NESN Acted Tactlessly in Not Airing Don Orsillo Tribute Video

It was a final diss to the beloved broadcaster.

NESN finally acknowledged Don Orsillo’s departure Sunday more than one month after the news of his unjust ousting broke—albeit, briefly.

In what was perhaps the ultimate face-saving gesture, the Red Sox played a video tribute for Orsillo prior to the eighth inning of the season’s home finale. Too bad nobody watching at home saw it. NESN didn’t air the video, instead opting to only show the tail end of the raucous standing ovation from the Fenway Faithful. WCVB sports anchor Mike Lynch reports the network refused to show the montage. NESN released a statement Monday night that said the Orsillo video was only supposed to be for the fans in attendance, and Orsillo’s career will be celebrated during the final telecast of the season.

It’s nice to hear NESN will pay homage to Orsillo this upcoming weekend, but that doesn’t change the fact it was a tone-deaf decision to not show the video. NESN has aired other in-ballpark montages over the years. Why not Orsillo’s?

Authenticity is rare at Fenway Park these days, as the Red Sox have a habit of milking milestones for every last bit of nostalgia they’re worth. Last year at this time, for example, the Sox put on an ostentatious farewell production for Yankees great Derek Jeter—complete with a bizarre rendition of “Respect” from a fake Aretha Franklin.

Though the Red Sox’s motivation for showing the Orsillo video was almost certainly superficial, the reaction it generated wasn’t. Nearly 40,000 fans as well as many Red Sox players and coaches expressed their gratitude for his 15-year stint behind the mic. It was arguably the most genuine send-off in recent Fenway history.

Unsurprisingly, there’s been nary a mention of Orsillo’s dismissal on Red Sox programming. Acrimonious departures are seldom recognized. But NESN’s silence hasn’t quelled fans’ outrage. If anything, it has intensified it.

An online petition to save Orsillo’s job was started almost immediately after word leaked last month that he would be replaced by veteran broadcaster Dave O’Brien at the end of the season. It accumulated more than 50,000 signatures in its first week.

Sports fans are accustomed to seeing venerated players and coaches leave with regularity, but Orsillo’s expulsion from Red Sox Nation has created a stir that is seemingly unparalleled. Part of it might be timing: the Red Sox are probably on their way to their third losing campaign in four seasons, and folks may be looking for a way to lash out. But Orsillo’s unceremonious exit from the broadcast booth has appeared to resonate with fans in a way that few changes often do.

It’s not unusual for local baseball broadcasters to develop a cult following in their respective markets, as millions of people welcome them into their homes on a nearly nightly basis from April through September. That’s especially the case with Orsillo, largely because of NESN’s proclivity of highlighting the often comedic interplay between him and Remy. The irony is delicious.

But the circumstances surrounding Orsillo’s premature ousting have struck a nerve with Red Sox fans. Perhaps it’s because he was shafted on the way out, and most people can relate to being dissed. Orsillo didn’t deserve to lose his job, but sometimes a boss’s bias outweighs merit.

Life will eventually go on. ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes writes Orsillo will be named the Padres’ new play-by-play announcer in the near future, and the late-season tear the Red Sox are on has assuaged some of the widespread resentment toward the organization. Attention will soon turn to the free agent market, and which starting pitchers the Red Sox can add to complement their exciting young lineup.

But at least for one more day, Orsillo was the center of attention, even if NESN barely recognized him.

This story has been updated to include NESN’s statement.