In loving memory of our friend, mentor and member of our Jedburgh Team – Jerry Remy (1952-2021). We will miss you.
In Major League Baseball the glory you see on the field is a very small part of the whole story. As a player, there must exist a dedication to greatness and a commitment to excellence that transcends the field; even at the end of a baseball career. Second Baseman Jerry Remy became a legend in the game and in the broadcasting booth having been inducted into the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame, elected President of Red Sox Nation, and his 32 years as the NESN color analyst for the Red Sox.
In one of his last full length interviews, Jerry shows us how to overcome inexperience and lack of skill by focusing on our core strengths and dedicating ourselves to perfecting the fundamentals. He shares the mentality required to perform in the moment and under extreme pressure, and how we can overcome devastating injury, depression and anxiety. Jerry also explains why the 2004 Red Sox team is the best team in history, how managers have been forced to evolve to coach a younger generation of athletes, and the importance of mentors in our professional and personal lives.
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About Jerry Remy
Jerry Remy, 1952-2021, was a former second baseman in Major League Baseball. Remy grew up in Somerset, Massachusetts, and resided in Weston, Massachusetts prior to his passing.
In 1971, Remy was drafted in the 8th round by the California Angels. He played three seasons for the Angels starting in 1975 before being traded to the Boston Red Sox. He played second base for the Red Sox from 1978-1985 when a knee injury forced his retirement during spring training of 1986. Remy had his best year in 1978 when he batted .278, scored 87 runs, stole 30 bases, and was selected to the American League All-Star team. He finished his career with a .275 average, 208 stolen bases, and a .981 fielding percentage. Bill James in his Historical Abstract rated him as the 100th greatest second baseman of all time, as of 2002.
Remy enjoyed success in broadcasting, working for the New England Sports Network (NESN). Jerry Remy began as NESN’s Boston Red Sox color analyst in March of 1988, teaming up with veteran play-by-play announcer Ned Martin. For the past 15 years, Jerry worked side by side with play-by-play announcer, Don Orsillo. Voted Massachusetts Favorite TV announcer by Sports Illustrated in 2004, Remy was honored with 4 Emmy Awards and was named the Massachusetts Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association in 2004.
In this episode, I learned from Red Sox legend, Jerry Remy, that drive, a no-fear attitude and a little bit of luck could get you almost anything you want in life. Jerry shared his journey from almost being cut in the Minors to his induction into the Red Sox Hall of Fame. He spoke about the pressures that leaders face to perform at an elite level in the moment. He talked about the challenges of the Boston spotlight and the expectation of excellence. He shared his battle with cancer and he gave us the tips, tricks, characteristics and traits that have made up the best Boston Red Sox teams and players.
Jerry Remy is a former second baseman in Major League Baseball. He played first for the California Angels and realized his dream to play for his hometown Boston Red Sox. Jerry grew up in southern Massachusetts and was drafted in the eighth round of the 1971 draft. He played for the Red Sox from 1978 to 1985 but was forced into retirement after a knee injury during spring training in 1986 and eleven knee surgeries. Jerry left with a lifetime batting average at 0.275, 208 stolen bases and a 0.981 fielding percentage.
He was selected for the 1978 All-Star Team and was a Team Captain to the Angels. Jerry was ranked in the top 100 Greatest Second Basemen of all time. In 1988, Jerry began a new career as the color analyst for New England Sports Network where he’s covered almost every Red Sox game for over 30 years. He has been honored with four Emmy Awards, as well as named the Massachusetts Sportscaster the Year. Jerry has authored eight books. He has talked about the strategies and tactics in Major League Baseball, his favorite players’ moments and teams.
He has written five children’s books featuring the Red Sox Mascot, Wally the Green Monster. In 2019, he released his autobiography. Jerry is a four-time cancer survivor battling the disease for over a decade from 2008 to 2018. Jerry was inducted into the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2006. He was elected the Honorary President of Red Sox Nation in 2007. He was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame in 2017. Jerry Remy is known by all of Red Sox Nation as The Red Dog.
Jerry, thanks so much for joining us on the show. I couldn’t be more excited to talk to you. This is a dream come true.
I appreciate it, Fran. It’s nice to talk to you too.
I’ve got to tell you, I can’t start this conversation unless I disclose to everybody reading that I had the pleasure of getting to know you as a young kid growing up in and out of your house because I was best friends still to this day with your son, Jordan. For me, it’s crazy because I was there so much and you were the guy who was sitting on the recliner yelling at us constantly for being too loud. Here came these mischievous teenagers running in and out of the house, and that’s Jordan’s dad sitting there telling us to be quiet, “Leave him alone. He’s got things to do.”
I never thought about it until later that this guy who always told me I was too loud and to be quiet was the same guy who was always there at every football game. He’s standing on the sidelines, which was something I always never understood why and later I realize it. He’s never in the stands but always on the sidelines quietly giving advice, coaching guys in the background, pointing things out that will make you go, “How does he even understand that.” I realized later on that this guy is a legend. This guy has been successful and an inspiration to everybody. I am honored to have the opportunity to sit down with you to discuss your remarkable career, baseball, the Red Sox, broadcasting and your battle with cancer four times. Tom Brady is the only one who has more championships than you so I’m looking forward to it.
When you guys were coming into the house, my favorite spot was always in that chair. It was a great chair because I always had the opportunity to see who was coming back and forth, going downstairs, and God knows what was going on downstairs. I could always see who was coming in and I had a window to my left where I could see them driving up the driveway. I’d find the chair and see who was coming into the house. I was pretty quiet as you know and I didn’t say much. It was hard for the kids because all the friends they brought home at that time had to pass by me and the chair. It was a little bit uncomfortable for everybody but that was me and the TV. Anybody who walks by, I check them out and see what they were like. That’s how I made my decisions on people.
I guess I passed the test because we’re still talking now.
I’ve got to tell a story before we get into it and I’ve got so many things that I want to talk about. It’s about speed. Your career was built on speed. You were a fast guy growing up. You’re going into the Minor. They identified you because of your speed. I have a personal story about your speed and it goes back to the father-son football game. Before Thanksgiving, we were in high school and I don’t remember if it was senior or junior year. You were on the other side so I had played center. We had our quarterback, a great guy by the name of Drew Horowitz who has gone off to do some amazing things now in life as a personal coach for people. I snapped the ball and this is an eighteen-year-old kid. He was a great quarterback. He ran a bootleg out to the left side and from around me came Jerry Remy at 46 years old. He ran down this eighteen-year-old kid and tackled him. It’s amazing.
It was that competitive nature. You’re out there in a father-son game and you don’t want to be beaten by the kids. Whatever I had left in the tank, I figured I’d use it right there. What you don’t know about it is 3 to 4 days after that, I can hardly walk. When you get to that age, you can put that sprint on one time but that’s it. As a matter of fact, I pulled a hamstring doing that but I was happy I got him. I wanted to let you guys know that the old man still had something left in him. By tackling down Horowitz, I was able to prove that but I paid the price after I did that for about four days.
It’s Toby Keith that says, “I am as good as I once was but I’m good once as I ever was.” We never let Andrew live that down and I don’t think we ever will. That was awesome. Let’s get into it. In 1971, you get drafted by the Angels. You go to spring training. You’re working hard there and your dreams come true. You’ve made it right. This was it. You find out you’re about to get released. What happened?
Let’s go back to the draft first. I was one of those guys that were taken down to the bottom of the list. In other words, the teams have made out the draft and they had a couple of spots left. I was from Fall River, Massachusetts and Somerset, Massachusetts growing up. There was not a lot of attention on me as far as on a national scene as you could tell. They did have one scout down there that happened to like me. They first drafted me for the Washington Senators at the time. Ted Williams was the manager of the Washington Senators and I had people telling me, “You should go to college for four years. You should do this and maybe take a crack at it later.” I had people telling me, “No. You’re crazy if you miss this opportunity to sign.”
I elected to go to college and that was a big mistake for me because I was not a good student. I was trying to go to a baseball school down in Florida at St. Leo’s. I ended up going to St. Leo’s for two weeks. First of all, I wasn’t eligible to get on the playing field because my grades in high school were not very good. They wanted me to go to a junior college for two years and come back to St. Leo’s to play. I said, “No way. I’m going home.” I never did anything down there. What I did for two weeks is I played ping pong and decided to come home, which my parents were not happy about.
