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No one knows how Jerry Remy's return will go, but he deserves the chance

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  January 28, 2014 12:26 PM

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I have no idea how this is going to work. No one does.

Not Jerry Remy, who announced Monday during an achingly candid meeting with a small group of reporters that he will return to the Red Sox broadcast booth this season despite the specter of his son's upcoming murder trial hovering above his shoulder every time the camera aims his way.

Not NESN, which to its credit (and somewhat surprisingly) stood by Remy and left the ultimate decision on his status up to him. I was skeptical that the network fully grasped the issue of public perception when I heard that a) it tried to enlist Remy for a winter fan caravan, a very bad idea, and b) would have allowed him to return last season had he chosen to do so. Maybe there is a cynical angle to this, something about having to pay the salary of another analyst had he left, but I'm not really finding it. They treated him with respect, which isn't exactly the corporate thing to do.

Not Don Orsillo, Remy's broadcast and banter partner since 2001, who as the play-by-play voice must navigate a delicate situation, one he brought up to Remy himself when he was informed Monday that they'd be reunited soon: How are we going to be light again?

There were brief flickers of that familiar dry humor during Remy's conversation Monday -- it was too personal, too human, to call it a press conference. He said he missed the game, innings 1 through 9, then kidded "but only nine,'' a reference to his comically grumpy aversion to long games and extra frames. He said he's returning to the game that has been his life's work since the Angels drafted him in the 48th round in 1971 because otherwise he would sit around his house like "Howard Hughes without any money."

When he does return this spring, those moments of understated wit will return with him; it's part of his natural personality even now. His sadness was jarringly palpable Monday -- anyone searching for lawyer-speak, vetted words, or a hint of an excuse in what he offered during his 35-minute conversation simply cannot recognize the authenticity of a devastated man. That he could joke, if only briefly, was encouraging, and almost surprising given his obvious and perhaps permanent heartbreak. He said he's no better today than he was Aug. 15, and no suspension of disbelief was required to take his word for it. It's written on his face.

This much we do know. The character of RemDawg -- a nickname bestowed on him by Sean McDonough almost sarcastically as a nod to Remy's no-nonsense demeanor, only to see it turn him into an unlikely cult hero -- is gone forever. It must be. Truth be told, Orsillo and Remy have toned down the goofy, this-game-is-a-blowout-let's-talk-about-the-pizza-chucker banter in recent years. I can't see how they do any of that now, because other than further details about his son's history coming out -- and that is inevitable, as Remy acknowledges himself -- the one thing that will remind viewers of this horrible situation is outright silliness. I don't think anyone wants that anymore, even among those who are glad he's coming back.

For what it's worth, that seems to be a significant majority. The instant reaction after my story was posted at 4 p.m. Monday was overwhelmingly positive. There were some who acknowledged disappointment that Dennis Eckersley would not be in the booth -- he actually brings out more of Orsillo's personality than Remy does. I understand that. As I've written a couple of times in the past year, I'll take Eckersley over any color analyst in any market -- national, regional, whatever. He is the one Fox should be pursuing to replace Tim McCarver.

But that is no knock on Remy, who told me the only role he wanted was the color analyst gig, as opposed to returning in a lower-profile studio role. Perhaps some confuse familiarity with staleness, but all it takes is a spin around a few games in other markets on MLB.tv to realize how good we have it here with Orsillo and Remy. I don't know what to expect this season, because no one does. Maybe he'll be as good as ever. Maybe he is broken beyond repair and he will not. I'm just glad we can speak of him in the present tense again.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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