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The cult of Jerry
After 16 years as a color analyst for local Red Sox TV broadcasts, Jerry Remy has achieved superstar status. The question is, why?

It’s not often that someone rises to the top of his field by virtue of being completely ordinary. It’s rarer still that someone who routinely addresses hundreds of thousands of people will admit to being averse to public speaking. But then, there’s a lot about Jerry Remy that doesn’t quite fit with his celebrity status. He looks like a furniture salesman. He talks like your uncle Frank. And his appetite for the limelight ranks alongside that of Whitey Bulger. Yet Remy has become a celebrity — at least here in New England.


"Jerry’s awesome!"

"Can I come along?"

Tell people you’re meeting Jerry Remy and they’ll react as if you’re playing squash with Nelson Mandela, or giving the pope a massage. "You’re not!" they’ll say, and "Oh my God." Indeed, it’s difficult to overstate the affection Bostonians feel for the so-called Rem Dawg. "I am making a bobbing head doll (which I plan to give to him)," writes a female fan on "Jerry Remy is our idol." Remy’s own site,, receives hundreds of gushing e-mails a week, and has little trouble unloading its stock of Rem Dawg T-shirts and caps. You cannot go to a Sox game without seeing signs like UMASS GIRLS {HEART} REM DOG and REM DAWG RULEZ!!!

All this for a 50-year-old local TV sportscaster — he announces for NESN and WBZ-TV 4/UPN 38 — and former Sox player who was, by his own admission, merely "okay."

Even Remy seems nonplussed about the personality cult surrounding him. Sitting in the NESN booth at Fenway Park a few hours before a midweek game against Baltimore, Remy shifts in his seat when asked about his popularity. "I dunno," he says. Shift, shift. "It’s crazy." This response actually says more about Remy’s rise to fame than you’d think. "He’s someone who doesn’t wear out his welcome with self-importance," says Stewart Pruslin, a 37-year-old elementary-school teacher and the founder of "He strikes you as someone it would be fun to talk to."

Part of the reason for this just-one-of-the-guys perception is that Remy, who was born in Fall River, is just one of the guys. As he puts it, "I try to do a game as if I was sitting in a bar talking to people." And, in keeping with his role as a barroom raconteur, Remy can often be very funny. As anyone who has watched his broadcasts knows, a Red Sox game with Remy will invariably contain silly, slightly surreal riffs on anything from hair pieces to the fashion sense of his co-announcers to the mechanics of a lunar eclipse. "He’s got a quick sense of humor," says Pruslin. "He’s entertaining."

Success, however, hasn’t come overnight. While people have long liked Remy, his elevation to cult status has come about only over the past few years. The reason for this is difficult to pin down — Remy is as witty and unaffected as he’s always been. Something just clicked. In his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell argues that "ideas and products and messages and behaviors" grow in popularity the way viruses spread — one person gets infected and infects two more people, who infect two more, and so on, until you have an epidemic on your hands. Gladwell goes on to write that even the smallest change in presentation can turn something from a minor success into a huge smash.

Which brings Wally to mind.

To some extent, Remy’s fortunes have risen along with those of Wally the Green Monster, the bean-bag toy who invariably shares the booth with him. Wally has been with Remy since 1999, when a one-off prank snowballed into a full-fledged craze. "The Red Sox had this promotion, giving away these Wally dolls," Remy explains, "and they asked me if I’d pump the Wally. So I did. I’d have him sitting on my shoulder, or behind me looking on. As it turns out, we go on a winning streak and I start getting these letters telling me ‘You’d better keep this thing.’ So every day I’d come up with this Wally gig, you know, what he did today. We’d go to the West Coast and he’d visit Alcatraz, crazy stuff. I couldn’t let it go."

Now, Wally and Jerry are inseparable — like Laurel and Hardy or Captain and Tenille. Not long ago, when Wally was hit with a foul ball, Remy arranged for the toy to be carried off on a little custom-made stretcher. Yet he is well aware that stunts like this drive some people nuts — particularly if the Sox are losing. "Obviously, you’ve got to be careful when you use this," Remy says. "You’ve got to have people in a good mood. Sometimes people will write in: ‘Put that stupid doll away. The great announcers didn’t need props.’ But it’s not a prop. It’s just something to have a little fun with."