The secondary draft came, which was in January and the Angels took me in that draft. They took me eighth, but eighth in those days was toward the bottom of the list. They were filling out their draft list so I was not a high priority for them. The reason they took me was because I could run. That’s one thing that I could always do. I had great speed and their feeling was, “If he can run, we can teach him how to play.” When I first got to the spring training with the Angels, I was shocked at how far behind I was from all the kids that were playing out in California who had played 60 games high school seasons where I would play sixteen games high school seasons and all of a sudden, the kids from Latin America. It was totally different. I was so far out of my league. It was unbelievable.
They moved me from shortstop, which I played in high school to second base because my throwing arm wasn’t strong enough to be in professional baseball but on second base, it was fine. They tried to move me to a new position. I thought I was doing okay but I was a guy at the bottom of the draft list. If you’re a guy that’s drafted high by a Major League team, you’re going to get to the big leagues or get close. If you don’t, it’s your own fault because they’re going to push you, they spent a lot of money on you. For the guys in my category, there was not a lot of money spent on me. It was $500 a month to come play and that was it. You were expendable by any means.
At the end of that first spring training, there was a group of people that should probably release me because I had so far to go. My talent level at that particular age was so far below some of these other guys. There was one guy there, I’ll never forget his name, Kenny Myers. He came over from the Dodger organization and he loved guys that could run. He felt that if a guy could run, he could teach him how to play baseball. He’s the one guy that stood up for me in the meeting and said, “Let me have this kid. Let me take this kid and see what I can do with him.” That’s the reason that I stayed around.
I came back home after the square spring training went back to the Rookie League, and that’s when Kenny took over with me. He’s the guy that saved my career because easily I could come home and that would have been the end of my baseball career except for one guy, and it was Kenny Myers. He was an old-scruffy guy who smoked these little cigars and would curse. He was a tough guy but he saw something in me that he liked. He saw that I could run and he felt that he could teach me how to play baseball. That’s the beginning of the story. That’s how close I was to coming home when none of this would have happened to me. The rest of my life would have been totally different. It’s amazing when you get down, you have maybe 30 or 40 coaches there, and you have one guy that likes you, that can keep you around. He kept me around and that’s the reason I continue to play at that particular time because of that one person.
I’m sure you had that conversation of, “Kid, listen up. You’ve got to listen to me or you’re not going to be here any longer.” What did he do? We talk a lot about what I call macro versus micro discipline in terms of your goals. Your macro goal at that point was, “I need to get to the Major Leagues,” but now there’s a set of micro things that you have to do every single day in order to take that 1 inch, 2 inches, or that foot. Every single day you get better towards that end state of being in the Major Leagues. What did Kenny do with you every day to start to get you to prepare for that level of elite competition that you had to become?
He started from the ground up with me, from hitting, fielding, thinking about baseball to understanding baseball better. It was tough love. It was not, “Jerry, come on over here.” He was tough. That didn’t bother me so much because I liked that. He started right from the basics of everything we do in the game of baseball. He worked hard at me with how to get the correct swing down and with my defense. With every phase of the game, he nitpicked it down to the smallest things. I was able to absorb some of that and had to go work out of that. I couldn’t be with Kenny 24 hours a day. It was his half-hour with me. He had plenty of other guys he had to go work with but I had to take bits and pieces of what he was telling me and go work on that. It was strange because in my first year, what they call Rookie League, they optioned me out. That was disappointing to me.
The main team was in Idaho Falls. That was the Rookie League team and I didn’t make that club. They optioned me to Twin Falls, Idaho, which was an independent league team. That’s a step below. It’s in the same league but it was Matt with the Angel organization. It was your option from the Angel organization to this independent league team. That’s where he came down and did a lot of work with me because we had about five guys from the Angels on that team. I was so disappointed that I called my father and I told him at the time, “I’m coming home. This is not going to work out. I’m as far at the bottom as I can possibly be.” My father convinced me on the phone, “Give it another month. See what happens and see how you feel at that time.” I did reluctantly. I could have thrown my career away at that particular time and I elected not to. I said, “I’ll give it another month and see what happens.”
In that time, things started to develop and started to happen for me. The work with Kenny started to pay off a little bit. I had little success at that level. It was a brief season. It only went from June to the end of August. I had a decent season. I felt at the end of that season, I had my foot in the door. They knew who I was. It’s not that things were outstanding, but things that I was working on with Kenny in that particular time, he was starting to see it develop. I felt much better going home at the end of the season than I did when I came back from spring training.
I’m glad my father convinced me to stay. Through this story, there are so many times that things happen to me and decisions that I had to make that could have cost me my whole career and my whole life with what I’ve done professionally in my life. The way things fell for me, they always seem to fall in the right spot. They knew I was committed to being the best that I possibly could be so they liked my attitude. As far as my talent goes, they like my attitude better than they liked my talent at first. That was one of the reasons they kept me around.
We finally got to the end of that first season. I came home and I felt pretty good about myself. I said, “I’ve got a chance to stay for a couple of years. If I play well, I’ll be able to continue to move up the ladder.” I wasn’t sure at that time but that’s how I felt. They started to see something in me that Kenny was working with me on that was starting to develop. It started that way. It was a very slow start which I almost gave up on. It proved to me never to quit because I wanted to quit badly. There were a lot of things going on in my mind. I’ve lost my girlfriend. I was homesick. I was not where I wanted to be with a team. It took my father to convince me to give it another month and see. Once I did, then I felt more comfortable at where I was.
You mentioned your attitude. I can imagine you’re off the field and you’re going through this emotional turmoil. I’m sure there’s this sense of finality of, “If I walk away and if I quit, this could be it,” but there’s also probably this sense of hubris as a talented and athletic young guy where you’re like, “If I walk away, I’ll figure it out. I’ll get back in and it’ll be a little bit different the next time.” You waver between it. It could be the end or maybe it won’t but then you go on the field and you have this attitude that you talked about. What was it about that attitude?
I’ve always had the attitude that comes from being a kid playing in the playgrounds. I wanted to win at all costs. I wanted to be the best that I could possibly be. The effort has never been a problem for me. Putting the time in and the amount of work that I had to do has never been a problem for me. They used to bother me about some of the players that I saw that were ahead of me at different levels of baseball before I got to the big leagues that they didn’t put half the time in that I did. They were playing Double-A or Triple-A and I said to myself, “If these guys can play there, I can play there. I’ve just got to work hard. I’ve got to be better than them. I got to do more work,” and that’ll all pay off in the end.
One thing I was blessed with is I always had a great work ethic and I had a lot of pride in what I did. They could see that in me. That’s something that you could see in me and that’s invaluable in any phase of life. If you’re the type of person that’s not going to give up, that’s going to try hard, get kicked down, get back up and try it again. Everybody appreciates that and gives that person a second chance. That’s what happened to me because no matter what I was doing even as a kid before I signed professionally, I always felt that I was going to be the best at that. When I get out there, I’ve found out that I’m not the best at that. There were a lot of guys that were good. I was like, “What am I doing here? This is crazy.” As long as I had a chance and an opportunity, I felt like I could make the best of it.
In the 1975 training camp, you made to the team. At that point, you had three years in the Minors which at that point, it was quick to get from the Minors into the Major Leagues. You go to the management and you ask them the question, “Why did it happen so quickly? What did I do?” The answer that you get was interesting to me and I’m interested in your comments on this. They said to you, “We looked into your eyes and saw no fear.”
I’ll never forget that. During spring training, the Angels at that particular time were going through a lot of young players. They were trying to make a movement towards youth and guys that could run. I fit perfectly into that category and I had about 2 to 3 good years at the Minor Leagues where I lead one league in hitting. I led a second league in hitting. I got moved up to Triple-A for about three weeks. I figured that in the following season, that’s where I would be in Triple-A again for a full season before I had the opportunity to go to the big leagues, but that didn’t happen.
I went to Major League spring training and after about four weeks into spring training, I got called into the office by Dick Williams, who was our manager at that time. Some fans in Boston may remember him as the manager of the ‘67 Red Sox, The Impossible Dream Team. He was a real tough guy. He didn’t give out compliments easily. He pulls me into the office and he says, “I want to tell you that you made the team.” I couldn’t believe it at that time because I thought I was going back to Triple-A for another year. I had a good spring, but I still didn’t think I was ready for the big leagues. I asked him, “Dick, what did I do that made me stand out to you?” He looked at me straight in the eye and he said, “I love the way you showed no fear.” He had no idea how scared I was sitting in the room with him.
