With his gravelly voice and an accent as Boston as Fenway Park, Jerry Remy seemed clairvoyant in the broadcast booth as he told viewers what was about to happen on the field, and why.
Informed by his own major league career, which included seven seasons as a Red Sox second baseman, he offered insights and warm banter that made him enduringly popular during more than three decades as a color analyst for Boston’s games.
Mr. Remy, an undersized everyman of a ballplayer who hustled his way from a Somerset boyhood to the American League All-Star team in 1978, died Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, according to a team source. He was 68 and had undergone repeated treatments for cancer since he was first diagnosed in 2008.
Nicknamed “The RemDawg” by play-by-play partner Sean McDonough in the 1990s, Mr. Remy became a cultural icon during the franchise’s early 2000s renaissance, a welcome nightly visitor in fans’ living rooms across New England. He was elected to the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2006.
“It’s always been my comfort zone,” he said of the broadcast booth.
During a broadcast career that began improbably in 1988, two years after he retired from playing due to chronic knee problems, his accent was always comfortable and familiar — the Tigers were always the Tigahs.
Fun-loving and quick with a wisecrack that drew guffaws from a play-by-play partner, Mr. Remy came across to viewers as “the guy you’d like to have a beer with after the game,” Red Sox chairman Tom Werner once said.
But it was Mr. Remy’s ahead-of-the-curve analysis that set him apart from other color commentators.
Though he only hit seven home runs during his major league career, he could break down a swing on air with the best of them, and he was peerless at anticipating pitches and steals.
Before he ascended to the broadcast booth, Mr. Remy’s boyhood obsession with baseball helped him soar to uniquely personal heights: starting for his favorite team.
“In Somerset, let’s face it, the big leagues means Fenway,” he told the Globe in 1978, after he was traded to the Red Sox in 1977.
Mr. Remy also endured wrenching lows that were headline news, and which he addressed in his 2019 memoir “If These Walls Could Talk”: the cancer recurrences, his struggles with depression, and his son Jared Remy’s conviction for murdering his fiancée, Jennifer Martel.
“I felt like if I do a book, I felt it was time to release some of the stuff I’ve been going through in my life,” he told the Globe days before his memoir was published. “Obviously, I couldn’t do a book without dealing with my son, and I tried to do that the best I possibly could without getting too deep, because if you get too deep it sounds like you’re making excuses.”
To viewers who knew Mr. Remy primarily as a broadcaster, it might have seemed he was a Red Sox lifer. In spirit, he was. But he actually began his major league career with the California Angels, for whom he played three seasons before the Angels traded him to the Red Sox in December 1977.
In a sense, it was like making the big leagues all over again.
“It seems kind of funny to think I spent all those years living and dying with the Red Sox,” he said in 1978, “and now here I am playing for them.”
A star at Somerset High
Gerald P. Remy was born in Fall River on Nov. 8, 1952, and grew up in Somerset, where his father, Joe, worked at Mason’s Furniture, and his mother, Connie, was a hairdresser. He spent his childhood with baseball on his mind or with one in his hand.
“I was a nervous wreck in ‘67,” he recalled in 1978, revealing that at age 14 he was among the fans who rushed the Fenway lawn after the Red Sox clinched at least a share of the American League pennant on the final day of the season with a victory over the Twins.
The pennant belonged solely to the Sox after a loss by the Detroit Tigers.
As a youth, he listened to Ned Martin call games on the radio. Sometimes Mr. Remy played a dice baseball board game while listening, and then went outside to reenact what he had heard on the broadcast.
Often, he played a simple game he had concocted in which he threw a tennis ball against the back steps of his house on Glendale Street. If he hit the lower step, it was a ground ball, usually an out. If he hit the upper step, well, that meant a double, or even a triple.
“The other teams always hit the lower step. The Red Sox couldn’t miss the top one,” he said in 1978.
And Carl Yastrzemski, his boyhood hero and future teammate, “had a .410 average in one of my leagues.”
The makeshift games honed Mr. Remy’s talent, and by the time he was a senior at Somerset High, he was putting up some gaudy numbers of his own.
Though short — Mr. Remy was 5-foot-9 as a major league player — he became a prolific hitter, with nine homers in 18 games.
“Despite his small frame,” the Globe’s Peter Gammons wrote in 1970, “he hit a couple of balls for prodigious distance.”
Mr. Remy put together a 31-game hitting streak over his final two seasons, earning Globe All-Scholastic status in 1970. The Washington Senators drafted him in the 19th round of the 1970 amateur draft, the 453rd player selected.
His baseball future was murky, however. Lenny Merullo of the MLB Scouting Bureau was unconvinced.
“I looked at him, all 145 pounds of him,” he recalled in 1978. “Then I ignored him. Jerry Remy has done a great service to all the little ballplayers coming along. Now we scouts give them a closer look.”
The Senators did not offer Mr. Remy enough money to sign, so he headed off to St. Leo College in Florida. The stay was brief. “I hated that,” he told Gammons in 1978. “I wanted to play baseball.”
