Dave O'Brien reveals what might be next for NESN's Red Sox booth
Dennis Eckersley can’t be replaced. The beloved Hall of Fame hurler is maybe the best color analyst in the game, thanks to his eccentric vocabulary and incredible charisma. It’s apparent that Eckersley still has a deep passion for baseball, and his excitement comes across every night he’s on the call.
In short, Eck is an icon.
But with Eckersley announcing his retirement Monday, NESN must now fill a big void on its Red Sox broadcast team. On this week’s “Sports Media Mayhem” podcast, Dave O’Brien provided some hints of what a post-Eck future may look like.
For starters, O’Brien will be back next season, and probably with some new faces at his side. “I will be back next season, and probably several seasons to come,” he said. “At this point, that’s my goal, and that seems to be everyone’s goal, who’s in charge of that. Who we’re going to be working with, I can’t say 100 percent. Some of this was a test to see if it would click, and how it would click. With the knowledge that Dennis Eckersley, who’s going to do 75-80 games this year, is gone, that’s a gigantic hole there. The bet I would make with people is, you’re gonna see somebody else, too. Next year, at least one more, maybe more than one new face.”
NESN added multiple new analysts this season, including Kevin Millar and Kevin Youkilis. Millar, who also hosts MLB Network’s daily “Intentional Talk” program, will likely do around 20 games next summer — just like this year.
That means Youkilis is a prime candidate to take on more dates. The two-time World Series champion has impressed in his debut campaign, showing an analytical mind and deep knowledge of hitting. That makes sense: Youkilis was considering coaching jobs before signing on with NESN.
O’Brien says Youkilis has been a quick learner.
“He’s great talking hitting, but we knew that would be the case,” said O’Brien. “I think he’s really good at putting you in the batter’s box, and that’s the thing he’s most comfortable with. He likes to have fun. I don’t think he’ll ever get personal, I don’t think he’ll ever be overly critical about players. There are steps he’s achieving. He’s really, really coachable, and most athletes are.”
Youkilis checks all of the boxes when it comes to determining whether somebody could be a successful full-time analyst. He’s insightful, passionate, and maybe most importantly, possesses cultural cache. “YOUK!” is a popular figure around these parts.
NESN has been forced to rotate analysts in recent years, due to Jerry Remy’s health and Eckersley’s admirable unwillingness to work for a full 162-game schedule. But now, NESN has an opportunity to get back to a more traditional configuration.
While O’Brien recognizes some of the advantages of working with different people, he would prefer to have one partner, too.
“I think any play-by-play guy would say ‘yes’ to that. And other broadcasts have had that luxury,” he said. “I think it makes for an easier show on the talent and everybody on the crew. Some say the variety is great, and maybe it is. But I’m really old-school, I get it, I probably sound like a ‘get off my lawn’ guy when I say I really do like the idea of one partner every night. I think there’s a chunk of the audience, anyway, that likes the sameness of that.”
It would be a risk for NESN to select one person to call the bulk of games next season alongside O’Brien. Due to social media, broadcasting novices aren’t provided space to learn on the job. It took years for Remy to hone his “RemDawg” persona, and Eckersley started off in NESN’s studio before making his way to the booth in recent seasons.
O’Brien says Remy used to talk about the changing media landscape, and how challenging it would be for him to break in now.
“He would say often, if he got hired under those circumstances, he would’ve lasted two weeks,” said O’Brien. “He turned into an icon. He turned into a great analyst. But he probably wouldn’t have been given that chance today.”
With that in mind, network execs can’t be afraid to pick somebody and stick with him. There will never be another Remy or Eckersley, and that’s OK.
It just means it’s time for somebody new.
Missed Eck opportunities: Eckersley is a Hall of Fame pitcher, and as we’ve covered, an excellent analyst. As he prepares to walk away, it’s shocking that he wasn’t considered for more high-profile national posts.
“I think the national people totally blew it on Dennis Eckersley, and that includes Turner,” said O’Brien. “He should’ve been on ESPN on “Sunday Night Baseball,” or FOX. I don’t know how they blew it as badly as they did, but Dennis Eckersley should’ve been a national icon.”
Amen to that.
Red Sox drip-drip: There have been an array of stories over the last week about the apparent unhappiness in the Red Sox’ clubhouse over the franchise’s ambiguous direction. The Globe’s Alex Speier reported Tuesday there’s “confusion” within the organization, and NBC Sports Boston’s John Tomase reported last week there’s frustration that “obvious holes” weren’t addressed.
With the Red Sox’ season quickly being flushed away, look out for more of these kinds of reports as the weeks progress. Let the blame game begin,
ESPN’s buried Durant report: It was the biggest NBA story of the day. Kevin Durant asked Nets management to choose him, or head coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks, reported Shams Charania of The Athletic. But the story was nowhere to be seen, or heard, on any of ESPN’s platforms.
Why is that? Longtime NBA journalist Ethan Strauss, who writes an excellent Substack in which he covers sports media, reports that Adrian Wojnarowski’s close relationship with Marks prohibited ESPN from picking up the story until owner Joe Tsai voiced his support for the front office over Durant.
That’s INSANE. ESPN, the largest sports media outlet in the world, seemingly dictates its NBA coverage based on Wojnarowski’s friend circle. On Monday, it blew up in their face.