I must have had this face or something that I was staring at them that people thought I didn’t feel fear. That wasn’t true at all but the fact is that’s how they felt. He gave me the opportunity to go to the big leagues and the rest is history for me. That was the moment that I walked out on a walk with Grover Resinger who was a lieutenant of his and was a coach. The year before when I was in Triple-A, Grover had told me, “You’re going to be in the big leagues next year. Dick Williams is going to love you.” I said, “I don’t know about that.” It ended up being that way. I said to him, “Do you know what he told me? He says that I show no fear. Is that true?” He says, “It’s true. You don’t seem to be affected by anything.” I said, “I can tell you I am. You’ll see that proof as we move on here.” That’s how that developed.
That’s a great point that you bring up about this not being affected by a lot because you played after a couple of years in California with the Angels, you went to Boston. You’re going home, you grew up at Fenway Park and you tell the story about getting driven by your dad to go see games as a kid. Every time you drive by a different field, you’d say, “Is that Fenway?” He’d say, “No. A few more minutes.” This is a dream come true but Boston is a tough place for professional sports. My generation is absolutely spoiled because we have seen everybody win in all professional sports. My daughter watches all the games for all the teams. She has seen the Patriots, the Red Sox, the Bruins, the Celtics all win multiple championships. She’s young. There are people who went their whole life and never saw any of those teams win championships.
My daughter cried when David Ortiz retired because she literally was watching on TV and couldn’t understand what was going on. I’m like, “He’s not going to be playing anymore.” She started crying because this was her hero and he’s no longer going to be playing. She won’t even say Brady’s name anymore. We had to coach her through the Super Bowl, saying, “No. We want him to win,” but she couldn’t understand because he left. This was her player that she had her whole life with all this success with the Patriots. The bar is elevated in Beantown or Trophytown as we’ve been able to call it and there’s no margin for error. There’s an expectation of excellence and precision performance. How do you play in a place like that where the bar is elevated and perfection is expected? Any excuse and any failure to perform at anything but the highest level where there truly is no second place, you get fired, you’re out and you’re done.
At the beginning of the story, I was always an incredible Red Sox fan. From the time the ‘67 team came out, I was locked into them. They were my team and I was a local kid. Playing out in California was weird. It was a good place for me to play for the first three years because there was no pressure out there. It’s nothing like Boston. They’d come to games out there if they didn’t feel like going to the beach or going to Disneyland. We’d have 6,000 to 7,000 people at the ballpark. It was nothing. We had two writers cover the team, there was no sports talk radio and it was easy going.
The word came out that I was going to be traded so we pushed for a trade back to Boston because I wanted to come home and I wanted to play for the Red Sox, the team that I grew up with. Fortunately, they were able to work that out. My wife, Phoebe, was not excited about it because she was a little concerned about me coming back here to play because I had all my friends back here and at times, we did some crazy things. It’s much more difficult for all of us ticket-wise and people bothering me to come back here. She had a nice little life going out there in California. She’d be at Laguna Beach every day. It was pretty easy to take. There was no stress or pressure on us out there.
When I get the word to come back here, I can’t say that she was overly excited about it. I was because I had a chance to come back to a team that got all kinds of Hall of Famers on it, Carlton Fisk, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, Rick Burleson, Miles Shortstop, Butch Hopson, in third base and Carlton Fisk, the catcher. I got a chance to come back and be part of these guys that I looked up to before I got into professional baseball.
These are your heroes and mentors.
My first spring training was weird for me with these guys because I was seeing my idols and I’m on the same team with them. Here I got to go again to prove to these guys that I can play and prove that I can be a good teammate. It was a great move for me because I have never left since being traded here back in 1978. Everything that’s happened to me since that time has kept me at home. My job as a sportscaster and I have been with the Red Sox for many years. I’ve been in the Red Sox organization and 2021 is my 42nd year and my 50th year in professional baseball. It all worked out beautifully for me and I happen to come to a good team. It’s a much better team than when I was with the Angels that was young, inexperienced and didn’t have the talent that the Red Sox had. All of a sudden, you’re moving up in a level of play and playing against the New York Yankees who are the arch-rivals at that particular time and continue to be the arch-rivals but was a nasty, competitive couple of teams that were going after each other all the time.
The fan part of it was there was so much more media and writers that would cover the team so everything you did was magnified. I always felt playing for the Red Sox. Every game that you played was playing the seventh game of the World Series. It was that important to the fans. In the coverage you have, you get criticized a lot more here than you did out in California. That’s something you had to deal with. When you didn’t play well, they will rip you to death. You had to get tough skinned to go through stuff like that but it was a totally different atmosphere. It’s much more of a competitive atmosphere and an atmosphere where you have to be tougher as a person to get through it. You had to have a short memory because you could dislike a lot of these guys that wrote some bad stuff about you. You would have to try to win them over by playing better. It’s difficult and there are a lot of guys that can’t play here. I’ve seen it through the years. They don’t have the makeup to be able to survive in a city like this where winning is the most important thing.
You’ve even talked about how in 1978, you guys won 99 games and they called you losers.
We got off to a great start that year. We were leading the Yankees by fourteen games at the All-Star break. We had a tremendous first half of the season. We play close to 800 baseballs. We started to acquire some injuries on the team. Some of our bigger guys got hurt. Fisk was playing with broken ribs, Hopson had a bad elbow. The second half of the season was a complete flip-flop. We didn’t play well and the Yankees played great. They were hurt in the first half. We came back and we got hurt in the second half so it all evens up at the end. It was 99 wins for both teams with a one-game playoff at Fenway Park on a beautiful October afternoon. Everybody knows the results of that game. We lost it by one run.
Can you imagine playing the whole season and the two best teams in baseball winning 99 games each coming down to one game at Fenway Park and they beat us by one run? The whole season ends up with one run. They were calling us chokers and losers because we gave up the lead after the All-Star break. It was painful because I never planned on a team that good that won 99 and close to winning 99 games. Nowadays, 99 games get you into the playoffs because you’d be a wildcard team. There was no such thing back in those days. It was either you want it or you went home. We played that game. It was such a beautiful day at Fenway. It was a weird, tremendous game. It’s the best game I’ve ever played even though we lost it.
It was a well-played game on both teams. There were no gifts given out. They were no errors. It was an incredible atmosphere at the ballpark. It was a back and forth game. It was a good baseball game. For me, that’s the best game that I ever played. People ask me that all the time and say, “You lost.” I say, “I know we lost but it doesn’t mean it can’t be the best game that I played.” We were called chokers. When I’m sitting at home after the season and I’m going, “Chokers have 99 wins because I had never come close to winning 99 games in a season.” That was the motivation for the following year. We fell short again the following year. It was depressing. In those clubs that I played on with the Red Sox, we didn’t win one World Championship because we were good enough to do that. They broke the team up and it was a totally different story after that but it was fun.
It was a totally different atmosphere after what I had out in California. It was intense. It was two teams that disliked each other, the Yankees and the Red Sox. There was no love loss in those games at all. Now, they’re all friends, smiling and doing this all the time but those two teams hated each other. I’ll tell you a funny story. I had a teammate on the Angels called Mickey Rivers who played centerfield. He got traded to the Yankees the year before I came to the Red Sox. We were warming up one day before batting practice to take infield practice. Mickey comes up to me and he says, “How are you doing?” I said, “I’m doing all right.” He leaves and Fisk comes over to me. He says, “Let me tell you something. We don’t talk to those son of a bitches. We don’t talk to them.” I said, “I get it. I get the way it goes around here now.” That was an eye-opener for me. That was the enemy. There was no conversation with those guys at all.
There have been some amazing visceral responses to the Yankees over the years at both ballparks.
It used to be so much fun going to the Yankee Stadium but they hated us so much. The fans hated us. They throw stuff at us on the field. I’d had tomatoes landing behind me in second base coming out on the upper deck. It was unbelievable. It was fun. It was what baseball should be like. It should be like that all the time. It was a lot of fun.
Let’s talk about that pressure because as much as it’s a team sport, there’s such an individual component to baseball. They say all the time, “One of the hardest things to do in professional sports is to hit a baseball.” I want to talk about it in the sense of being a closer. If you think about a closer who has to stand on the mound at the end of the game, whether it’s to save the game or win the game. I’m so fortunate to have watched so many great Red Sox teams over the years. I always think about Jonathan Papelbon.
You talked about Jonathan Papelbon a lot as a player but a different guy on and off the field. Off the field, he was a joker. He was a funny guy. There was a lot of comic relief. He did all these wild things after the games. When he stepped onto that field and he went to that mound, the look in his eye was so serious that there was a whole zone that he went into where it was a stone face attitude. His eyes were cutting through the batter and the catcher. As a leader, how do you stand up in those pressure situations and put all the noise away?