Mr. Remy returned home for Christmas break and didn’t return, waiting to see if he’d be selected in the January secondary phase of the draft.
He was, by the California Angels in the eighth round, the final player the team chose in that draft.
Signing a few days later, Mr. Remy headed to play for the Rookie League Magic Valley Cowboys in Idaho, where he quickly became homesick, going so far as to buy a bus ticket home. His father talked him out of quitting, and he finished the season batting a steady .308 in 32 games.
Mr. Remy’s big breakthrough as a genuine prospect came in 1973, when he led the Midwest League in batting (.335) for Stockton, a high-level Single A club.
“I’m 20 right now, so I figure I should make the majors by the time I’m 24 or 25,” he told the Quad City Times in Iowa in July 1973.
He underestimated himself. After batting .323 across two levels in ‘74, he made the Angels’ Opening Day roster in ‘75, singling in his first career at-bat against the Royals’ Steve Busby.
Another thrill, perhaps even a greater one, arrived on May 22, when he played his first game at Fenway Park. He belted a triple over center fielder Fred Lynn’s head and later added a two-run single.
Named the Angels Rookie of the Year that year, Mr. Remy batted .258 with 31 stolen bases and hit .263 in his second season. In ‘77, he was named captain and team most valuable player, batting .252 in 154 games. He appeared to be a franchise cornerstone.
But big-money free agent Bobby Grich had injured his back and needed to move from shortstop to second base. That made Mr. Remy expendable. In December ‘77, the Angels traded him to the Red Sox for hard-throwing pitcher Don Aase.
Mr. Remy immediately bonded with fiery shortstop Rick Burleson, forming a skilled double-play combination.
Mr. Remy batted .278 with 30 steals for Boston’s talented, ill-fated ‘78 team, which won 99 games, but lost an epic one-game playoff to determine the American League East champion. Mr. Remy was left stranded on first base when Yastrzemski popped up for the final out in the crushing 5-4 loss to the New York Yankees.
But there were fun moments along the way. He made the All-Star team as a reserve. He also hit one of the quirkier home runs in Red Sox lore.
On Aug. 20, the Red Sox trailed the Oakland A’s, 2-1, with two outs in the ninth inning. A’s pitcher Matt Keough delivered a pitch that Mr. Remy swung at. Both Keough and Mr. Remy thought he had missed it, but the home plate umpire called it a foul ball. On the next pitch, Mr. Remy hit an enraged Keough’s offering for a three-run homer — the seventh and last home run of his career.
Mr. Remy batted .297 in ‘79 and .313 in ‘80, but played just a combined 143 games in those two seasons due to knee problems that cut short his career. The first injury came when he caught his cleat on the shin guard of Yankees catcher Jerry Narron in 1979.
Teammate Jim Rice picked up his crumpled teammate and carried him to the trainer’s room. The diagnosis was strained ligaments and a hyperextension.
“But I was never quite the same after that,” Mr. Remy recalled in Chaz Scoggins’s book, “Game of My Life: Boston Red Sox.”
The left knee required surgery in 1980, in December ‘81, and again in November ‘83. Then there were three more surgeries following the 1984 season.
Still, Mr. Remy’s memorable achievements between the injuries included a six-hit game against the Mariners in 1980 and a .307 batting average during his healthy, strike-abbreviated ‘81 season in which he was rewarded with a five-year, $2.562 million contract extension, the second-richest in franchise history to that point.
The knee woes, however, never left him for long.
“You’re never so alone in this game as when you’re hurt,” he said in 1984.
On TV, back in the game
Mr. Remy missed the entire 1985 season, and his career ended when he was released by the Red Sox in spring training 1986. He was 33 and uncertain of what came next. He knew he wanted to remain in baseball and thought he wanted to be a coach and perhaps become a manager someday.
“I was really worried because I’m not a highly educated guy,” he told the Globe in 2004. “What the hell am I going to do and where am I going to find the same thrill?”
The Red Sox hired him as a coach for their Double A team in New Britain, where he found satisfaction working with the young players such as future Red Sox star Ellis Burks. But the long bus rides in the minor leagues wore on him. When a position he coveted at Triple A Pawtucket did not open up before the 1987 season, he decided coaching wasn’t for him.
For the first time he could remember, Mr. Remy was out of the game. Then serendipity and the work of an agent who believed in him led to a career that would eventually become more successful than his first.
On the eve of spring training 1988, Jeremy Kapstein, Mr. Remy’s agent and later a Red Sox executive, landed a deal for Mr. Remy to serve as the color analyst on NESN’s game broadcasts.
“I kept stressing that he had both the baseball knowledge and wit to be successful. He was from here, and people had an identification with him,” Kapstein recalled. “There was no doubt in my mind that if he got a chance he would grow into something special.”
Mr. Remy, however, initially found broadcasting so stressful that he began praying for rainouts and pronounced his early work “absolutely horrible.”
