made his calling of the games more enjoyable.

For the record, I know Sean McDonough, but not very well. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve

had even a casual conversation with him since his Red Sox years. I have no idea if he is a

candidate for the job or if he could be talked into taking it. After all, it’s big step down to

be second banana on the radio from being the number one guy on nationally televised

events. I do know this, though: he was first-rate in the few games I heard in his brief stint

recently – he’ll be doing about twenty-five more during the year – and I hope, for our

sake if not for his, that he’ll be doing a lot more.