Don Orsillo still doesn’t know why he’s no longer broadcasting Red Sox games. (Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)
Five months later, Don Orsillo still doesn’t know why he’s no longer broadcasting Red Sox games.
Speaking to WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford on the Bradfo Show podcast Thursday, Orsillo opened up for the first time about his departure from Boston and his new job in San Diego, where he’ll eventually replace broadcasting legend Dick Enberg as voice of the Padres.
First order of business: why does he think the Red Sox and NESN made the change?
“I really don’t know, still,” Orsillo said. “I’ve read things in articles and things that have been said. I’ve heard terms like ‘upgrade’ and ‘re-energize’ and both really kind of upset me, because obviously we had a lot of energy and I felt like we were quite good. Over the last 15 years and over the last five years, especially, with the way that we did have so many fill-ins, NESN’s No. 1 product is Red Sox baseball, and I felt like it was done very well over that period. Unfortunately, they didn’t agree. And so that was a big surprise.”
Orsillo was particularly surprised when he first got wind of the news that he’d be replaced, which he learned in July, after the All-Star break, from an unlikely source — WEEI broadcaster Dave O’Brien, who ended up taking Orsillo’s place.
“I actually heard it from Dave O’Brien,” Orsillo said. “My replacement actually mentioned to me that I would not be returning next year. He had heard that, and I said, ‘I hadn’t heard that.’ That was the first that I had heard of it. I tried to make some phone calls after he had mentioned it to me that I may not be returning, and I didn’t have much success in the early going getting some of those phone calls returned. As it turned out, he was quite right.”
The news didn’t become public until August, when Gerry Callahan mentioned it on D&C with Minihane. Orsillo, however, had already received confirmation a week earlier that the season would be his last.
“I don’t know which was harder — the seven or eight days when I knew myself, or the next six weeks, when everyone knew,” he said. “Because, when I knew it myself, I was doing the games and it occurred to me while I was doing the games that I was not going to be returning, which was very hard. But then when you go to do a game and you know everyone knows you’re not returning, you kind of change your mindset as well.
“It broke on the morning show, as you mentioned, John [Dennis] and Gerry. As it turns out, we were in Chicago, there’s a time difference there. When I woke up, my phone had absolutely exploded, people saying they had heard it had gotten out.”
Orsillo came to view that disclosure as a blessing, because it put him on the market, and the Padres pounced. With Enberg planning to retire after this season, they knew they’d be in the market for a broadcaster in 2017, and Orsillo represented a marquee name.
“Actually in hindsight, it was kind of a good thing in some ways that it did break, because that then gave the Padres the opportunity to come get me,” Orsillo said. “They joined me in Baltimore on the next trip. They flew out their owner, Ron Fowler, along with their president and CEO, former Red Sox executive Mike Dee. They flew out there to visit with me and basically make an offer at that point.”
Orsillo admits sweating out the job market.
“When it happens, you have 29 other places that you can work. I am a one-trick pony, as it were,” he said with trademark self-deprecation. “You have a limited amount of choices, and very thankfully, the Padres were very aggressive and came to me in September and starting talking to me about becoming their voice. Dick Enberg was in the process of retiring, a legend out there, and they wanted me to come to Southern California with open arms and a six-year deal in tow. So I took the opportunity and the offer to go, and that’s why I am now the voice of the San Diego Padres.”
Continued Orsillo: “It was a very long six weeks, really mid-August when everything kind of broke, and getting through the end of the year, doing games on a nightly basis was very difficult, I mean having been here for 15 years, in what obviously was my dream job, that was very disappointing, and something that took me a long time to get over and to move on to a new location. I really thought, honestly, when it happened, that I’d be unemployed for maybe a year or better, just because these positions really don’t open that often. I mean, guys stay forever. Look at Joe Castig [WEEI’s Joe Castiglione], he’s been there forever. It’s like that in a lot of towns, so I was very fortunate, very thankful to the Padres for being as aggressive as they were.”
When news of Orsillo’s impending departure broke, the tributes poured in. Red Sox fans gave him an extended standing ovation after a video montage of his greatest calls aired on the scoreboard during the team’s final home game. After the season finale in Cleveland, which marked Orsillo’s final broadcast, Red Sox players and coaches saluted him from the field.
Both acts moved him.
“First of all, the last home game, which I mentioned with the fans, and the great video tribute that the Red Sox did do, followed by the fans’ reaction and then chanting my name in Fenway is something I’ll never forget,” Orsillo said. “I missed two batters afterwards. Jerry [Remy] picked it up, because I couldn’t speak, I was so emotional. And then in Cleveland, to have the entire team come out and salute me at the end was something I never expected. You don’t see that very often now in Major League Baseball. The guys that had been here were tremendous. Torey Lovullo and his staff and everybody else that was involved in that, it really got me.”
Orsillo also received a call that stood out.
“I had a lot of people reach out to me through major league baseball and former Red Sox players, and one that sticks out in particular was Dwight Evans,” he said. “He reached out to me afterwards and he said, ‘You know, you got something a lot of us did not get over the years.’ He’s talking about from a player’s standpoint. ‘You got a salute and a goodbye from the Fenway Faithful. You had a final chapter there. A lot of us never did.’ That meant a lot to me. This was my boyhood idol who was reaching out to tell me this and it occurred to me how special it really was, and I will never forget it.”
Orsillo has repeatedly referred to broadcasting the Red Sox as “my dream job,” and it clearly stings that it’s over, especially since he remains blindsided by the decision.
“Continuing to do the job on an every-night basis while that’s going on was probably the toughest,” he said. “Trying to concentrate on balls and strikes, the score and everything else on a nightly basis, doing the games was very, very hard. To me, that might’ve been toughest part of it. I think the realization that the job I loved so dearly and did for 15 years was coming to an end, and really trying to figure out why it happened. To this day, I really don’t know. So that part was really hard.”