On the surface, the Padres’ hiring of now former Red Sox announcer Don Orsillo, a move San Diego made official last Wednesday, looks like a Mike Dee-led familiarity play. In fact, it probably is. Dee worked for the Red Sox from 2002 through 2009, mostly as COO, and Orsillo was Boston’s lead play-by-play guy — teaming in the booth with Jerry Remy — since 2001. It’s hard to imagine Dee’s familiarity with Orsillo didn’t have something to do with the hiring.
Maybe that’s unfortunate. Maybe Jesse Agler, who will be transitioning to the radio side from his all-around role this year, was the right person for the job. Maybe someone else — some relative unknown — should have gotten the nod, helping the Padres build a true identity of their own. If there’s any criticism of the deal — and there is some, mind you — it’s that Orsillo represents Boston, and, well, this ain’t Boston.
It’s true, mostly. Orsillo, 46, was born in Melrose, Massachusetts, a (Vladimir Guerrero) stone’s throw from Boston, and he grew up in New England, although he did graduate from high school in California. He returned east for college, though, and interned with the Red Sox while attending Northeastern. Further, nearly his entire announcing career comes from within the Red Sox organization (I’m Wikipedia-ing here) — the internship, five years calling Pawtucket Red Sox games on the radio from 1996-2000, and, of course, the lead role at NESN for the past 15 years.
Here’s the thing: Orsillo is really good. Even if you don’t like his Boston ties, well, there’s a good chance you’re going to like him, even if it takes a few games — or, heck, years — for you to warm up to him. As I wrote at BP Boston a few weeks ago (dirty-little-secret: I also follow/write about the Red Sox):
Orsillo’s greatest strength is/was his wonderful ability to mesh seriousness and fun, as he, along with partner Jerry Remy, have been able to successfully toggle that switch on and off given the situation. … Orsillo (and Remy) has made the game more fun for the past 15 years, and he seemed to genuinely enjoy doing it.
Let’s face it, regular season baseball is, at times, an endless slog of moments you’ll probably soon forget. A play-by-play announcer’s job is to describe those moments without getting too much in the way, but also to provide a sort of nightly comfort, a familiar voice that ultimately helps make the endless slog more entertaining. Orsillo perfected that in Boston, in part by just being really good at the fundamentals of his job (good voice, good knowledge of the game, etc.), but also by developing a sort of uncanny chemistry with Remy, his partner. There was, for instance, the world famous pizza-throwing incident, or the time Remy taught Orsillo how to operate a car, or the occasional bouts of uncontrollable laughter, just to recall a few highlights in a catalog full of them.
Orsillo’s shtick isn’t just comedy, though — far from it. As mentioned, he’s also just a damn good announcer, which helped land him a recurring gig on the TBS playoff crew in 2007 (he called that Padres-Rockies one-game playoff you’ve probably tried to permanently block from memory). Here, for example, is Orsillo’s call of Daniel Nava‘s go-ahead home run after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, and here are a pair of walk-offs by David Ortiz and Jonny Gomes. The point here isn’t to show Red Sox highlights; rather, it’s to display Orsillo’s ability to perfectly describe an exciting moment while also giving it ample time to breathe.
Additional scouting report
On-air personality: Laid-back, conversational tone. Likeable
Homerism: Rates squarely middle-of-the-road on the Dick Enberg-Hawk Harrelson homerism scale. He’s rooting for the team he’s calling games for, but not in an overtly obnoxious way.
Strengths: Voice, self-deprecating sense of humor, versatility — Orsillo worked seamlessly with a number of broadcast partners during various Remy absences, particularly over the past few seasons.
Weaknesses: Propensity for laughing fits and extended periods where attention is away from on-field action. Not particularly saber-savvy.
Orsillo will split time between TV and radio next season before taking over full-time in 2017 when Enberg retires, where he’ll work side-by-side with Mark Grant, an excellent color guy in his own right. Grant was part of an entertaining combo with Matt Vasgersian for most of the ’00s, but he should probably be given more credit for his work with Enberg, as the two polar opposites eventually meshed to create a solid if quirky duo. Grant plays a similar role to Remy, a former player who doesn’t take the game too seriously but also provides good former-player insights, which should help ease Orsillo’s transition.
The earlier point here was to suggest that perhaps the thought-process behind this move — going back to Boston roots to find Enberg’s replacement — wasn’t ideal. That perhaps it would have been smarter for the Padres to find a little-known announcer with local ties and make him (or her) San Diego’s own. Instead, they went for Famous East Coast Guy who suddenly found himself out of a job. That might be a valid criticism, but Orsillo’s on the short list for best TV play-by-play announcer in the game, non-Scully division. It’s hard to fault the Padres for making that decision.