“I remember the first game I worked in spring training,” he recalled in 2004. “I didn’t know the score. I didn’t know the count. I knew baseball, but I knew nothing about TV. I was totally lost. I remember my first replay was a ground ball to short, and I said, ‘There’s a ground ball to short.’ “
With the guidance of Martin, the legendary Red Sox play-by-play voice, Mr. Remy began figuring it out. “He was so laid back, so relaxed. Nothing bothered him,” Mr. Remy recalled.
Midway through his second year, he began feeling comfortable on television.
Red Sox broadcasts were split between NESN and another network — Channel 38 for a while, then WABU, and finally Fox 25 — until 2006, when NESN picked up the full slate. That allowed Mr. Remy to work with several play-by-play voices.
Martin was the one who taught him to be a broadcaster, but it was Sean McDonough who drew out Mr. Remy’s sense of humor. A master of dry humor, McDonough nicknamed his partner “RemDawg,” a play on the gritty “Dirt Dog” Red Sox of the late ‘90s.
Their banter and easy laughter — which belied Mr. Remy’s more subdued personality away from the ballpark — came even easier with Don Orsillo, with whom he worked at NESN from 2001 and on all broadcasts following McDonough’s departure after the 2004 season.
Perhaps most famously, Mr. Remy and Orsillo, in between convulsions of laughter, mock-analyzed an incident in which one fan in the Fenway stands threw a slice of pizza at another in April 2007.
The RemDawg persona became a lucrative side business for Mr. Remy. Along with longtime friend and business partner John O’Rourke, he launched the RemyReport, a website and message board that they used to sell merchandise such as copies of Mr. Remy’s scorecards from games. O’Rourke said at one point that the site grossed more than $1 million per year.
Soon, there were restaurants bearing his name. Jerry Remy’s Sports Bar and Grill opened on Boylston Street (to much fanfare in 2010), at Logan Airport, in the Seaport, and in Fall River. He had achieved greater post-playing career success than he ever imagined.
Struggles with health, tragedy with son
Mr. Remy’s later years were shadowed by tribulations. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008, the first of seven times he required treatment for the disease.
But his greatest pain occurred in August 2013, when his son Jared was arrested and eventually pleaded guilty to murdering Jennifer Martel, the mother of their daughter, who was then 4 years old.
Mr. Remy and his wife, Phoebe, endured public criticism after the Globe reported their efforts in the years before Martel’s murder to protect Jared, despite his long history of violence.
“Did we enable him? Yes. We paid for lawyers,” Mr. Remy told sports radio station WEEI in March 2014. “We paid for psychiatrists. We paid for the help that we thought he needed.”
The couple, he added, did what most parents would do for their children.
Jared Remy is serving a life sentence without parole in the correctional center in Shirley.
Mr. Remy’s struggled with his health for more than a decade. A smoker since he was 16, he had been diagnosed with cancer in November 2008 and required surgery to remove a small cancerous area from his lung.
While recovering through the winter, he endured an infection and a bout of pneumonia, a grueling process that left him in the throes of depression. In April 2009, he took a leave of absence from the booth to be treated for depression, returning in August.
Mr. Remy required treatment again early in 2013 when cancer was discovered in a different area of his lung during a routine checkup. But his frame of mind remained healthy.
“I’m very upbeat and positive about it,” he said that April. “Before, the depression was harder than the cancer was. The timing was a lot of it because I was missing games and that bothered me.”
After his son’s arrest later that season, Mr. Remy took an immediate leave of absence and did not return that season.
NESN and the Red Sox stood by Mr. Remy, who returned to the booth for the 2014 season, saying the ballpark had always been where he found his solace.
Orsillo, his longtime broadcast partner and cohort in hijinks, was replaced by Dave O’Brien following the 2015 season. Mr. Remy also no longer worked every game, with Dennis Eckersley and Steve Lyons rotating into the analyst’s role.
Mr. Remy revealed in February 2017 that his lung cancer had returned during the holidays. But he was on his usual perch in the broadcast booth on Opening Day and was scheduled to work 115 games that season. In June, however, he required cancer surgery and chemotherapy.
In addition to his wife of 47 years, Phoebe, and son Jared, Mr. Remy leaves another son, Jordan, and a daughter, Jenna.
A complete list of survivors and plans for a memorial service were not immediately available.
Mr. Remy remained resolute through a sixth cancer diagnosis in August 2018, which caused him to miss the Sox’s run to the World Series title, and he returned to the broadcast booth the next spring training.
He took a leave of absence in early August this year to be treated for a recurrence of lung cancer. Mr. Remy didn’t make it back to the broadcast booth after that, he returned to Fenway Park Oct. 5 to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the wild card game with the Yankees.
“It’s not easy,” he said during one emotional conversation with reporters at Fenway Park in 2017 about his health issues. “Look, I’ve been through a lot for a long period of time, but you know, life goes on. I’ve got baseball to keep me occupied. It keeps my mind occupied. I’m strong. I feel strong and I don’t feel there’s anything that can stop me.”