It was very difficult. One of the hottest jobs in all of baseball is being a closer. It takes a special individual to be able to do that. You have to have a short memory because you can blow and save one night, but then you call upon the next night to do the same thing. You can’t dwell on what’s happened one night and let it affect you the second night. Guys like that know that. They know that nobody else is warming up in the bullpen when they come into the game. The game is in their hands. If they lose, they feel they’ve let the whole club down, all 24 other guys. If they win it, they’re happy that they were able to save it for the team. It takes a special human being.
You’re right about Papelbon. He was a total clown. He was a guy that was crazy but it takes that mentality to be in that position because he could shake off a bad day. He could shake it off and he comes back the next night with the same attitude and desire, and be able to get the job done for the next 5 or 6 saves. It’s unique. Those guys are special. The games changed a little bit. Now, we don’t have as many of those shutdown closes. They use a variety of guys to close games now. Those guys are special because when you’re on that field, there are 35,000 people there, you look behind you in that bullpen and nobody is warming up. It’s just you. You are it. You are the final guy that’s going to be out there.
It takes a special type of attitude to be able to do that and Papelbon had that. He could be as goofy as a nine-day week but when he got out to the mound, he was as serious as piercing as he could be. That was part of his intimidation and part of his act to try to intimidate hitters. He was fun to watch. He was one of the great ones they’ve had here. There have been a lot of great closers but he was right around the top of the list as far as what I’ve watched since I’ve been with the Red Sox. It’s that different attitude that you’ve got to have every time you come into a game because the game is on you. You see these guys when they walk into the clubhouse after they blow a save, it’s like they want to apologize to everybody in the team. The team doesn’t feel that way because they know what they’re going through. It’s like, “That’s all right. Get them tomorrow.” They quickly forget and you have to have a short memory.
Do you think that control is what brings a sense of calm?
That’s a good point. When you know that you’re good and eventually, good things are going to happen. The tough thing is battling through the bad times where you can’t get too far down on yourself. All the great players have this inner belief that my good is going to come out more than my bad. You have to be able to control your mind. Baseball is a game of failure when you think about it because if you’re not successful 7 out of 10 times, that means you still hit 300. Seven times you failed, but the three times that you did well, you’re a good player. You’re a 300 hitter. It’s a game of failure.
Those are the kinds of things that you’ve got to battle as an individual in the bad times because there are a lot of bad times in baseball. You have to be able to put those aside. If you let them, they can drive you crazy. You’ve always got to have that belief that, “I’ve done this before. I’ve been good before. I’m going to be good again.” It’s an up and down game. You play 162 games a year. It’s like every day you play. It’s not like football where you play one game a week or basketball or hockey where they play 2 or 3. You play every single day so that pressure is with you every day.
That’s why sometimes the game is hard to enjoy because you can have a good night, go home, get a good night’s rest, feel good about yourself, go back and you have no idea what’s going to happen the next day. You could have a bad game that can snowball into 2 or 3 bad days. It’s only 2 or 3 days but it feels like 2 or 3 weeks that you’re going through this. You’ve got to be mentally strong to be able to get through times like that. Be able to go back, succeed, and be the type of player that you can be.
How much of that can you train versus how much is innate, born with it, and they’ve got it or they don’t?
It goes both ways. You get a lot of training and help from your coaches and your teammates. Everybody in the game at times feels down and out. Everybody does. It’s just a question of you got to have confidence in your ability, that you’ve done this before and you’re going to get back to doing the right thing. You got to have a strong belief in your own ability because the game can be crushing. It’s affected personality without question. When I had bad games and bad 3 or 4 days, nobody in the house spoke to me. I would sit down. I’d be quiet because I was upset and pissed off. Sometimes, I feel bad about that when I look back on it because if Phoebe had dinner plans for a Sunday night, which we seldom went out to dinner because we had played all the time, but we play Sunday day games, if I had a bad game that day, I didn’t want to go out to eat. I was miserable when I went out to eat. That’s how the game affected me. I hope to have better days than bad days. The ups and downs of it are what gets you.
I’ve talked to many players about this throughout the years. As a matter of fact, we talked about it on a broadcast of how do you look back at your career and wish you could have enjoyed it more than what you did. You had this constant pressure on you every single day. You know what that’s like. It’s something that you’ve got to be able to shake off and get used to. Some people can get used to it and some people can’t. I was one that couldn’t leave it at the ballpark. It stayed with me when I came home. Sometimes, I’d be absolutely miserable at home until I started playing well again. That didn’t go over well with my wife. I don’t know how it affected my kids. The fact is I was not a pleasant person when I didn’t do well. That was part of my burning desire to always be good. When you look back on it, I wish I could have been different in those situations. Be more at ease like some players can be but I couldn’t be.
There’s a dedication to greatness there that’s hard to leave at the field. You can’t separate it. I want to talk about one of the battles that you had off the field and that was your battle with cancer. For ten years, you fought this with four recurrences. You had your first showings of it in 2008 with minimally invasive surgery. On the second time, you had five treatments. The third time you had five more and the fourth time was major surgery with 27 treatments. You’ve talked a lot about how you handled this mentally, how it physically affected you, especially the fourth time that you had it.
What were the things that drove you every day to wake up and say, “I’ve got to beat this thing,” I can only imagine that you beat it once and there’s a sense of joy. You get the news the second time and you say, “I can beat it again,” and you hear it the third time. Is there ever a point where you have to have that short memory that you’ve talked about and say, “I’ve got to take it one day at a time and get through this?” How did you handle it?
You have to trust your doctors, first of all. We’re blessed where we live in this part of the country where we have some of the greatest doctors in the world. It is striking when you first find out you had cancer. The way they found out with me is I was taking a normal X-ray. My primary care doctor saw a little spot at the bottom of my lung. He didn’t like the way it looked on the normal X-ray. He’s like, “Let’s get a CAT scan and get a look at it.” That’s how they first found it. The big thing is they found it early. When they find it early, there’s probably something they can do about it.
It’s tough. Anytime you hear the word cancer, it scares the hell out of you. You say, “Now, what’s next?” The first thing you think about when you’ve got to bed every day is, “I’ve got cancer. What are they going to do about it? How are they going to fix this? Can they fix it? Is it going to spread quickly?” All those negative things go through your mind. When you start getting involved with your doctors a little bit, you realize the knowledge and the tools that they have at their disposal and you go through a lot. I’ve been through chemotherapy a number of times, surgeries, radiation and all kinds of things. I’ve been through the whole ball of wax.
I’ve got to tell you, every time it comes back, it’s frustrating but you’ll have confidence in your doctors that they get something that can help you. It’s been years since I first got diagnosed and they’ve come back on me a number of times. They’ve always had an answer for it. To this day, I still battle it. I go in for treatments every three weeks. I’ve been in a trial. Now, I’m in a maintenance program. Sometimes, it’s almost like you’re looking at what they’re doing to you instead of thinking of the worst. I tried to battle through this as hard as I possibly can. I’m going to put my best effort forward and I would expect that same thing out of the doctors, which I’ve gotten. I have complete confidence in them that whatever they suggest to me, they know what they’re doing. It’s been a painful and at times, depressing ride. There’s no other choice. The other choice is you don’t do anything and the end result is not good.
Keep chugging along with the best you possibly can and hope for good news. The biggest days of my life are the days that I go for my CAT scans, which are once every three months. If I get a great one, I’ll be happy about it. If I get a bad one, I go, “What are they going to do now about this?” It’s difficult to go through it. I have a tremendous amount of respect for all the people that are going through cancer that have had to fight it. I don’t think that I’ll ever beat it. It’s going to be with me my whole life. It’s probably going to take my life at some point but I hope it’s something else. I’m going to keep fighting it as long as I possibly can because the other side of it is not good, and I’m not ready to go to that side yet. You keep doing what doctors tell you to do. You keep doing it the best you possibly can. You try to keep up a positive attitude about it.
At times, it gets depressing. This whole time of going through COVID and the combination of that and getting treatments, it’s been a little bit depressing because it’s on your mind more. I’m anxious to get back to work because when I’m working, my mind works in a different way. I’ve got something to look forward to and I can focus on. When it’s the offseason, you’re sitting around thinking. You’re stuck in the house with COVID, you’re thinking about cancer and you’re thinking about all kinds of things. It’s not pleasant but I’m going to keep fighting as long as I possibly can. It’s probably going to get me in the end but I don’t know when that end is. I hope to put in many more years.
