No matter who joins him in the NESN broadcast booth for the rest of this Red Sox season now that his partner Jerry Remy goes off to fight cancer again, Dave O'Brien says it will still feel as if there is an empty seat somewhere in that booth. And so
No matter who joins him in the NESN broadcast booth for the rest of this Red Sox season now that his partner Jerry Remy goes off to fight cancer again, Dave O'Brien says it will still feel as if there is an empty seat somewhere in that booth. And so much more than that.
"It will be an empty place in what has been such a magical season," O'Brien said Thursday from Toronto. "And no one has enjoyed watching it and talking about it and being a part of it more than my partner has. And why wouldn't he? Jerry played for this team. He sounds like its fans. He's always done more than just talk to them. He is of them."
Remy was first diagnosed with lung cancer in November 2008. He went in for a CT scan and a biopsy last week, and there was a spot on his lung. Cancer patients and cancer survivors know -- it keeps coming, even when you think you are in the clear. And sometimes, even for a tough baseball guy, a wonderful baseball gent like Remy, it keeps pushing back the goalposts. So the 65-year old Remy goes off to take it head on, again, telling the Boston media this week, "I will never quit."
Remy says he will know more about the treatment planned for him, and the timetable surrounding it, in a couple of weeks. Maybe then he will know if, and when, he will rejoin the Red Sox's season. For now, "Rem Dawg" will take a break from narrating what really has become, as O'Brien describes it, a magical time in Boston baseball. Boston fans will all be missing a friend, the way O'Brien will.
"We go into their living rooms in Spring Training and then stay until the last game we do," O'Brien said. "All of us who are lucky enough to do this for a living know how privileged we are, and what a special relationship this is. But for Red Sox fans, the relationship with Jerry is just more special. That seat next to me I talk about? Red Sox fans feel as if they've set one in their homes for Jerry Remy."
Then O'Brien was talking about how good Remy has been at what he does, for 30 years.
"We all talk about five-tool ballplayers," O'Brien, one of the best play-by-play men in the business, said. "Well, Jerry not only has all the tools a great analyst needs, he has the most important one: Honesty. Just speaking for myself, I know that if I want a straight answer about anything, whether related to baseball or not, all I have to do is turn to the man next to me."
I mentioned to O'Brien, an old friend, how much fun it was during the Red Sox-Yankees series at Fenway Park last week to listen to the three-man booth NESN employed: O'Brien, Remy and Dennis Eckersley. I mentioned to O'Brien that as much of an original as Eck is, as much of a character of his own as he is, with a vocabulary all his own ("I gotta have that one!" he'll shout on close pitches called balls), I could hear the respect he had for Remy, for Remy's standing in that booth and in Red Sox Nation. But then the two of them know how to be teammates, because they were with the Red Sox, from 1978 all the way into '84.
"It was as if the two of them went right back there," O'Brien said. "And I believe Jerry sensed what you're talking about, and then went out of his way himself to engage Eck as often as he could. Which meant [...] he was still being what he had been when they played together, just a tremendous teammate."
It also meant that Remy, one of the good guys, knew how to be an essential voice of his game even when he was letting somebody else do the talking. But then Eck is Jerry's friend, too.
"[Remy] has never stopped trying to be the absolute best broadcaster he can be," O'Brien said. "He wants people to know that he's good at his job, the same as he wanted people to know that when he as playing second base for the Red Sox. In that way, nothing has changed for him. He's still gonna show everybody. And does, game after game, year after year. I sometimes worry that people from out of town who catch one of our games, people from Chicago or Detroit or places like that, hear that voice and that accent and think, 'Oh, he's just another Boston guy.' But he is so much more than that. And no one appreciates that more than I do. And why I always think I have the best seat in the house."
It has been Steve Lyons next to Dave O'Brien in Toronto. Eck will be back with O'Brien eventually. And hopefully, before the whole story of this regular season is written in Boston, Jerry Remy will be back to tell it with them. There are so many voices in baseball, so many other relationships between fans and their own broadcasters, a relationship unlike any other in professional sports because of the length of the baseball season.
So other fans have their own voices, and their own favorites. Red Sox fans have Remy. It is why they will all keep a seat open for him until he returns.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.