By Matt Straub
The Boston Red Sox ownership group has long been known for lacking any kind of self-awareness. They like to blame everything but themselves for the big problems facing their franchise. We finished behind the Yankees? It’s because they spent more money, not because our bloated payroll failed to perform. We figured out the fans didn’t want us to get rid of someone we just ditched? Quick, call the Boston Globe and plant some stories about what a jerk he was, maybe that will get people back on our side! After all, we can’t admit we made a mistake!
Tuesday’s move, however, might have been the best example ever of how the Red Sox ownership group thinks. Don Orsillo, who took over the Red Sox TV play-by-play job in 2001 on the Red Sox-owned television station, NESN, won’t be back next year. Ownership is leaking it wants its “own guy,” which is fascinating because they came in 2002 and had more than a decade to decide they wanted to hire someone else.
The truth is, NESN’s ratings are down and Tom Werner, who has a long history in television going all the way back to “Cheers” and runs the Red Sox entertainment arm, is blaming the announcers. Don Orsillo, who has been on the job since 2001 and had the tough task of replacing Sean McDonough in Boston, is being pushed out because the Red Sox think he hasn’t done enough to keep the ratings strong in recent years. Yes, they really believe the “pink hat” bandwagon jumpers tuned out in recent years because of Orsillo, not because the team has been mostly terrible ever since September of 2011.
You don’t think it’s the three last-place finishes and the 2011 collapse which drove the pink hats away? Of course not, because nothing is ever ownership’s fault in Boston. It must be the TV guy. He suddenly got less interesting!
The Red Sox have as good and loyal a fan base as anyone. I was there this past weekend and saw two games with big crowds despite the train wreck the season has turned into and lousy weather on Sunday. We’ll get into my weekend and the things I took from it in a later column, but it was another example of how many fans stick with this lousy franchise. Yes, the bandwagoners have gone, and every team experiences downturns in interest when things go wrong. Look at some Don Mattingly highlights when he hits the ball into the right field seats, which are all but empty. The Mets, who suddenly have fans everywhere, were begging people to come to the park as recently as last season.
Here’s the difference between the New York teams and the Red Sox. The Yankees worked their way back to the top of the division. The Mets went out and acquired three solid hitters to help their offense. The Red Sox? They looked at their problems and blamed the announcer.
I was never a huge fan of Orsillo’s work, but I know this: People didn’t turn the games off because Orsillo was boring. They turned the games off because the team stinks.
Don Orsillo will have a job again in April. Hopefully a lot of the players on this year’s Red Sox roster do, too. If the 2016 players struggle, the ticket sellers better be careful. The Red Sox might blame them next.