You’ve talked about your battle with depression in the past. I’m glad you brought it up here because as elite performers who are so used to operating at a 10 out of 10, when you talk to a lot of therapists, they’ll tell you that they often go through their evaluation of their talent. They’ll say, “If you think about your attitude on a scale or a volume dial from 0 to 10, you operate at a 7 to 10.” I had that evaluation in Special Forces Assessment and Selection. They said, “You operate out of ten.” There’s a 10 out of 10 and if you’re not at 10 out of the 10 and you’re at zero, you don’t care and you don’t even do it. “Your rev is high,” is what they’ll also say. They’re like, “Your natural rev is up at the top of the line.” You always have to be stimulated. You always have to be going into the next thing.
When you’re faced with things that take you out of that performance zone whether it’s a bad play or battle with cancer, you begin to have this anxiety and you’ve talked about these panic attacks that you used to have that you’ve suffered through and have combated. How do you look internally and become introspective to say, “As an elite performer, I’m not at my best. These are the reasons why I’m not at my best and I have to go out and get some help?”
One of the toughest things that I’ve ever been through in my life and maybe the toughest thing I’ve been through in my life started with anxiety. I never knew that I had high anxiety. All of a sudden, I started to get these panic attacks when I first started broadcasting. It happened a couple of years after that. I didn’t know what a panic attack was because I never had one in my life. I thought I was having a heart attack so they rushed me in to see the team doctor. My heart was checked out fine and he said, “You’re having a panic attack.” I said, “Panic attack? What the hell is that? I’ve never had one of those.”
They kept coming. They’re unbelievable. Anybody that’s been through it, if you suffer a panic attack and I’m sitting here talking to you right now, the same thing would happen to me if we did this tomorrow. I’d start thinking about I had a panic attack and it would come over and over again. Every place I would go, if I had had one, I’d have another one. I finally got to the point where it got me depressed. I felt helpless. I couldn’t do anything. That brought out the depression and it was awful. It was probably the worst thing I’ve ever been through because you feel like doing nothing. You don’t want to get out of bed. You don’t want to go to bed because you don’t want to get up the next day feeling the same way. I remember one day looking at a house in a street. I was looking out the back window and I said to myself, “I can’t put up with this for another day. I can’t do it.”
I didn’t want to kill myself. I didn’t get that far down the road, but I had had enough. I was so depressed and had no ambition to do anything. I said, “I got to seek help.” What I needed was medication because I’d been to a couple of doctors and we had talked. The talking did nothing for me. As a matter of fact, I have a panic attack in the doctor’s office but he’s trying to give me these deep breathing exercises. I said, “I have a panic attack here. This is ridiculous. Medication is what I need.” I said, “I don’t want to talk to you about my childhood. My childhood was fine. Everything was fine there. I had no problems. I’ve been through a lot of stress in my life. For some reason, I’m suffering these panic attacks and it’s got me depressed. I want medication.”
Finally, I got hooked up at Mass General with the head psychiatrist there. They got me on the right regimen of medication, which got me straightened out. Through some tough times since that time, I haven’t had a problem with depression. It was a long process. This went on for a long time, for a couple of years at least. There was one year I was doing games and I was having these panic attacks while doing the games. At times, I felt like I had to get up from my spot, go outside the door and calm down somehow but I couldn’t. I didn’t know how to calm down. The deep breathing thing didn’t do anything for me. I needed to get done the right cocktail of medications. I’m on one for panic attacks and depression. They have helped me out tremendously. I haven’t had a problem in a number of years, but that feeling is one of the worst.
That’s why I’ve always come forward with it publicly with what I’m going through, whether it’d be cancer or depression because I felt like I have a bully pulpit up there when I’m speaking. If I can talk to some people out there who are going through the same thing, even just one person, if I can help them do the right thing and get the right help, then I feel like I’ve helped somebody. There are a lot of people that look up to us because we’re on the TV every day talking to them. If you share your life with them, there are some people you can help. I wanted to do that.
It also was therapeutic for me because I was getting it out and letting it loose. I wasn’t holding it inside. It’s a tough time. Going through cancer, if you can believe that, was tough for me because you’re not yourself. You’re so lifeless. You don’t feel like doing anything. You don’t want to do anything. For me, that was a difficult time. Since that time, I’ve had some difficult times but I’ve been able to manage them. It’s because of the medication. I don’t go in and speak with the doctor once a month about it. I take my medication, let it roll and it’s been good.
I appreciate you sharing all that with us because that’s one of the things that I’ve tried to advocate for, especially as it pertains to our veterans because we have so many veterans out there who suffer from depression, anxiety and what has been stigmatized as PTSD. There’s this label of like, “If you’re a veteran, then you have PTSD and you’re crazy.” It’s like, “No, that’s not the case.” There are a lot of people who have PTSD and have been diagnosed with PTSD who function tremendously and function at an elite level every single day. They just operate at a different level of anxiety which has then put them in these situations where they’re triggered more easily.
What happens so many times in my work with veterans is that people don’t want to talk about it and they don’t want to share it. Being able to hear your story and hear it from somebody who’s lived it at a time while battling cancer, being in the public eye, and being able to stand up and say, “I fought this thing. You can do it, too,” is so impactful. We lose 22 veterans a day to suicide. Most of those veterans who take their life are due to mental depression. If you can get up there and affect one person, save one life, get one person to make a call and go talk to someone, then it’s worth every second to keep having that conversation.
I’ve got a lot of letters from people over the years that have told me how much what I’ve said and what I’ve done meant to them, which makes me feel good because there’s a stigma with it that people are almost embarrassed by it. You shouldn’t be stigmatized by it because many people are going through this. You should be out there trying to get help because there is help available. The Run to Home Base program we have in Boston is a fantastic program that’s helped a lot of people. We’re involved with that with the Red Sox and Mass General. It’s helped so many veterans throughout the years and we get to meet a lot of those people. It’s great to see how they’ve been able to spin their life around back to a positive situation instead of the pain that they were going through. It’s tough to go through it and talk about but it’s worth talking about it because if you get one person to go get help, then you’ve done your job.
Let’s take it back to baseball. In 1986 spring training, you experienced that final knee injury where you have to stand up and say, “This might be it.” What happened?
I hurt my knee originally back in 1979 in Yankee Stadium and I kept re-injuring it. Every couple of years, I’d have surgery to take out cartilage. It finally got to a point where competitively, I couldn’t do the things that got me to the big leagues and kept me in the big leagues. I knew going down to spring training in 1986 that I was going to be it for me because I went along and I knew it was not going to hold up for me. I knew I was not going to competitively be able to play in the big leagues. I went to spring training and I didn’t do much down there. I told them at the beginning, “This is it for me. I’ll try. I’ll give it the best effort I got,” but I already know from my post and pre-season workouts that it’s not going to happen for me. I hung around all spring training and at the end of spring training, they finally let me go.
It was two things. First of all, it was tremendous sadness. I cried when we were driving away from the hotel coming home because that part of my life was over and I didn’t know where I was going from there. On the other side of it, it was somewhat of a relief because I’ve been battling these deep problems for a number of years. It’s wearing me down. I could see myself not competing at the same level that I had my whole life. That’s what bothered me most of all. My game was running and all of a sudden, I couldn’t run the way that I wanted to run. I feel a difference. Plus, I’d go playing a game and I come back and my knee would blow up like a balloon. They’d have to drain it and stuff like that.
I knew my career was over, but it was still difficult because there’s a whole section in your life that you think is gone and you don’t realize there’s a whole other large body of life that you still got to live. Giving up baseball, that was my whole thing. That was my whole gig. I did it from high school along with a lot of ups and downs through it but it was my life. It was difficult to have to put that behind me and leave. I got lucky. I’ve talked of luck a lot in this episode. It happened at a good time for me because what happened next is after a year, I got this opportunity to go into TV. I never dreamed in my whole life that I would be on TV and I would be an analyst on a Red Sox baseball game. It was never in my thoughts. I thought I’d be a manager. I wanted to coach and eventually become a manager at the Major League level.
This opportunity came up. It happened to be at the right time. The person that had the job was no longer going to be with us. They were looking for somebody for a replacement. Somebody threw my hat in the ring and I didn’t even know about it. Finally, they called and they said, “Do you have any interest in this?” I said, “No, I don’t. I’ve never given it any thought.” They said, “Why don’t you try it?” We went through the interview process and all that stuff. I was reluctant to try it but I did. I was terrible. I was absolutely awful in the first couple of years that I was doing this.
