No hard feelings
McDonough still being heard from
Monday gig will raise his profile
Six full baseball seasons have come and gone since Sean McDonough’s acrimonious departure as the play-by-play voice of Red Sox television broadcasts, a position he held with a distinction worthy of iconic predecessors such as Curt Gowdy and Ned Martin for 17 years.
Since that day in December 2004, when a reporter’s phone call informed him that NESN would not pick up the option on his contract, McDonough has been out of mind to a segment of Red Sox fans. But he was never out of sight to well-rounded sports fans, having maintained a steady presence at ESPN, where his versatility has been put to frequent use. He calls 70-75 events per year for the network.
And in the most literal sense, he’s never really been gone anyway.
“You can’t imagine how many times I’ll run into people at Logan Airport or in Boston, and they’ll say, ‘Hey, glad you’re back in town!’ or ‘What brings you back to Boston?’ ’’ said McDonough, who lives in Quincy. “And I’m like, ‘Well, I never actually left. Uh, I still live here. I just don’t do [Red Sox] games anymore.’ When they ask you not to do their games anymore, they don’t require you to move out of town.’’
So there was no order from a posse of NESN executives to be outside of city limits by sundown?
“I didn’t actually go in the witness protection program, no,’’ he said with a laugh. “But I tell you, it gives you an appreciation that fans who watch Red Sox games sometimes aren’t watching a whole lot of other sports on ESPN.
“ ‘What are you doing now with yourself, Sean?’ Well, I’m doing a football game every week on ABC, a lot of college basketball games on ESPN, the College World Series, US Open golf, British Open golf, and plenty of occasional other things.
“But that’s fine. That’s part of what makes — made — doing Red Sox games so great. People are so focused on it and in a mostly healthy way.’’
For those whose sports focus is primarily baseball — Sox or otherwise — late January brought a flash of good news. ESPN, in announcing its reshuffled baseball broadcast teams after the dismissal of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan from its Sunday night broadcasts, announced that McDonough would return to calling the sport on a regular basis for the first time since his breakup with the Sox.
Partnered with Rick Sutcliffe and Aaron Boone in a three-man booth, McDonough will be the voice of “Monday Night Baseball.’’
“I’ve been really overwhelmed by the nice phone calls, e-mails, text messages I received once it came out that I’d be doing the Monday night games,’’ said McDonough, 48. “I figure once you’re gone, you’re kind of forgotten. People adjust very quickly to whatever the new reality is.’’
Jerry Remy, who meshed famously with McDonough on Sox telecasts from 1996-2004, jokes that he has a hard time avoiding his friend when he turns on his television.
“Every time I watch ESPN, he’s at some basketball game, and if it’s not that, then it’s a football game, so I don’t know how people can miss him,’’ said Remy.
“But knowing how much baseball means to him, how much he really enjoys it, I’m glad to hear that he’ll be doing more of it. Sean loves baseball and he knows baseball, and it’ll be good to hear him calling those games.
“No one around here needs to be told how good Sean is.’’
Prodigy in the booth McDonough’s broadcasting legacy would be secure even if he never called another inning.
He was Joe Buck before Joe Buck. At age 25, in 1988, the Syracuse graduate and son of late Globe columnist Will McDonough called his first Red Sox game on Channel 38. His talent quickly smothered any suggestions about his qualifications.
Five years later, he became the youngest national announcer on a World Series telecast when he handled the call, with analyst Tim McCarver, of the Braves-Blue Jays World Series. (Buck broke McDonough’s record in 1996 when as a 27-year-old he was on Fox’s broadcast team for the Braves-Yankees World Series.)
McDonough owns two of the more memorable calls in recent baseball history: the game-winning hit by obscure Atlanta Brave Francisco Cabrera in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS, and Joe Carter’s World Series-clinching walkoff homer in 1993.
“I travel around all the time and I get people saying, ‘I’m an Atlanta Braves fan and every time I see you or hear you, I think of Sid Bream’ [who chugged around to score the winning run on Cabrera’s hit] or ‘[I’m] a Toronto Blue Jays fan, and thank you for reminding me of Joe Carter,’ ’’ McDonough said.
A boon for Boone McDonough has had opportunities to call baseball full-time since he parted with the Sox. The Arizona Diamondbacks pursued him to be their play-by-play voice a couple of years after his run in Boston, but he decided it wasn’t the right fit.
“In the end, it was just the feeling that I had the best local baseball job in America, for me, being in Boston,’’ he said. “So I wasn’t in a great hurry to go do some other team’s games just to do baseball games.’’
Which makes the one-night-a-week commitment to ESPN the ideal way to get back in the game — but it’s apparent when he speaks about one of his new partners that his heart is still with the Red Sox.
Boone, author of one of the most famous home runs in the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry — the a Game 7 walkoff at Yankee Stadium in the 2003 ALCS — recently called McDonough to introduce himself, since they’ve never worked together.
“I told him I’m inclined not to like him just because of the home run he hit,’’ McDonough joked. “But I’ve been told he’s a good guy and I guess I’ll look past it.’’
Boone, who associates the 1993 World Series with McDonough’s voice — he remembers watching Carter’s home run in his apartment as a sophomore at Southern Cal — is aware that he’s working with a play-by-play man with a reputation for getting the most out of his analysts.
“In doing my homework and asking around, ‘What do you know about Sean McDonough,’ in the industry, people said exactly that,’ ’’ Boone said. “ ‘For you, it’s going to be great, because he’s going to bring out the best in you.’ Everyone says he has that gift.’’
Remy — and his accountant — can vouch for that. McDonough was the first person to utter the term “RemDawg.’’
“Every time I talk to him, I tell him I want 10 percent of the kingdom,’’ McDonough said. “Because that’s probably a pretty healthy chunk.’’
But the goofy banter is a small part of the duo’s enduring popularity. Together, they had an uncanny and engaging knack for balancing humor, insight, and candor.
“He was able to bring out my personality,’’ said Remy, whose persona has become a lucrative cottage industry. “I think everyone knows I pretty much have multiple personalities and I’m different in real life than I am on the air.
“I’ve worked with a lot of great people — Ned Martin, Bob Kurtz, Sean, Don [Orsillo] — but Sean really recognized what I had to offer and brought it out of me.’’
Burying the hatchet In the months after his dismissal when McDonough would speak about how it ended with the Sox, he often used the word “bittersweet.’’ But it didn’t take a detective to realize the emphasis was on “bitter.’’
While the writing was on the wall — he called just 28 games in 2004 and was similarly marginalized to calling the Friday night Channel 38 telecasts in ’03 — it still hurt. He said he didn’t watch more than a half-hour of Red Sox telecasts in the 2005 season and avoided the ballpark.
“As I said, and I meant it, I kind of thought at the time, why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?’’ said McDonough. “But those fences are mended now.’’
McDonough said Red Sox management eventually acknowledged that his dismissal could have been handled better.
“There’s more to life than work,’’ he said. “For 17 years, I didn’t realize that. Now I realize that, hey, people actually go to friends’ weddings and graduations and play in member-guest golf tournaments with their buddies and enjoy the summer — all the things I didn’t do before.
“Calling the Red Sox, that’s something I’ll always cherish. When people come up and say, ‘I loved you and Jerry Remy . . .’ — I’m going to get a little emotional now — but no matter how many times you hear it, it’s always meaningful. It’s special. I’ll always feel blessed to have had that.’’