By Paul Augeri
CROMWELL – The Red Sox are finishing up a lengthy West Coast trip, which means wildly popular broadcaster Jerry Remy has free time for other things. He no longer goes on every road trip for NESN.
Instead, to the delight of a crowd of more than 300 people Wednesday at the Red Lion Hotel, Remy stood among them to talk about baseball and his new book, “If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Boston Red Sox Dugout, Locker Room, and Press Box.”
The book, co-written with Nick Cafardo, the late Boston Globe sportswriter, is a well-rounded account of Remy’s playing and broadcasting careers and the dogfights he has had with depression and lung cancer. He also devotes a brief, excruciating chapter to his oldest son, Jared, who murdered his fiancée six years ago, and the family’s attempt to pick up the pieces.
Remy, 66, is a self-described introvert, but he was more than comfortable in this day’s setting and used it as a question-and-answer session. Fans were up to the task, peppering him about the current state of the game, the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, his perspective on Boston’s 2019 season and more.
But no one asked the one-time All-Star second baseman about his health, so he broached the subject himself before calling it a day.
“I want to thank you for having me here today. I’ve enjoyed it tremendously,” he said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for me to get my book out there, but it’s also a nice opportunity to be around people who love baseball. I enjoyed the questions very much.
“As you know, I’ve been struggling with cancer for 10 years now, and I’m in a good spot right now.”
And to that, everyone stood and applauded.
Remy has taken part in a clinical trial to treat his cancer, which has been detected four times. Doctors have taken cells from the tumors removed during surgery and used them to create a vaccine for Remy to fight any recurrence of the disease. The combination of the vaccine and an immunotherapy drug is working. He’s also sworn off smoking.
“I was fortunate enough for this (treatment) to come up in the last nine months,” he said. “So far, my CT scans have been getting cleaner and I’ve been feeling very, very good. I can’t say enough about my (team of doctors) at Mass General that have basically kept me alive. I’ve made it 10 years. Without these new treatments that they have, I wouldn’t be around here right now. I’d have been dead five years ago.”
One of the messages he hopes “If These Walls Could Talk” sends is for people who deal with health issues, depression in particular, “to keep fighting.”
“A lot of people, I’ve found, are afraid to get help,” he said.
Remy said he’s eager to continue calling Red Sox games – this is his 32nd season — for as long as he can, drawing another hearty round of applause.
“I plan on enjoying my life to the fullest. I have no intentions of retiring. I see no need for it,” he said.
Wednesday’s luncheon was organized by Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore and the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce and A sampling of questions and abbreviated answers from the man affectionately known as “Remdog.”
On the book, which he and Cafardo began writing two years ago. Cafardo, a versatile and widely respected reporter and writer, died suddenly at spring training this year. Remy and his wife, Phoebe, finished the process with the book’s publishers:
“I think I opened up in the book a little bit more than I ever have in my life. What I tried to do is give you a perspective on everything from my playing days, to growing up, to how I got to the minor leagues and the big leagues, my time there, my time as a broadcaster and my personal life, which has not always been a bowl of cherries, that’s for sure.”
On the first-place Yankees:
“Unfortunately, the Yankees this year took off and ran away (with the AL East) like the Red Sox did a year ago. And they deserve it, they’re a great team. I tip my cap to the Yankees. I find them to be a very, very good ballclub. I love the respect that the Red Sox and Yankees have for each other as teams. When I used to play there was no respect, we all just hated each other. It was terrible and awful. We had some brutal battles back in the late ‘70s.”
On Boston third baseman Rafael Devers’ breakout season (.326, .965 OPS, 28 home runs, 104 RBIs, 111 runs through 130 games):
“He’s one of the best players in the game right now at 22 years old. He hits the ball as hard as anyone in baseball.”
On baseball in 2019:
“One of the problems in baseball right now, there’s too many strikeouts. Everyone strikes out — and they don’t care. It’s no big deal, as long as they get those 25 to 30 home runs. And to me that’s made it a little more of a boring game because I think a lot of the strategy has left the game. It’s either a home run or a strikeout. I’d like to see it get back to a number of years ago, where they bunt, they hit and run, they steal, they squeeze, they move runners along, with two strikes they cut down on their swing, they try to get base hits to the opposite field. That’s all kind of left the game at this particular time. I’m not a big fan of it. I find (baseball) very boring at times.”
On working with Dennis Eckersley when NESN makes it a three-man booth along with play-by-play man Dave O’Brien:
“Eck’s got a different language. We’ve been fortunate now with some of the three-man booths, about 30 games this year and hopefully more next year. It’s been a lot of fun for me because I enjoy working with him very much. He gives you a different perspective of things as a pitcher. I was not a fan of the idea of a three-man booth, but I think it takes certain people to make it work, and I think we have that combination. And Dave does a nice job navigating through it.”
On his broadcast partners through the years:
“Sean McDonough was the guy who brought the most out in me. I think what he did with me is he brought my baseball knowledge out and my personality out. And of course, being with Don (Orsillo) for 15 years, it was like a marriage. It was so sad when it was over. And now Dave is into his fourth year now. I’ve been very fortunate. And you’ve got to get along with people. As they say, it’s a long season in a small booth. You can’t be in there with someone you don’t like. I’ve been very fortunate with the people I’ve worked with.”
On his favorite memory as a player:
“There are two. My first major league hit. I made the California Angels out of spring training (in 1975, at 22 years old) and Dick Williams was the manager. My first at-bat, hitting seventh on Opening Day against the Kansas City Royals, I got a base hit to the opposite field and drove in a run. So, first-and-third situation. Remember a pitcher’s fake pickoff from third to first, and people ask why do they do that? They never get anybody. Well, they got me! I’m on first base, my legs are literally shaking from getting my first major league hit and then I get picked off.
“And then the other thing I’ll never forget is playing in the 1978 (one-game playoff against the Yankees). I thought it was one of the greatest games we played in, even though we lost. It was incredible to win 99 games with that group of players, most of whom are in the Hall of Fame. It was a well-played game and a great thing to be a part of.”
On his style of analysis and finessing criticism:
“People understand the game of baseball here in New England, so you have to be very honest. I always thought there’s a right way and a wrong way to criticize something. In other words, you’ll never hear me say ‘he should have made that play.’ Because nobody should have made that play. That’s why they have errors in baseball. You could say ‘they could have made that play’ and that gets the same point across. But you’ll still have problems with players. They listen to everything you say and they’re very touchy.
Paul Augeri can be reached at email@example.com