I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no clue. I remember the first game I did in spring training, I didn’t know how many outs there were. I didn’t know anything. I was so nervous. I was always a quiet guy and you had to talk on TV. It was something I’d never done in my life. I said, “This is terrible,” and I was terrible. I was awful the first couple of years. I remember wanting to drop it, but I’ve never quit anything in my life. My wife convinced me. She said, “Give it another year. Try in another year. See what happens. If you don’t like it, you can always go back into coaching and managing.” I said, “I’ll try another year.”
The instinct side of it clicked for me. It ended up being the best thing that I’ve ever done because I’ve been doing it now for many years. It’s kept me at home. If I had to go on into coaching and managing, I’d have been all over this country getting jobs and fired. In this way, I’ve been sweeping stable at home for my whole life. It’s another lucky break that I got that came out of the bad knee. It happened at the right time and I’ve been doing this ever since. It’s strange how things have worked out for me throughout the years.
Do you think that you approached broadcasting in the similar way that you approach baseball with no fear in your eyes?
Absolutely. I’m crazy. I’m getting worse as I get older. The game starts at 7:00 and I’m at work at 2:00. Now, I’m going at 1:00 because I like to get all my preparation done. When it’s nice, peaceful and quiet. I used to like that as a player too. I hated to go to New York because of all the hustle and bustle. What I used to do is go out to the ballpark early at 1:00 PM and sit at the ballpark when it was nice and quiet out in the stands and suck up the whole thing. I do the same thing at work. I like to be prepared early and get that preparation done because when you get close to the game time in that job, that’s when it starts heating up and it gets busy.
A couple of hours before the game, you got guests coming into the booth. You got people you’ve got to meet. You’ve got sponsors you’ve got to meet. You never know what last-minute glitch is going to go wrong. They may change lineups and you got to be prepared for that. There are a lot of different things, so I like that quiet time for a couple of hours before the game. That’s why I like to go in early. It gives me a chance to sit there and think about the game that night, what you might be saying, and what you might not be saying. My wife laughs at me because she says, “As you’re getting older, you’re getting worse. You go in earlier and earlier.” I said, “If I probably get a call, I’d sleep over there.” That’s always been my style. For me, it’s like the military. On-time is late for me. I’ve always been that type. If I got to be somewhere at 5:00 PM, I’m leaving at 3:00 no matter where I’m going to go.
You’ve been in baseball for 50 years professionally. You’ve been going to Fenway Park as an analyst in broadcasting for many years. There’s an element of routine to this thing. There are a lot of your peers who do this and they’re complacent. They go out there and they get there at 5:00 for a 7:00 game. They’re not as detailed. Every single person who has shared a booth with you have made the same comment that there’s no one who’s more prepared to call that game. There are charts and there are lineups. The whole table is laid out with all your stuff. For so many years, for 162 games a year, not including spring training, you go, you do this and you’ve done it for many years. How do you do it? How do you wake up every day and say, “I’m still going to execute this plan every single day to this day?”
It’s my style. It’s the way I’ve been my whole life with everything. I want to make sure that I’m totally prepared and ready for that game that night because baseball changes every single game. Every game is different. You can be as prepared as you possibly can. That can be all thrown out the window after one inning in a game. The one thing I love about baseball is that you never see the same thing twice. Every game shows you something different, something you haven’t seen before. You want to be ready for stuff like that. You get your basic work done, but then you got to be on target for the game because in the game, you’re probably going to see something you haven’t seen before and you got to be ready for it.
It’s all my mental preparation and my craziness that gets me to go and do these things early. The fun thing about baseball is that from night to night, from day to day, you don’t know what you’re going to see. My job is when this happens, I got to break it down. If it’s something you haven’t seen in a long time, you got a flashback memory and say, “This is what goes on in this situation.” You got to try to do the best you can to not speak down to fans. When you speak to them, you try to explain why this is going on in the game.
A lot of guys don’t have that ability. A lot of guys around the country that I’ve been able to listen to speak down to their fans. You can’t do that around here because the fans around here are knowledgeable. They know a phony when they see one. You can’t be a phony around here because they’ll call you out in a second. You’re going to try to be yourself. I’ve always tried to be as myself. I want to be like a guy that was sitting in a bar having a beer. The game is on TV and we’re just talking about it. That’s what I try to do during my broadcasts. I try to have that relationship with the fans. I’ve been successful at that for quite a long period of time.
One of the things we talked about a lot is in hiring, you look at a person’s character. It’s not necessarily their hard skills. The Red Sox knew that you didn’t know about broadcasting. They know that you’re not going to sit in the interview and say, “I can be a broadcast analyst,” because they’re going to say, “You’ve been on the field for your whole career. How can you be a broadcast analyst?” What they knew is that they got a certain set of traits. One of the common themes here in the show is that you hire for character. You look at somebody’s traits, what we call the whole man concept. Can they bring an element of themselves that makes this organization better, and we’ll train them on the rest. That’s what they did with you and that’s proved to be a model for success for many years.
What they knew they were getting in me is somebody that will put maximum effort into what he was doing. They knew they were getting a local kid, which was big at that time because people around here have a tendency to like their local guys, so they were getting one of those. They also got a guy that they knew was not going to give up. If he started tough, he was going to try to work his way through it. They had no idea that I was going to be around for many years, nor did I. They knew that what they were getting from a player’s point of view translated into what they’re looking for from a working standpoint in the job that I do now. That’s what they knew they were getting. They didn’t know how it’s going to turn out.
That was left up to me because I didn’t get a lot of help. It’s not like they send me to school and learn how to be one. They sat down and showed me a lot of videos and say, “Now let’s go over this play.” It was like, “Put your headsets on and go get them.” The funny story is that the first game I did, in those days, they had two writers, one from the Herald and one from the Globe, that would critique the analysts and the play-by-play guys. They were in the papers twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays. After my first game, they’d ripped me good because I was out to lunch. We had a rain delay and we had to do an interview. I’d never done any interview in my life. It was awful. I used to hate Tuesdays and Fridays because I get up and get ripped by these guys.
You had some great mentors. You talked about it before that you played with some of the best that have ever played the game of baseball. You played with Yastrzemski, Nolan Ryan, Carlton Fisk and Roger Clemens. They’re so many to name and they had an impact on you. These guys took you under their wing. Who had the most impact on you and why?
More so than players, I would have to say some of the coaches I’ve had. The players that you talk about all have one thing in common, this burning desire to be the best. Guy’s talent levels are different. All the guys you’re talking about are Hall of Fame caliber players who had this burning desire to be the best that they could possibly be. They had the talent on top of that to make them a step above everybody else. For me personally, it was my coaches. It was the guys that went out of their way. We talked about Kenny Myers in the show. There’s a guy named Walt Hriniak who was the hitting coach and we had an exceptionally close relationship. We talked about everything from hitting to defense, running the bases and mentally how you get through some tough times. He knew when to talk to me and when not to talk to me.
I was the type of guy that after a game, if I had a bad game, don’t come near me and start talking about how we can get better. Wait until tomorrow. Let me go home, get over this, and have a few beers. Tomorrow, I’ll be here at 2:00 and we’ll go to work to make tomorrow better than today.” It’s an understanding you’ve got to have any coaches that they’ve got to know when to come to you and when not to. The first time he came to me after a bad game, I said, “Walt, not now. I’m going home to drink. I’m going home to have a couple of pops and Budweiser and then I’ll be here tomorrow at 2:00.” We had an understanding right from the beginning that that’s the way it was going to be. It was a beautiful relationship we have and we still have it. We still talk on the phone all the time. It was all baseball. It was all positive. It’s been coaches that had the most impact on me. I got a thrill out of watching these great players. This Hall of Fame guys. They were a step above everybody else and they all had one thing in common. It’s that burning desire to be great.
Coaches and mentors are different now. You’ve talked about how back when you played, this was the era of tobacco, spitting, fights, and this visceral, violent hatred of the Yankees that often ended up in some fisticuffs on the field. Now, we hear things like players’ manager, circular leadership and a much more bottom-up approach versus this tough love, top-down or regimented hierarchy that you experienced. You’ve compared Alex Cora and Terry Francona to today’s managers with people like Grady Liddell who had a mentality that was much more in the past. What do you think has fundamentally shifted over the last twenty years or so as you’ve watched the sport evolve that have created this difference? Do you think it’s going in the right direction? Do you think it’s resonating better with a younger generation of players?
