Your guide to the Kevin-Heavy Red Sox television carousel

Longtime Red Sox color TV commentator Jerry Remy, 68, died last October of lung cancer, which he had been treating since 2008. The Fall River native had worked as a broadcaster for NESN since the early 1990s. ; non-regional baseball fans might remember his pivotal role in the “Here Comes The Pizza” saga. Over time, Remy has become something of a beloved figurehead for “Red Sox Nation”. With his death, NESN faced the difficult task of finding his replacement. Instead he found four.

In March, the network announced that the Red Sox’s 2022 season would feature a rotation of color commentators alongside play-by-play announcer Dave O’Brien: Dennis Eckersley, Tony Massarotti, Kevin Youkilis and Kevin Millar. That’s right: two Kevin. Depending on the series or the road trip, Red Sox fans would have heard a different guy in the booth. Sometimes, there would be more than one. This may be how NESN holds long-term unofficial tryouts, but whatever the plan, each of them has developed their own tics and commentary habits.

The quality of the comments is not a big factor in how much I enjoy a game. My strongest belief in relation to sports broadcasting is that Don Orsillo is the most pleasant PBP baseball guy to listen to, and NESN, which is owned by the Red Sox and Bruins, has treated him and continue to heal him bad. But with all these permutations announcing NESN, I’ve become more aware of the differences in a “good” or “bad” baseball color commentator. Since this is the time of year when people are most likely to watch the Red Sox, I thought it would be helpful to do a little scouting report for each NESN color commentator. Ideally, this will help someone decide whether to mute the game and play some music.

Dennis Eckersley

(Note: Mike Monaco is the filler PBP guy here.)

Eckersley isn’t actually a new face on NESN. The Hall of Fame pitcher has been with the net since 2003, filling in when needed, but his role has grown in recent years with Remy’s health problems and absences. Eck is fun and arguably the finest of the four for this specific role, but does that mean he’s good at it?

Here’s an example of what you get with Eckersley, and I’ll mostly have to rely on my inaccurate memory: The Mets will play the Red Sox at Fenway on May 22, 2009. In the lower fifth, Mets owner Johan Santana tags Kevin Youkilis on the elbow with a toss. Youkilis yells something, which is natural for someone who has been hit by a baseball, and Santana replies something. It’s a little tense, but nothing happens beyond that.

Eckersley’s role in the booth means he should make some comments on this HBP and the growing tension. He did it, perhaps too well. As the broadcast shows the instant replay of Youkilis being punched, Eckersley says something like, And look, you can see what it’s saying right there as it’s been labeled “Shit”.

Oops. The transmission is silent for a few seconds, because someone pressed the cough button a little late, then everyone goes on.

This is the kind of candor you will get from Eckersley, and it usually shows when an opposing pitcher is doing badly. During a home game on June 15, he complained that James Kaprelian, owner of Oakland A, was still in the game, even after hitting six walks. (Kaprelian was withdrawn in the fourth inning.) One of Eck’s recurring complaints is that if he had been The Pitcher Playing Poorly, his manager would have already given him the hook. In 2021, he and Remy spent half an innings smashing the speed of Ryan Yarbrough’s stuff:

Your mileage can vary depending on how fun it is. I like it, but it might tire over 162 games. There isn’t much range here. This is the kind of guy who, in 2022, will casually refer to skinny jeans while making a fuller stitch on baseball pants, but is best when his booth mate keeps it on topic.

Eckersley is busy with the action, although he is noticeably gruffier during daytime matches. He tends to talk more about pitchers, which makes sense since he’s drawing from a book of his own experiences as him. That said, his book is very well worn.

It is unclear if she ever changed her haircut.

Tony Massarotti

Pre-Defector readers may remember Tony Massarotti as one of the Boston sports radio chowderheads for 98.5 The Sports Hub station. He is still co-host Felger & Mazz, but this year he auditioned for the NESN concert and earned a spot. Massarotti is expected to run 30 to 40 games for NESN this season, and it’s an unintentionally fun adaptation.

The primary way to find sports radio success is to be unnecessarily and overly hostile to any topic of discussion. This allows them to engage listeners and stretch a discussion across multiple ad breaks. The key is to always be passionate, even where it’s not guaranteed. When the news of the NESN arrived, Massarotti went to his radio show to say that he would not back down as a color commentator, that he would more or less continue to be who he was. From what I’ve heard so far, he hasn’t kept that promise.

