Profile: Jerry Remy


FOR WELLESLEY-WESTON MAGAZINE

By Lewis I. Rice

The hits keep on coming, 20 years after Jerry Remy’s baseball career came to an end. Now the hits travel to his Web site, remyreport.com, a cyberspace gathering spot for rabid fans of the Boston Red Sox and the team’s former second basemen. They log on to read his opinions, interactive with one another, and buy merchandise, like T-shirts or hats emblazoned with a “RemDawg” logo. Remy’s business partner, John O’Rourke, monitors the Web site from the epicenter of RemDawg Nation, which happens to be the basement of his house in Wayland, while messages flow in during a cold February afternoon when baseball seems far away. An order comes for a May 6 game scorecard; someone else adds to a previous purchase. Remy watches from the background, a place he generally prefers to be. Except of course when he speaks to millions of people hanging on his every word.

Entering his 18th season as color analyst for the Red Sox, Remy, 52, has transcended the ordinary prominence of the job to achieve a celebrity that provides profitable offshoots, including the Web site, endorsement deals, an eatery, and a best-selling book. Perhaps not coincidentally, the longtime Weston resident has developed a cult of personality at the same time the Red Sox have attained their greatest success.

“If the Red Sox were a team struggling like a Toronto or a Tampa, that cult would not have happened,” says Craig Mustard, a Wellesley High School English teacher who co-hosts a weekend talk show on sports radio WEEI. “Because of the total fanaticism and intensity in Red Sox Nation, quite a number of people know who Jerry Remy is, and primarily his work is spectacular. People respect him as a great analyst, and they also like him as a personality. He’s analytic, entertaining, and he’s accessible to the audience.”

Mustard, who has interviewed Remy several times on WEEI, says “he’s certainly an easy guy to talk to.” More and more these days, people want to talk to him. Yet Remy also shies away from the spotlight that has enveloped him, protecting his privacy and preserving a simple lifestyle. His idea of a wild night is ordering a cocktail in his hotel room after an away game. And his idea of sightseeing is going to the hotel gym and working out. He could be speaking at banquet halls and appearing at functions five nights a week, he says, but he’d rather stay at home.

“I’ve always been a loner,” he says. “It’s nothing personal; it’s the way I conduct my life. ... People think I’m crazy because here I am on television talking to millions of people but yet I don’t go make speeches. I’m not comfortable doing that. People ask how that can be. I don’t know. That’s the way I am. I’m very comfortable on air, but I’m not comfortable off.”

At first, however, Remy wasn’t at all comfortable analyzing the action on the field. He never expected to serve in that role, just as he never expected to play professional baseball. After retiring before the 1986 season, he embarked on the career he did expect to pursue. He coached for a season with the Red Sox minor league affiliate in New Britain, Conn., and hoped to vie for a managerial post at the team’s top affiliate in Pawtucket after a year off from baseball. That position wasn’t available, but the television job was. He had no experience, but his qualifications as a recent ex-player and a Massachusetts native got him the job, he figures. Veteran announcer Ned Martin, the first of four TV partners Remy has worked with, helped him adapt, he says, and once he grew accustomed to the business of television – the instant replays, the camera angles, the director’s instructions – his knowledge of the game came out.

That knowledge was honed in his hometown of Somerset, where he starred as a high school player. He attracted the attention of a few pro scouts, but was stunned, he says, when the Washington Senators drafted him. People advised him to go to college, so he did. But he acknowledges he never took to academics, and when the California Angels chose him in a secondary draft in 1971, he joined the team’s farm system. It wasn’t easy, he says, being “an 18-year-old kid going away for the first time, going to parts of the country you’ve never heard of, being with people you’ve never met [from] different cultures, riding in buses, staying in crappy hotels, and not being a top talent. When you look at it step by step, it’s pretty amazing. I’ve been pretty lucky.”

At 22, he made the big leagues with the Angels, and his father went to his first game, saw him get a hit and drive in a run in his first at-bat. It was the first of 1,226 hits, including a grand total of seven home runs, a number he’s quick to joke about. His game was speed and hustle, not power, though his broad chest and strong handshake show he may have hit more if he had tried. The Angels manager, Norm Sherry, told a newspaper: “Jerry isn’t the star type. He’s a tough kid. He plays hard every inning. He’s a peppery little guy.”