I have a lot of feelings about this but you’re right. When I was playing, the manager was the manager. He was the guy making decisions. If he wanted you out of there, you were out of there. If they wanted somebody to trade, he was the guy that gave the final yes on the trade. It’s totally different. Baseball front offices have grown to enormous sizes where they have people for everything. Managers now are asked two things, grab information from the analytics and also manage the players. You get along with the players because the players are different now. They make a lot more money than we made.
Back in our day, it was the manager that would get on you all the time and didn’t care at all if he was a friend of yours or not. Now, it’s more of you got to have this bond and relationship with the players to try to get the most out of them. That’s the way managers have to deal with it when they get a lot of their information, which managers used to have to get on their own. Now, it comes from people that trickle down from the front office. They’re overloaded with information in this day and age of baseball, which is great because I wish I would have had some of the information when I was playing that the players have today and take it and use it as you see fit for yourself.
It’s a totally different atmosphere now where you’re going to be more of a friend of a player than I did when I played where managers didn’t care about you one way or the other. All they cared about was results. One story with Dick Williams, I got thrown out one day stealing third base and he came up to me. He used to let me run on my own. I got thrown into third base for the third out of the inning, which was a terrible base. It was my mistake. He came up to me in the clubhouse and he said, “You’re off your own.” He didn’t talk to me for two weeks. He did not say hello, goodbye, nice or congratulations on a hit for two weeks.
One day, we’re in Chicago and he comes up to me. He taps me on the shoulder during batting practice and he says, “Get back on your own again. Did you learn your lesson?” I said, “Yes, I learned it.” For two weeks, not a peep out of him. You don’t see that in today’s game of baseball. Every day now, it’s building the guys up, try to get them ready for the game and keep their heads above water. It’s a lot different managing now than it was in the past. In some ways, I don’t like today’s game as much as I liked it before because it’s become a game of strikeouts, walks and home runs. I find it a little bit boring.
I’d rather go back to the days when we did all little things like hitting runs, squeezes, moving runners along and hitting to the opposite field with a man at second base. All those little things in baseball that we were taught have gone out the window. Although, they may be coming back into this game slowly but surely because people are bored with the type of baseball that’s going on. It’s like, “How far can he hit the ball?” We used to be taught with two strikes cut down into swing just to make contact and don’t strike out. Now, guys strike out 200 times a year and it’s no big deal as long as they hit 30 home runs. It’s a totally different game.
It’s one that sometimes when I’m analyzing the game upstairs, it’s like, “What am I doing here? There’s nothing to analyze. Is there a strikeout with a high fastball, a walk or a home run?” It becomes somewhat boring to me. I’d like to see it go back in the other direction where we can play a complete game of baseball, which is more appealing to the fans because they enjoy that strategy a little bit more than what the game is now.
One of the teams that epitomize that was the 2004 Boston Red Sox who was arguably one of the best teams that ever played. I emphasize teams because they had amazing players at every position. Not necessarily the best players in the league in every position, but that team came together as a team. They had a great season and they made it into the playoffs, and then they go down three games to the New York Yankees in the ALCS. I remember it’s one of those moments where you sit there and you know where you were when they lost that game. At seven years old, I’d say, “I know where I was when they lost that game.” What they did from that point forward was they came back together and they go on to win four in a row. We saw that from the outside as fans and we saw that on TV. You were there and you saw from the inside. What did these guys do to overcome that? How did they come together? What were those traits in the leadership that were exhibited by that team to say, “No, we’re not down and out.”
First of all, they had some of the craziest guys in the world on that team and nothing bothered them. They were a strange group. They were a group that could play in Boston and not have anything bother them. They were a bunch of idiots. They call themselves The Idiots but they were not idiots. They were smart idiots. Things didn’t bother them the way they bothered other clubs that I’ve seen in the past. I remember when they got down three to nothing, they didn’t think they’ve got a win. They were already congratulating some of the Yankees, “Congratulations on the series. There’s no way we can come back from four games down.” All of a sudden, you win one and you go, “We win one. When we go back we’ll find out if we win the next one.” All of a sudden, you start to smell the finish line a little, “Maybe we can come back in this.”
That’s how it goes with professional sports. There are some mountains that are almost impossible to climb. This was one that was about impossible to climb down in ’03 to a great team like the Yankees. They come back and they went in another one. Now, they’re having shots in the clubhouse before the game. They’re all drinking shots and they go out there to play baseball. It was crazy. They felt like they had nothing to lose and go on to win this thing. It was amazing. They went on to sweep the World Series and became the first team forever to win a World Championship here in Boston. That’s my favorite group of all time because of how they accomplished it, what they did and the type of personalities they had in that club. They were a lot of fun to be around. We travel by planes and we go to different cities. They had their fun. There’s no question about that.
The best thing about them is they were not afraid to play in this city where a lot of teams are. They weren’t afraid of criticism. I can’t say they had this planned out where they were going to come back and win four straight games against the Yankees. I don’t think they believe that. I don’t think anybody in the world believes that. Fenway Park was like a morgue when they went down one-three in that series, but they won one and they won another one. All of a sudden, they realized, “Maybe we can do this,” and they did it. They went on to sweep the World Series. It’s the best team that I’ve been around.
What I liked about them is to a person, they all gave credit to the X players that have tried to do this in the Red Sox uniform. I thought it was classy of them to come out and say, “This is for all the teams that came before us that couldn’t get it done and didn’t get an opportunity to get it done. We’re glad we were able to do it for everybody that has played in a Red Sox uniform.” I thought that was a classy thing for them to say and do and it meant a lot to me. I tried for years to get it done and we couldn’t get it done. For decades, the teams couldn’t get it done. I thought that was cool for them to do that. They go down in my book as the most fun team and probably the best team I’ve ever been around. The 2018 team was good. They were a great club too, but ‘04 is still my favorite.
There are two players on that team who are my favorite players who I have ever watched on the Red Sox, if not in baseball. That’s Jason Varitek and David Ortiz. You also highlighted this in your book. I want to discuss them in the concept of what I call owning the room. These are two players where when they were on the field, you just knew that you had their best and you had the best. When I talked about owning the room, there are people in leadership positions who sit in organizations who may not be the smartest, fastest and best at everything they do, but you know when they’re there that you have the best that you can have. They’ve thought of everything. There’s a sense of calm that comes across the room and professionalism.
I think about Varitek and you know that as the catcher, he knew the batters and the pitchers. He knew the game situation and he was making the right call. With Ortiz, it didn’t matter what the situation was. When you knew when he came to the play, it was going to be okay and he was going to find a way. Can you talk a bit about their leadership? We see it from the outside, but we don’t get to see the inside. We don’t get to see their leadership in the clubhouse as you did.
They were two completely different types. When Ortiz would walk into the room, everybody knew he was there. He was one of those guys where there were certain athletes in the world where they’d walk into a room and the room lights up right away. Think of Muhammad Ali, for example. Everywhere that Muhammad Ali went, he lit up the room. That’s the way Ortiz was with the Red Sox. As soon as he walks in that clubhouse door, he’s like, “Everybody, how are you doing?” All that stuff. He started yelling and screaming.
Pedroia was the same way with the Red Sox. There were certain guys that you knew they were around. There’s tremendous confidence in them because they were so good and talented. Ortiz was a guy that you always wanted up in a big situation because more times than not, he came through for them. He was more of a boisterous leader. Varitek was a quiet guy and didn’t say much at all. He’s a big studier of the game plan, a big studier of the opposing hitters, and a man of few words. When he said something, guys would listen and he got their attention quickly because they respected him. He wasn’t a guy that was going to walk around and walk up to somebody’s locker and say, “We got to do this. We got to do that.” He just sits there and waits for them to come to him and then he’d have few choices of words for them.
We had two different personalities in that clubhouse in Varitek and Ortiz. Ortiz was big, boisterous and loud. He pumped the music up as high as he possibly could to get guys loosened. It was crazy when he was in there. When Jason came in, you wouldn’t even know he showed up in the clubhouse. He’d be sitting in his locker all of a sudden, you look over and he’s getting changed. He’d go right into his prep work for the night. I personally left him alone. As a broadcaster, I didn’t talk to him very much because I knew how intense he was about studying the game plan and getting ready for the game that night. I wouldn’t talk to him nearly as much as I talked to Ortiz because Ortiz would talk to me about anything. Nothing seems to bother him. They’re two completely different types of guys but both players had tremendous respect for us and they went about it in different ways.
You brought up Dustin Pedroia. He is another Red Sox great second baseman much like yourself. Fast guy, a lot of grit, a lot of drive and a never-quit attitude. He’s a hallmark of the team over the last decade-plus. He sits here after fourteen years and on February 1st, he announced his retirement due to a series of knee injuries. If you haven’t already and you don’t have to tell us if you did talk to him and what he said, what do you tell Dustin now as he sits at this crossroad?
