Tom Werner: Don Orsillo ousted to 're-energize' broadcast

NEW YORK -- Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, in his first public comments about the ouster of Don Orsillo as the play-by-play broadcaster on NESN telecasts after this season, said that the chance to replace him with Dave O’Brien was too good to pass up.

“I think when the opportunity to bring Dave aboard came to us, after a lot of thought we decided, you know what, he’s one of the premier broadcasters in the country and we thought he’d be a great addition to the team,” Werner told Boston Herald columnist Steve Buckley in a phone conversation Saturday.

Werner told the Herald that O’Brien is “well known for bringing out the nuances of baseball strategy, sharing insights about players. It was nothing against Don. It was the opportunity to bring on Dave.”

Werner’s explanation is unlikely to mollify the supporters of Orsillo, who have taken to social media by the thousands to express their unhappiness with the decision to drop him after 15 seasons with the club.

An online petition asking Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry to keep Orsillo at NESN had received over 46,000 signatures as of late Saturday night. Orsillo’s longtime partner, Jerry Remy, was tearful Tuesday night when he spoke of Orsillo’s impending departure.

“He's terrific at what he does, he's been absolutely fabulous to work with. I love him,’’ said Remy, who expressed distress at losing both his partner and a close friend.

Orsillo was told about the decision to replace him within the past two weeks, according to a source, and was asked not to divulge the fact that NESN was not going to renew his contract. But news that he was being dropped was broken by WEEI’s Gerry Callahan on Tuesday morning, and the network issued a release late Tuesday night announcing O’Brien as Orsillo’s replacement.

Numerous broadcasters in the industry have reached out to Orsillo expressing their dismay, a sentiment echoed by many of his fans.

“I understand it has created some controversy,” Werner told Buckley. “And I also understand that Don is a great broadcaster. But we felt that starting next year, it was worth going in a different direction re-energizing the broadcast. And when the opportunity presented itself to bring Dave O’Brien to NESN, we just felt after a great deal of thought and consideration that was the right decision to make.”

O’Brien has been part of the team’s radio coverage for the past nine seasons, in addition to extensive work for ESPN. He will continue to be used by ESPN on other sports in the offseason, he said earlier this week.

Given ownership’s evident dissatisfaction with the broadcast, which Werner said needed “re-energizing,” the future of Remy would seem to be uncertain.

In last week’s release announcing O’Brien’s hiring, he was quoted as saying he was looking forward to working with Remy.

Asked by Buckley about Remy’s status, Sean McGrail, CEO and president of NESN, said: “Jerry’s in our plans for next season. He will be on the telecasts. We haven’t finalized that, but he will be involved.”

In a reduced role?

“We don’t know yet,” McGrail said. “We’re working through that. We weren’t going to talk about that until October, but he will be with us for sure.”