A trade to the Red Sox after the 1977 season brought him home, where he enjoyed his only All-Star year the next season, one of heartbreak for Sox fans as the team went down to the Yankees in a one-game tiebreaker for the playoffs. The same fans witnessed another excruciating scene the next year, when Remy wrenched his knee sliding into home plate in Yankee Stadium. Jim Rice, a teammate and now colleague at NESN, the Red Sox cable outlet, carried him off the field. Remy didn’t play a full year again until 1982 and missed most of 1984 and all of 1985. Recurring problems with the knee, which has been operated on 11 times, ended his playing career.

He seems almost relieved it did. The game consumed him, he says. Even as an established player, he felt he was one mistake away from being let go. His drive may have helped him excel, but it also could turn him into someone you wouldn’t want to be around, he says.

“I’m much easier to get along with now as a person than I was then. Baseball never left me. The bad days didn’t leave me, the good days didn’t leave me. Even in the off-season, there was always time preparing for the upcoming season and fixing knee problems. The day-to-day pressure of that was really intense.

“Let’s say we had a day game and I had a bad game. If we had dinner plans that evening, I’d be the most miserable person in the world. I wouldn’t want any part of going out. That was my personality. How my wife stayed with me, I don’t know.”

Remy has been married to his wife, Phoebe, for more than 30 years. They have two sons and a daughter, now adults. Phoebe deserves credit, he says, for much of the child rearing and household responsibilities, as the life of a ballplayer often took him away from home. After he signed a contract with the Red Sox in 1982, the Remys moved from a condo in Lexington in search of more land, good schools for their growing family, and a peaceful place. They found it all in their current Weston home.

“It was a good move,” he says. “It’s a great community. Nobody bothers you. The access to Boston is terrific. There’s a lot of good things about it, but mostly raising a family here was very good.”

The children all played sports in high school, but have pursued other interests. Their dad’s main interest is still the game of baseball, just as it was when he was a kid. Now he’s become a kind of professor of the sport, even offering a textbook to his students. His book, “Watching Baseball,” recently appeared on the Boston Globe bestseller list for 40 weeks, and an updated edition – reflecting the Red Sox’s World Series victory – has just been issued. It’s not an autobiography, of course, from a man who says he doesn’t find his own story interesting and doesn’t know why anyone else would. But it does track all the intricacies of a game Remy likens to a soap opera (when he’s not watching baseball, he’s fixated on “Days of Our Lives”), from the signals an infielder gives to the pitcher on a pickoff play to the conversations the catcher has with the home-plate umpire. He does exactly what a color analyst is supposed to do, says his co-author Corey Sandler, revealing why something just happened on the field and what managers and players were thinking when it did.

“When you listen to Jerry, it’s kind of like sitting at a bar and having a beer with a very knowledgeable baseball fan and having an ongoing conversation about what you’re seeing,” says Sandler. “It’s pleasant, it’s funny, it’s informative, and you get the feeling that this is a real guy. You get the feeling you know the man, even though he is pretty private, and I find that very different from a lot of other baseball broadcasters.”

Remy says that people in Boston know baseball, so you have to tell it like it is. You can’t lie, and you can’t be a phony, he says. You have to appeal to the hardcore baseball nut and the casual fan: his ongoing shtick in which he details his exploits with the Wally the Green Monster doll may charm the latter and irk the former. But even Remy can’t concentrate on baseball alone for the roughly 400 hours he’s on air every year. Throughout the baseball season, a considerable number of people spend about as much time with him as they do with their spouse or children.

“You’re almost like a part of the family,” he says. “You’re in their living room or den almost every day, from March till the end of the season. They get to feel like they know you and form an opinion about whether they like you or don’t like you. They like me, so things have worked. And thank God, because it would be kind of miserable to listen to someone throughout the game, and you’ve got to listen to this clown for [more than] 100 games. I don’t know why it’s worked, but it’s worked.”

He’s close to signing a long-term extension to continue as color analyst for the Red Sox. Remy can imagine staying in the same job for 30 years, even if he’s offered a national opportunity. “This is what I enjoy,” he says. “This is my hometown team. This is where I’m most recognized. This is where I have a good relationship with the people.” And those denizens of RemDawg Nation must be fed, sometimes literally. Last summer, Remy opened a hot dog stand called RemDawg’s on Yawkey Way near Fenway Park. He’d also like to open a full-service restaurant in Boston, and he’s in talks to establish a sports bar in Logan Airport. You can picture him walking in and the whole bar shouting “RemDawg!” like a scene out of the TV show “Cheers.” Most people may not really know him, but everybody knows his name.

–END–