Thursday, October 3, 2013

Top Ten Red Sox Color Analysts

I had planned to post this during the summer, but decided to delay because of the unfortunate turn of events in the Remy family.  It has nothing to do with this ranking, but I felt that a little separation was in order.  Now, on the eve of the ALDS, it seems like the time is right. That said, on with the Countdown:

10. DALE ARNOLD. Knows his stuff. He’s done a lot of hosting on sports talk, teamed with Eddie Andelman (The A Team), Bob Neumeier (Dale and Numie), Michael Holley (Dale and Holley), Bruins pre-game and play-by-play on TV, and Red Sox color fill-in. A very knowledgable guy, but completely stiff on the air. Ever hear him say anything clever or amusing? Me neither.

9. JIM WOODS. He did games with Ned Martin from 1974 to 1978. Ned was excellent. I never quite got why Jim Woods was even there. He sounded old. His nickname, which they used a lot, was Possum. How many people from these here parts have you ever met who are called Possum? I did do my research and found that Jim Woods did Yankee games on TV (or Tee Vee as they called it then) in the early 50‘s and one of the guys in the booth thought he looked like a possum and gave him the nickname. Still...who cares?

8. JON RISH. He was the #3 guy on WEEI for about five years and filled in whenever Dave O’Brien was away doing ESPN stuff. WEEI cut his salary by 30% this year and he said sayonara. I don’t blame him. WEEI’s parent company Entercom is notoriously cheap. He has done fill-in for Remy on NESN since then. Rish has a good voice and clearly knows his stuff, but he has absolutely no on-air personality. He might be a great guy in person, but on the air he’s as dull as they come.

7. SEAN GRANDE. He was a Sports Flash guy on WEEI’s Big Show with Glenn Ordway, then went to Minnesota to do Timberwolves games. He came back to Boston several years ago to do Celtics games with Cedric Maxwell. He’s done some Red Sox fill-in for Dave O’Brien and is very knowledgable. But man, does he talk fast. That’s a requirement when you’re doing basketball play-by-play, but it doesn’t match the leisurely pace of baseball.

6. BOB MONTGOMERY. The former backup catcher for Carlton Fisk did games with Ned Martin from 1982 to 1995. He was okay, but as a former player didn’t bring the aura to the air of a Jerry Remy or a Dennis Eckersley. He also had a southern drawl that could be annoying to New Englanders. “That’s the fuurst ruun of the gaayyme.”

5. BOB KURTZ. He was with NESN for about 10 years and did play-by-play from 1993 to 2000. Kurtz is from Minnesota, where he did a fair amount of play-by-play for the Twins and now does Minnesota Wild hockey games. I don’t remember anything special about him other than the occasional mis-pronouncing of local names.

4. BOB MURPHY. He was the middle-innings guy in the days of Curt Gowdy. As a kid who loved listening to play-by-play, I thought he had a better voice than Gowdy.  He was known for his upbeat persona. “The sun is shining, it’s a beautiful day for baseball.” He went to New York and did Mets games for quite a while, and when I heard him in New York in 2000 he just sounded old. He was actually only 76, much younger than Vin Scully is now. But he sounded old.  My Red Sox recollection of him - also old - is very positive.

3. LOU MERLONI. This may be a surprise, and Lou has only filled in as color analyst a few times. But he’s very good. Not as funny as Eckersley, and despite hailing from Framingham, does not have a strong local accent. As a former Red Sox player and a regular host on WEEI, he has remarkably good insight into the whys and hows of pitch selection, player positioning, the science of matchups, the manager’s thought process and the psyche of players who are brought up from AAA, sent back down, brought back up, sent back down and finally make the Big Show for good. When you listen to Lou you learn something.

2. JERRY REMY. After a successful career as a Red Sox 2nd baseman and the club’s #1 base-stealer, Remy’s playing days were cut short by knee injuries. But think of the guys he played with: Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, Dennis Eckersley, Wade Boggs (all in the Hall of Fame), Dwight Evans, Fred Lynn, Roger Clemens, George Scott, Bruce Hurst, Oil Can Boyd. The list goes on. He has great stories about all those guys. Within a few years he became the Red Sox color analyst, working with Ned Martin, Sean McDonough and Don Orsillo. It was McDonough who came up with the nickname Rem Dawg. Regionalisms, as noted above, can be annoying to the audience. In Remy’s case it’s a big advantage, because he’s a local guy who played for the home team. When he says, "aahsk" (ask) or “the Ty-gizz” (Tigers) or talks about the “Amicer pitch zone” it adds local color...just what a color guy is supposed to do. His rapport with Don Orsillo is legendary. It’s especially entertaining during slow moments.

1. DENNIS ECKERSLEY. As a Hall of Fame pitcher The Eck has an excellent perspective on the ins and outs of the game, saying things that the Red Sox probably don’t want said on the air but that people need to hear.  He’s also very funny and has some great lines. “That guy’s about to get his lunch” or "That was some high-test gas" or “That pitch...that was cheese with hair on it!”

Eck is also the one who coined the term "walkoff."  Many think that walkoff refers to someone who hits a home run or has an RBI that wins the game in the bottom of the 9th. That’s not the original meaning. In the 1988 World Series Eck was the closer for the A’s and he faced Kirk Gibson in the 9th inning of game 2. Gibson had a bad ankle and couldn’t run the bases well, so Manager Tommy Lasorda sent him up to pinch hit, saying, “You’ll have to hit a home run.” Gibson did, and the video of him hobbling around the bases pumping his fist is the second most famous World Series home run ever (the most famous, of course, is Carlton Fisk in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series at Fenway, but that preceded the term by 13 years). After the game in 1988 Eckersley was interviewed by NBC and he was asked for his thoughts about throwing that pitch to Gibson. Eck responded, “When something like that happens there’s nothing for you to do but walk off.” Meaning the pitcher walking off the mound, not the hitter jumping up and down in a pigpile at home plate.

It’s unfortunate that Eckersley's job doing color on NESN is a result of Jerry Remy’s health and family issues, but Eck is really good at it.  He's been filling in for Remy on most games for the last few months, and it's disappointing when he's not there.  I hope Eck takes the gig permanently.

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