It’s true, Jerry Remy and I have a unique connection to each other as the two guys who placed first and second in the voting for President of Red Sox Nation back in 2007. But even though we have worked together as the President and Vice President these past two years, I still see Jerry the way all fans see him, and I got the same lump in my throat that all loyal fans got when I heard the news of his illness.
Sometimes, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone… and without Jerry’s presence alongside Don Orsillo, the experience of watching Red Sox games on TV has been diminished. Not so much because his analysis is first-rate – which it is – but because his on-air personality is so consistent, so easy to identify with, so friendly. It’s not a stretch to say that, in his role as the voice of the Red Sox, he has become like a family member to all of us who have followed the team closely over the last 20 years. Even though he hasn’t personally met most of us, even though we don’t send him a Christmas card, he’s been one of the constants in our lives for a long time, someone we’ve come to know very, very well, and someone we’ve developed enormous fondness for — and so we not only miss him now that he’s on leave to recover from cancer surgery, we also feel his pain.
Of course, I join all of Red Sox Nation in wishing him a full recovery and a swift return to the NESN booth, where he belongs.
And as I think about why I care about Jerry Remy so much, I am compelled to share two brief stories that reveal the kind of person he is.
The Presidential Debate, Fall 2007
At the Red Sox Nation presidential debate at BU back in 2007, most of the candidates were waiting in a conference room when, an hour and a half before the debate began, Jerry strolled in. The rest of us candidates who participated in the debate were nobodies (except Sam Horn, but he wasn’t in the room with us at that time), so it was a big moment for all of us to shake Jerry’s hand, and we couldn’t quite believe it when he grabbed a bottle of water, pulled up a chair, and hung out with us.
We all assumed Jerry would have his own room, or would show up just before the debates began, or would be off talking with the press, or would be chumming around with Henry, Lucchino, Steinberg, and maybe even Tim Russert. And he could have done any of these things. But he sat down and talked with us. And I remember we all talked – the 5 or 6 of us – right up until the moment we walked out onto the stage.
I remember Jerry in his Hawaiian shirt telling all of us, with a reassuring smile, “Don’t be nervous, you’re all going to do great, just relax and be yourselves.” And in that moment, we all realized we weren’t competing against each other – we realized Jerry was the man, and we were his supporting cast in a made-for-TV spectacle. And this helped to put all of us at ease.
And I remember that we politely (but somewhat aggressively) peppered Jerry with questions that every fan would want to ask him – about his own playing career, about his opinions on certain players, about the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, etc., and he gave long, complete, honest, personal answers to all of our questions without any impatience. His demeanor wasn’t the same as it was on TV – the perpetual smile took a rest while he spoke with us and we saw a more reflective, balanced side of Jerry. But the two things that impressed me most about Jerry that day were: 1) His willingness to let down his guard around this group of strangers who had been thrown into the final round of this bizarre contest with him, and 2) His respect for us. Not for one instant did he give us the impression that there was somewhere else more important for him to be than right there, with us, in the “green room.” Before we went out on that stage for the televised debate, he had already won all of our votes.
My interview of Jerry following his 20th Year Celebration
During the 2008 season, the Red Sox and NESN celebrated Jerry’s 20 years in the broadcast booth, and I got to interview him a couple of days later for The Red Sox Report. I don’t remember the questions I asked him and I don’t remember his responses – except for one. Jerry had mentioned that it was particularly meaningful to him that his grandson was present for the festivities, and I asked him what he hoped his grandson would learn from his remarkable example as a major league player and legendary TV broadcaster. I expected Jerry would say something about hard work and perseverance, but I was wrong. He said, “That he should be himself. Find out what you like to do, and do that. Be your own person.”
Best answer I ever heard. Jerry Remy, get well.