By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The departure of Don Orsillo from NESN’s Red Sox broadcasts last year created a truly unique, perhaps unprecedented movement. Fans who had grown to know and appreciate the familiar voice of Orsillo calling every Red Sox game did not take kindly to the news that NESN was removing the play-by-play man, and those fans fought back in ways the ownership group likely did not expect.
From #SaveOrsillo hashtags, to standing ovations at Fenway, to Orsillo masks, to controversy over alleged confiscation of said Orsillo masks, to petitions to reverse the decision, to backlash against chairman Tom Werner and executives at NESN, it was all probably a bit more resistance than the decision-makers anticipated.
And now, nearly a year after the news broke, Orsillo is still left wondering why he lost his dream job.
“No, there really hasn’t been, to be honest with you,” Orsillo told CSNNE’s Sean McAdam on Tuesday when asked if there had been any contact at all from the Red Sox since the decision was made. “Unfortunately, I never really got an answer as to why it took place.”
Orsillo told McAdam that the only explanation he ever got came secondhand, via Steve Buckley’s Boston Herald column on Aug. 29, 2015. In that column, Werner spoke of “reenergizing” the broadcast and the upgrade opportunity that presented itself by bringing aboard Dave O’Brien.
“I read some things that they said, namely Steve Buckley in the Boston Herald. I read about energy, I read about upgrade, and things like that, that honestly kind of hurt me. Because to be honest with you, those were a couple of things that I took a lot of pride in,” Orsillo told McAdam. “So that was really all I ever heard, and unfortunately I don’t know anything more than that. I do know the team finished last two out of three years, ratings were down, and perhaps that’s the way they looked at it, and looked for what they perceive to be an upgrade and or more energy. I don’t know.”
Considering that the news broke in the middle of the summer, one might think that Werner would have reached out to Orsillo during the tumultuous period that followed, while Orsillo was still on the job. That, however, was not the case.
“He never called me. He never talked to me,” Orsillo told Buckley on Tuesday in San Diego. “The last six weeks of the season, he never reached out to me, called me, talked to me, or told me why. I was only told what I read in your article. … And there was the press release. It said ‘thanks for your service’ on the last line, or something like that.”
Werner disputed this notion, telling Buckley that he sent a “very nice email” to Orsillo in late August, with the understanding that NESN president Sean McGrail would speak to Orsillo about the decision.
It’s a similar passing of the buck to what principal owner John Henry told reporters at spring training this year.
“The fans are still mad about [NESN getting rid of Don Orsillo]? Why did that happen? I think it’d be better to ask Tom Werner and Sean McGrail and people at NESN about that,” Henry said back in February. “I don’t want to get back into all of that again.”
Henry didn’t “want to get back into all of that again” in February, but the truth was, he had never gotten into it. He never publicly explained the decision, and from the sound of what Orsillo is saying, he never “got into it” privately either.
While every business is entitled to make decisions it believes is best, it’s fair to expect a reasonable level of discourse between an employer and an employee who has dutifully worked hard and excelled for 15 years. It’s clear that NESN and the Red Sox came up short in that responsibility.
Plus, whenever a decision that is so noticeable to the public gets made, typically there is someone at the forefront who accepts credit — good, bad and in between — for making it. Yet in this saga, nobody has been willing to wear it.
The situation has mostly worked out. Orsillo’s employed in San Diego, waiting to take full reins of the TV play-by-play job once Dick Enberg retires at the end of this year. Red Sox ratings are up, though that’s mostly due to the performance of the team on the field than the revolving door of booth inhabitants.
But the firing of Orsillo last season remains as messy as ever, serving as one unsightly blemish on an ownership group that seemingly made a change for change’s sake without properly weighing or caring about the consequences.