|LOU MERLONI Knows players' perspective|
Lou Merloni didn't wait until he was retired from professional baseball to pursue another career. The Framingham native was a media favorite when he was playing and he has parlayed that into a position at NESN. Earlier this week, Merloni was named a studio analyst for the Red Sox. He joins Dennis Eckersley, Jim Rice, Ken Macha, and David McCarty for the network's one-hour pregame show, and its postgame programming. Merloni will debut May 27 at 9 p.m. before the Sox face the Mariners in Seattle and expects to do 20 games.
The new job is in addition to his other duties - as a part-timer on WEEI, New England Cable News, and "Sports Final" on Channel 4.
Merloni, who retired last season, said his budding career has been an evolution.
"It kind of started with NECN," said Merloni. "I did the postseason last year and I was still kind of unsure what I wanted to do. Then, when I decided to retire, I continued to do some things with them. I started working at WEEI and that was great for getting the word out there and exposure, and then NESN called. It's a whole bunch of different things. There's 'Sports Final' with Steve Burton. I'm going to continue to do some NECN stuff, too."
Merloni, who spent parts of six seasons with the Sox (1998-2003) as a utility infielder, said he had a long-term plan in mind for life after baseball.
"I was thinking, 'I'm not going to play forever and hopefully I'm going to play as long as I can, but when it's done, what are you going to do?' I'm 37 years old and even if I played for a couple of more years, still, you need something to do. I just felt that the media, growing up here, just being a general sports fan and playing baseball in this city, I had a pretty strong hold on exactly how the fans feel, how the media reacts, and the history of a lot of it."
When ex-players transition into the media side of the sports business, it often takes them time before they stop thinking like a player. Merloni believes there is a lot of value in continuing to think like a player.
"Personally, what I'm giving you is that player's side," said Merloni. "I talked to [Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield] and they said, 'Take it easy on us.' They were joking, but I told them I am not going to have an agenda. I'm not going to personally attack people. However, if someone is not doing their job, I'm going to get on them. But I don't have a problem with that because if you ask the player, they'd probably agree with me. I'm not going to have a problem because I'll be confident that I'm right and [I'll give] the reasons why."
When Merloni was with the Red Sox, he said the pressure was building from the fans to get the job done.
"When I was there, everything was coming to a head," said Merloni. "This team needed to win a World Series fast and it did, the next year . But it was difficult, it was taking over people's lives. We just couldn't get over that hump. People couldn't handle it, the Red Sox letting fans down year after year. Especially in 2003, it was just a heartbreaking one. It was starting to affect people - they would go to work and be up late at night and they were in bad moods. It's amazing how passionate people are."
Merloni said it's important to maintain perspective in the broadcast booth. "It made me laugh when [Julio] Lugo was talking about the negativity in this town," he said. "This guy's got no clue what negativity is. No matter how bad it is right now, the true Red Sox fan sits back and says, 'They won a World Series in '04 and '07. It's changed.' When I was a kid in 1986 [after the Sox lost to the Mets in the World Series], [the city] had nothing, for the most part. We had some teases, we had a couple of Stanley Cup [final appearances by the Bruins in 1988 and '90], but nothing like it since the Patriots got on a roll and the Red Sox won."
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Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.