Occasionally, Remy’s penchant for having a little fun during broadcasts come perilously close to getting him into trouble. "Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s not," he says of his shtick. "Sometimes we’ll be doing a game and I won’t be able to talk because I’m laughing so hard. But I don’t force it. It’s just something that comes to mind. It just pops up." This was certainly the case when, during a game a couple of years back, Remy started to riff on Hillary Clinton and, instead of calling her a "carpetbagger" let slip with "carpet muncher." Without missing a beat, Remy’s co-announcer chipped in with, "Make sure to address your letters to Jerry Remy." And yet, if anything, the flub only served to increase Remy’s popularity. "I was rolling on the floor," writes one fan on "He really had no idea what he was saying."

You hear a lot about Remy’s astute reading of the game, his in-depth knowledge and the clarity with which he presents it. As one admirer writes on a Sox chat site, "I’ve always felt that one of the reasons Red Sox fans are considered to be ‘intelligent’ is because of Jerry’s analysis." But it’s his off-the-cuff witticisms, the so-called "Inane Banter," that makes Remy an irresistible personality for many of his die-hard fans. "It’s like he’s in your living room with you," says Kevin Woods, a Cambridge resident and long-time Remy fan. "And, whether the Sox win or lose, there’s no one you’d rather have watching the game with you than Jerry."

Remy, for his part, insists there are no theatrics involved in his antics — he is, he says, just being himself. "The fans here aren’t dumb. They know a phony when they see one," he says. "They don’t like phonies and they never have. You couldn’t sit up here and do my job and be a fraud. They’d sniff you out in a second. Besides, that’s not my style." Maybe so. But talk to Remy long enough and you get the distinct impression that it’s not quite him who presents those lively, fun-filled broadcasts. Especially when he lets you in on the fact that he is, as he puts it, "very much an introvert."

For all his on-air personality, viewers do get an occasional glimpse of Remy’s private side. During a recent game, his NESN co-announcer Don Orsillo gave Remy a ribbing about his tendency to dash away from Fenway at the end of the game. Remy is not, and has never been, one for loitering around the ballpark. "To be honest," he says, "if I was to quit tomorrow, I would never go to another baseball game. Because I couldn’t, I couldn’t. I can’t go and sit in the stand because I won’t enjoy it. Not that I’m better than that, but I just wouldn’t be able to sit there and enjoy the game. I like being at home, sitting down with the television on. That’s just the way I am."

There are times when Remy seems a melancholy figure — or at least introspective. Explaining why he turns down the many requests he gets for speaking engagements each year, he says, "I just don’t feel that what I have to say is all that important." When asked what he might have done had he not gotten into sports, he seems taken aback. "I’ve no idea," he says. "See, I’ve been doing this since the day I graduated high school. College wasn’t an option for me. This really has been my whole life. I think I’ve grown as a person because of it, so maybe I’d be doing something constructive. But at that point in my life [baseball] was the best option for me, because I wasn’t a real good student."

Today, married with three grown children and living comfortably in Weston, Remy can't seem to believe the route his life has taken. "I was not a superstar player," he says. "I was a decent player, but I had to work hard at everything I did. I was a onetime All Star player. So I am proud, sure I am. You played in the major leagues, you played there and you had success there. But now — my popularity doing this job is more so than when I played. Why, I don’t know. This whole 16 years I could never have imagined."

Remy does, however, have some regrets. He regrets that he will be replaced by national announcers for the Sox’s post-season TV coverage. "It stinks." More than this, he regrets that he never made it to the World Series himself. "That’s your goal as a player, and that never happened to me," he says, looking down onto the field where he spent seven years playing third base. "I had one chance when we lost the playoff game in ’78 to New York. That was my only chance. Would I have liked to have been part of the team that finally wins one of these? You’d better believe I would. Will I be proud of the fact that I was the guy who announced for the team that made it there? Sure I will, but it’s not the same."

Later, during a broadcast of the Sox’s game against the Orioles, Remy tells Don Orsillo, and the hundreds of thousands of TV viewers listening in, about his experiences that afternoon with a Phoenix photographer. "I’m a little nervous about it," he says, sounding genuinely anxious. "He wanted me to wear this baseball cap sideways. He told me to lean backwards in my chair — I almost lost my balance. He kept saying, ‘Give me attitude’ — attitude! I think he thought my personality was not engaging."

"That’s surprising," Orsillo says, laughing. "Seeing as you’re so engaging now."

Chris Wright can be reached at cwright[a]

Issue Date: October 3 - 9, 2003
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