The expectations of the concert thwarted Massarotti’s plan. He can’t keep the same tone for both jobs. Hypothetically, if he starts arguing with Dave O’Brien about whether Bobby Dalbec could ever be that Red Sox dude, it would be unbearable and bad TV too. Viewers want to see Dalbec strike in peace.

Maybe Sports Hub’s daily listeners appreciate Massarotti more, but this guy’s insights did nothing for me. Whenever O’Brien talked about the Boston Celtics during their playoff run, Massarotti seemed more interested in talking about them. All of his contributions are vague, obtuse and obviously limited. If anything, being on the NESN booth damaged Massarotti’s career: trying to be normal on TV made it more obvious that what he does on the radio is a forced shtick.

Kevin Youkilis

Of the four options here, Youkilis is the least seasoned in the cabin and the least removed from his playing career. (I’m not counting Kevin Millar playing for the St. Paul Saints.) One point in his favor is that it seems like he really wants to be there, so that’s okay.

Overall, it’s a mixed bag. Youkilis’ analysis may be legitimately valuable, but I wish there was more. It’s a bit stiff. Sometimes, he tries to be funny, and that’s not his stronger attribute than him. It’s actually more fun when he doesn’t try. For proof, check out this moment from a May 4 game when he inadvertently introduced the concept of a pitch called “slutter”, coined by former Red Sox ally Jonathan Papelbon. “Yes, it’s dirty,” Eckersley said, moments before Xander Bogaerts crushed a homer on the Green Monster.

What that clip shows, aside from the fact that Nick Castellanos isn’t the only player with good timing, is that Youkilis opens up more in a three-way booth. When he can chat with another player, he makes him share more stories and he feels less stiff. Ideally, he would learn to do this without being persuaded, because most three-man booths suck, but maybe he just needs more repetition. I’m probably too understanding here, because I liked Youk as a player and I love that he’s now a cap-wearing guy. Looks like he’s waiting for an audition in front of Ben Affleck. He is really lovely.

Kevin Millar

The experience of listening to Kevin Millar is listening to the boy sitting in the corner seat of a dive bar. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s not, but one thing is certain: he will talk, loudly, and it’s not always clear who he’s talking to.

This is the closest thing to a compliment I can give Millar. He sure can talk. He is a veteran talker. He honed his speech on the MLB Network show Intentional interview. If you’re watching a Red Sox game on NESN and he starts talking, you can mute, count to 30, and unmute, and he’ll keep thinking. Nobody can talk like this guy can talk.

Will talk on the former Red Sox he played with. He’s going to talk about the former Red Sox he hasn’t played with. He will talk about living in Texas. He will talk about his he neighbor John Lackey. He will talk about his other neighbor Clay Buchholz who brought him some chili. He will talk about Las Vegas. He will talk about how Trevor Story is going to hit a homer on this pitch. (He was right.) He will talk about anything. Don’t challenge this man.

The three-way configuration only aggravates this. Millar is a distraction to himself and others in the classroom. When NESN comes up with the two-Kevin combo, it helps Youkilis by chatting more, but it also makes Millar chat more, and you end up with Dave O’Brien trying to tell viewers what the count is while fellow baseball players laugh and joke. Stop talking for everyone!

I’ll try to say a nice thing about Millar: his cadence is Fieri-esuqe, and it’s endearing when he stumbles on an ad reading and hits himself. OK, that’s all I have.

If I had written this blog five years ago, I might have just written “Shut the fuck up!” for the Millar section, but I’m trying to interact with the material here. Mostly I’m amazed at how much this guy can talk. Speak as if he explodes if there is 15 seconds of uninterrupted silence. I’m not exaggerating any of this. It’s good to be serious and enthusiastic as a commentator; that’s why many people love Tony Romo to call NFL games. But the enthusiasm must be integrated with some concrete analysis. If a guy only has slogans and stories about his old teammates, he’s not bringing much to the booth and eventually the audience will want him to shut up that bullshit.

What have we learned?

O’Brien and Eckersley are the best and least annoying combination for Red Sox games. The O’Brien-and-Youkilis combination is the quietest. Avoid two-person cabins with Millar or Massarotti. Try the three-man Eckersley-Millar combo only if you’re drunk or on drugs. The stand for four where Roger Clemens showed up for an inning it was heartbreaking and reminded me that it’s a short-tempered shiver. NESN desperately misses Don Orsillo.

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