By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
As a Red Sox fan, I always feared Don Orsillo might end up broadcasting Major League Baseball for another team, or possibly a national platform such as FOX or ESPN. However, I felt it would be on his own accord, and for a bigger pay day.
In late August of 2015, I was eating my usual foot long tuna at a Subway Restaurant on Lisbon Street in Lewiston, Maine, when I saw the tweet announcing Don Orsillo would not be back for the 2016 season.
It was not immediately clear as to why Orsillo was leaving, but the dirty details trickled out over the course of the week. Red Sox Chairman, Tom Werner, had apparently made the decision to replace Orsillo with WEEI’s Dave O’Brien, because they felt they needed a “new direction,” and that the latter was an “upgrade.”
In Orsillo’s defense, the ratings for the Sox were down mostly due to the fact they finished in last place during both the 2014 & 15 season’s. With O’Brien leading the broadcast, ratings are down 15% from 2016, even after Boston won the AL East for the second season in a row.
The perception of O’Brien’s ability to connect with the Fenway faithful is not getting any stronger. More and more across social media we are seeing fans post about their displeasure of having to listen to the live NESN broadcast. Many insist they watch with the TV on mute, or simply prefer the radio coverage.
O’Brien is very dry in his delivery and commentary. He often complains about the pace of play, and what inning they should be playing based on how late it is in the evening. It is almost as if he knows his ratings are slipping, and airs out his complaints in regards to the game’s pace in an attempt to justify the declining numbers to his viewers.
Orsillo on the other hand, would banter back and fourth with legendary color commentator Jerry Remy. It wouldn’t matter how late the game was going, or if the score was 9-2 for either team, they were always entertaining. It could be about a mishap at the hotel or airport, stealing mustard from cafeterias, they always made us laugh. Both lead broadcasters could not be more polar opposite.
Red Sox owners John Henry & Tom Werner have had a long standing accountability problem. Terry Francona left the city of Boston with a knife in his back after it was suggested he had marital, and possible substance abuse problems. Many suspected Larry Luchhino as the culprit, but Henry & Werner did not clear the air, or defend their former manager nontheless. Jon Lester was let walk due to a severely botched negotiations breakdown. They brought Pablo Sandoval to Boston in an attempt to help the team’s marketability. When he showed up grossly overweight for spring training in 2016, Henry attempted to come to the rescue by saying the Kung Fu Panda was 17% body fat. Just a little white lie, right?
This will be O’Brien’s third full season in the NESN booth. If the ratings do continue to slide, we can only hope the NESN (owned by the Red Sox) will decide to cut ties and move on. Not only have the ratings slipped, but empty seats could be seen in various spots of Fenway Park during both games of the 2017 ALDS playoff series against the Astros. One might suggest this is an apples and oranges comparison, but O’Brien still speaks to the likability of the team.
Despite Orsillo’s immense and everlasting popularity with Red Sox fans, it’s unlikely he will never be back. He snubbed NESN when they tried to get him to publicly state this departure was a “mutual decision.” My dream candidate to put in the NESN booth was Matt Vasgersian, but he recently signed a deal with ESPN to take over Sunday Night Baseball.
One thing is for certain, Dave O’Brien has ultimately failed to become a beloved and revered voice for Red Sox Nation. He has quite frankly been mostly rejected by the vast majority of the fan base. It’s anyone’s guess as to who a possible replacement candidate could be. It all depends how long Tom Werner and NESN will be willing to hold out.
Make no mistake about it, they never admit they were wrong in ousting Orsillo. That’s not who Werner & Company are. They do not have the character or integrity to take that step.
Don Orsillo was our voice, and they took him away.
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