I talked to him a number of times since the injury. I knew what was going on with him while the public didn’t. I knew that he was having a difficult time with his knee. They would blow up like a balloon. He couldn’t get stuff around the house with the kids. He was talking about getting a knee replacement then COVID hit. He had to wait until COVID calm down out in Arizona where he could go in. He eventually got a partial knee replacement, which I knew about. The media didn’t know about it. They kept saying, “Maybe Dustin is going to come back.” I knew there’s no way he’s coming back.
We did a podcast with him as a matter of fact and I told him, “Dustin, I was fortunate to be able to watch every game that you played because you played the game the right way.” He played the game the way it’s supposed to be played with maximum effort all the time. He always had a chip on his shoulder because he was a smaller guy like me and he always felt like he had to prove to everybody else that he was better. Every game that he played, he wanted to be the best player on that field. Not the best second baseman on the field. He wanted to be the best player on that field for that particular game. That’s how he approached things.
I tried to explain to him what I had to go through at the end of my career. In some ways, it was a relief for me when I finally was let go because I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. He’s at the stage where he’s getting over the fact that this part of his life is over because of the knee injury. This great career that he had is over. He’s got his act together. He wants to spend time with his kids while they’re growing up. He wants to be a full-time dad, which a lot of us in this business can’t be because we’re traveling a lot and we’re doing different things. In the future, he will decide what he wants to do in the game of baseball. That could be anything. It could be coaching, managing, a front office job or whatever he probably wants to do and he’ll be able to do.
He’s got his priorities straight where he wants to take this time to spend with the family, the kids, watch them grow up, and then get back involved in the game of baseball. I’ve talked to him many times. I tried to explain to him how I felt at the end of my career. You don’t know what’s out there for you. You got most of your life ahead of you and you don’t realize that at the time. You think, “My life is over. I’ve done my job. I’ve played baseball.” For these guys, they’ve made enough money to last them their whole life but there are many opportunities down the road that’s going to come his way and he’s going to have to take advantage of those. I’m sure he will when the time is right. He’s a great guy.
When he first came to the big leagues, I said, “Who is this guy?” He’s talking French all the time and he hadn’t done anything at the big league level. I said, “You got to prove it to me.” He proved it to me and we became close because we both played second base. We both had the same type of attitude playing the game of baseball. He was another one of those guys where I’d be in the clubhouse at 2:00 and he’d roll in at 2:00. I had a lot of chance to talk to him before anybody else was in there. I felt bad for him because had he gone on for another couple of years, he probably would have a slot for the Hall of Fame. Now, he’s borderline because of a lack of playing a full career. The fact is he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. He willed himself to be a great player. He willed other people to watch him and say, “I want to be like him.” In this day and age where it costs so much money to go watch baseball, there are few players I’d pay to watch but I’d pay to see him play.
He was fun to watch for us and we’d loved it when he brought so much winning to the team over the last couple of years. I like what you said there that you come to this conclusion of your career but you have to take a look at it and say, “Most of my life is ahead of me and there are all these other opportunities.” You have this finality. I remember I had it when I get out of the military. It was the same thing. It’s like, “My career is over. My life is over. What am I going to do?” You’re like, “I’m still at the beginning here.” You turn the chapter, start over and figure out what’s next.
You’ve done that. You achieved your dream of playing for the Boston Red Sox and going to Fenway Park every day both as a player and a broadcaster, even an inspiration to athletes, broadcasters, and people who are fighting and battling for their lives as they fight cancer. You’ve been an inspiration to leaders across sports and businesses. You’re a mentor to troublemaking teens like me running around. You’ve provided a sense of home to so many people every night all across Red Sox nation at 7:05. They know, “I can tune in and I can watch Jerry Remy. He’s going to be there.” That legacy will always live with the Boston Red Sox and with NESN. You still have a lot of things to do. What’s next?
I don’t know how long I’m going to do this. A lot of it depends on my health. I’m comfortable doing it now. I think about retirement sometimes. I said, “At 70, I’ll be doing this for many years. That might be a good time to go.” When 70 rolls around, you always look at it and you say, “Maybe 72.” I’m at that stage of my career. I know I’m coming to an end at some point. I don’t know when that point is. It’s either going to be due to my health or I don’t enjoy doing what I’m doing anymore. I’ve had enough of it.
Believe me, it’s not backbreaking work that I’m doing, so it’s not that they have to give it up physically for certain reasons. I go back and forth. I can’t make a decision. I’m happy with what I’m doing. I know I’m going to be doing it for the next couple of years. We’ll see what happens after that. I got to maintain the love of the game. That’s most important. I can’t be drooling on air for people. I can’t go to that stage. If some guys are hanging around for too long, I don’t want to be one of those guys. I’ll know that when I’m done. I see that’s going to be because of my physical health or I’ve got tired of doing it.
To this point, I’m not tired of it. As a matter of fact, I’m going to carry a load that’s even higher game-wise than I’ve been carrying it for the last number of years because we’re doing it in a different way. We’re doing it from the studio because of COVID, which makes it a lot easier for me. I don’t have to travel. I’m done with travel. I don’t want to travel anymore. I’ve seen the whole country and I don’t need to see these places anymore. Getting in at 4:00 AM, getting your bags, getting the bed at 5:00, getting up at 9:00, and doing a game that day. I’ve had it with that. That part of my life is over. It’ll be a reduction in the schedule as I go along. If I can get to a place where I’m doing 50 home games a year, that would be fine for me. That’d be a nice little retirement job for me. That’s what I’m looking at. I have no date and no time in mind. I’m just going along with how I feel and how I feel about the game itself.
If we can get a couple of more championships along the way, it’ll all extend.
I got rings for about everybody but I could use a few more.
We can’t end unless we talk about one of your biggest passions outside of baseball, this Days of Our Lives. We can easily sit here and make a lot of predictions about the Red Sox. Everything changes at the first pitch, so none of that is going to matter. What matters is what is 2021 going to bring for Days of Our Lives.
Craziness as it always does. I’ve been watching it since I met my wife. We got married and we’ve been watching Days of Our Lives for more than 48 years. We taped it and we watched it and it’s forever changing. I want to visit Salem, wherever that is. It’s quite a place because people come back from the dead and there are all kinds of things that go on there. It’s riveting TV for me. It’s amazing how I can go during the season and not see it for five months, then I come back and feel like I haven’t missed an episode. That’s one thing great about it. The whole family has been Days of Our Lives fans forever.
The last thing I want to talk about here is that the Jedburghs back in World War II as they were dropped behind enemy lines before and after D-Day needed three things every day to be successful and to win. They had to be able to shoot, communicate and move. As long as they could do those three things, then they could solve any complex challenge that was thrown in their way. What are the three things every day that you have to do to be successful?
Preparation, number one. Love for the game, number two. Number three, be ready for anything that might come up on that screen and never be afraid to say that you’re wrong. A lot of guys throw a lot of crap out there sometimes that’s not correct. You know it and they won’t correct themselves on TV because they’re embarrassed. They think they are wrong. It’s being honest with the people. If you don’t know the answer or you got the wrong answer, you say so. It’s preparation, the love for the game itself and be yourself. Don’t be some phony that’s sitting up there because people can read through you so easily. Those are the three things that for me daily are a constant in the job that I do.
You summed up perfectly how I would describe you because my number one word after knowing you for the majority of my life as much as I have with everything that you succeeded in doing, humility is one of these traits. I have it here in my notes for this session because I wanted to read the definition of that but I won’t do it justice as you just did. It is the recognition that we do not have all the answers, that we’re a willing learner, and maintain accurate self-awareness to seek others input and feedback to make more educated decisions with the understanding that the aggregate intelligence is greater than one zone. You’ve done that every day in your career as a player and broadcasting. You’ve been a role model to everybody who’s gotten to know you. You’re a legend in the sport and the industry. I am honored to have the chance to sit down with you, a long-time mentor and friend of mine. I thank you for joining us.
This has been an absolute pleasure. I’m so happy this went well. I’m happy for you. You know I love you. This has been a lot of fun. I don’t enjoy talking about myself a lot, but when you get down to certain things that you can say, it makes you feel good about it. I’m glad we got reconnected this way.
It epitomizes what the Jedburghs did and how they fought their battles day in and day out to turn the tide of the war because how you prepare today is what determines success tomorrow.