Past failures with Orsillo catch up with Sox in backlash to Remy tribute:

Apr. 21 — Two things were made abundantly clear over the past 48 hours. The Red Sox family adored the late Jerry Remy and misses him dearly, and fans still have not forgiven the team for how it treated Remy’s longtime broadcast partner Don Orsillo.

The lingering resentment stemming from Orsillo’s controversial 2015 termination burst back to the forefront after the club held a special pregame ceremony honoring Remy that many fans felt excluded the former play-by-play man. Those grievances kicked into overdrive after Orsillo, who now calls games for the San Diego Padres, announced he was offered an opportunity to prepare a video message paying tribute to Remy and that he’d later been told it was not needed.

The backlash was swift and forceful, casting an unfortunate pall on what was otherwise a thoughtful and fitting tribute.

Absent any other context, the club’s half-hour pre-game ceremony was well executed and appropriate. Remy’s family, former broadcast colleagues, ex-Red Sox teammates and others close to Remy were in attendance, and the program featured a video montage dedicated to Remy’s life and career as well as extended remarks by former Sox relief pitcher Bob Stanley and play-by -play partner Sean McDonough.

NESN also broadcast a separate special honoring Remy, which prominently featured Orsillo, but many fans were disappointed that Orsillo did not have a bigger part in the on-field ceremony. When the notion was raised that he may have been snubbed, that disappointment turned into outright anger.

Speaking on WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show” Thursday morning, Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy tried to explain that was not the case. He said Orsillo was the first person they called to invite to the ceremony, but that he could not make it due to his work responsibilities in San Diego. He also confirmed that they discussed the possibility of a video, but as planning for the ceremony evolved the club decided it would be better to have one all-encompassing video rather than a montage of tributes.

“We decided given that there were a number of former friends and colleagues of Jerry who could not make it, that having a series of one-off videos from people like [Terry Francona] or Dustin Pedroia or David Ortiz or Pedro Martinez or John Farrell, the list goes on and on and on. We thought we would capture everybody the best we possibly could in one video at the outset and then pivot to a live, in-person ceremony, which is what we did, “Kennedy said.

“Certainly there was no intention to slight anybody or make anybody feel like they were excluded in any way, in fact it’s just the opposite,” he continued. “We felt that we went out of our way to be as inclusive as possible.”

That’s a perfectly sensible explanation, and if the person at issue was Francona, Pedroia, Ortiz, Martinez or Farrell fans would likely have been willing to accept it.

But when it comes to Orsillo, fans aren’t willing to give the club the benefit of the doubt.

Even after seven years, the decision to fire Orsillo remains among the most unpopular decisions of the current Red Sox ownership group’s tenure. For 15 years Orsillo and Remy were a beloved tandem who called some of the most exciting and meaningful seasons in Red Sox history, and by breaking up the duo the Red Sox gravely underestimated the bond they’d formed with the fanbase and the level of animosity the move would engender.

Orsillo has also spoken publicly about how surprised and hurt he was by the whole situation, and by speaking out again it’s clear on some level he feels the club was piling on insult to injury. Even if the club meant no offense, things obviously weren’t communicated effectively enough behind the scenes.

But the truth is this controversy isn’t really about a 30-second video message at all. The reason Orsillo wasn’t in Boston this week, and the reason why he wasn’t by Remy’s side for the last five years of his life, is because the Red Sox thought he was replaceable and fired him.

To the generation of fans who grew up listening to Don and Jerry, that decision was and remains unconscionable, and fairly or not the events of this week have only reinforced the perception that the club does not fully appreciate the pair’s lasting importance.

Email: mcerullo@northofboston.com. Twitter: @MacCerullo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.