Obituary: Jerry Remy (1952-2021)


RIP to Jerry Remy, an All-Star second baseman and a broadcaster for the Boston Red Sox for more than 30 years. He died on October 30 at the age of 68, after a long battle with lung cancer. He acted as a color commentator for Red Sox games from 1988 up through this August, when — like Ray Fosse of the Athletics — he announced he was taking time away to deal with his latest diagnosis. Remy played for the California Angels (1975-77) and Boston Red Sox (1978-84). He made his last public appearance on October 5, when he threw out the first pitch before the Yankees-Red Sox Wild Card game at Fenway Park.

“We are saddened by the loss of a beloved player, broadcaster and 13-year cancer warrior,” said Red Sox principal owner John Henry in a statement. “Jerry’s love and connection to baseball didn’t allow anything to stand between the game and him, including for many years cancer.”

Gerald Peter Remy was born in Fall River, Mass., on November 8, 1952. He grew up a die-hard Red Sox fan and, according to an article from The Boston Globe, he even made up fantasy games with his favorite team. He attended Somerset High School, and it would be an understatement to say he was a tough out. In the 1970 season, he had a hit in all 19 games, batting well over .400. Admittedly, it took a 19-inning game for him to get a hit in the last game of the season, which was a loss in the Hackomock League semifinals.

His size in high school — he weighed about 145 pounds — kept some scouts away. Remy played at Fenway Park as part of the Hearst All-Star game, and the shortstop on the team was Dave Merullo, son of scout and former player Lennie. All week long, Dave Merullo raved about the second baseman playing next to him, but Lennie looked at Remy’s size and wrote him off. “I could see how small his body was, but not how big his heart was,” Merullo later said.

Remy, foreground, and John Balaz of the El Paso Diablos receive awards for minor-league Players of the Year. Source: El Paso Times, June 2, 1974.

The Washington Senators drafted him in the 19th Round of the 1970 June Amateur Draft. He didn’t sign with Washington and instead enrolled at Roger Williams College in Providence, R.I. For a little bit.

“I was only in college about two weeks, and I decided it wasn’t for me,” Remy said in a 1973 interview. “I just sat back and hoped to get picked again in the winter draft.” He got his wish and was taken by the California Angels in the Eighth Round of the 1971 January Secondary Phase Draft. The Angels sent him to the Magic Valley Cowboys of the Rookie-Level Pioneer League in 1971, and he batted over .300 in 32 games while making the transition from shortstop to second base. He also stole 16 bases in 17 attempts before he was taken out on a double play. He strained tendons in his left knee and missed the rest of the season. It was be the first knee injury in his pro career, bit hardly the last.

Remy then spent a couple of seasons in Class-A ball before breaking out with the Quad Cities Angels in 1973. He batted .335 to win the league’s batting title, 13 points ahead of runner-up Claudell Washington. He also hit 4 home runs — one of 5 professional seasons where he homered 4 times, but never once did he hit more. His fielding at second base improved greatly, though the Angels wanted to see him improve his patience at the plate. Still, he was a good prospect.

“I’m 20 right now, so I figure that I should make the majors by the time I’m 24 or 25. Even if I’m still playing in Triple-A at the time, there would still be a good chance of being picked up by the parent club of another team,” he said.

The Angels’ timeline for Remy was much faster than his own. Or perhaps it’s fairer to say that Remy’s good play sped up the timeline. He spent the first part of 1974 as a key player on the Double-A El Paso Diablos as they challenged for the pennant. He was batting .338 with 21 stolen bases when he was promoted to the Triple-A Salt Lake City Angels. The Utah team lost outfielder David Chorley to a broken wrist, and top slugger Bruce Bochte was promoted to the majors. Manager Norm Sherry asked the organization for another hitter, and the choice was either Remy or third baseman Ron Jackson. Neither player particularly wanted to leave El Paso in the midst of a pennant race (Jackson flat-out refused to go to Salt Lake City), so farm director Tom Sommers made the unpopular decision to promote Remy, which the Diablos reluctantly accepted.

“This is a promotion for Jerry Remy and I’ll never stand in his way,” said Diablos manager Dave Garcia. The team’s general manager, Jim Paul, didn’t think highly of Sherry’s power play, to put it mildly. But Remy hit .292 for Salt Lake City, proving that he was ready to leave El Paso, even if El Paso wasn’t ready to lose him. Between the two teams, Remy had a .323 batting average, 40 doubles and 10 triples.

Salt Lake City didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy Remy, either. He reported to the Angels training camp with the intention of not embarrassing himself before he was returned to the minors, wrote Sun-Telegram (San Bernardino, Calif.) editor Phil Fuhrer. Instead, Angels manager Dick Williams chose him for the starting second baseman’s job instead of incoming starter Denny Doyle. Doyle appeared in just a handful of games before being traded to Boston in June, leaving Remy as a full-time starter in the majors, about three years ahead of his own timeline.

“Everything happened so fast,” Remy said. “There’s no time to enjoy it. You’re so happy you made it, but you’re afraid to celebrate. All I can think about is how hard it’s going to be to stay here.”

“I had never even seen Remy play before spring training,” Williams said a few weeks into the 1975 season. “But he made his presence known very quickly. He blended in with his speed.”

Remy did utilize his speed during the 1975 season, finishing second on the team with 34 stolen bases; Mickey Rivers led the AL with 70 steals. Remy, unfortunately, led baseball in caught stealing, getting gunned down 21 times. Aside from that, it was a decent rookie season, with a .258/.311/.311 slash line. He had 1 home run, and it was a 3-run blast off Cleveland’s Jim Perry on May 19, 1975. Defensively, Remy had a .982 fielding percentage at second base and helped turn 111 double plays in 147 games. He also made the play of the game during Nolan Ryan’s fourth career no-hitter on June 1. Baltimore pinch-hitter Tommy David chopped a ground ball up the middle, but Remy backhanded the ball and nipped Davis at first base.

Remy could break-up no-hitters, too. Ken Brett of the White Sox threw 8-2/3 hitless innings against the Angels on May 26, 1976. Then Remy hit a check-swing grounder along the third base line that rolled under Jorge Orta’s glove as he tried to grab it. It was ruled a hit. Brett picked up the 1-0 win in 10 innings anyway.

Remy’s time with Angels was solid if unspectacular. He raised his average to .263 in 1976 before falling to .252 in ’77. However, he homered 4 times and stole a career-high 41 bases that season. He finished 1977 with a .322 on-base percentage and .341 slugging percentage — one of three times in his career where he outslugged his on-base rate. He was also a part of history when the Angels played the expansion Seattle Mariners on Opening Day, April 6. Remy had the distinction of being the first batter in the history of the Kingdome. He also drew the first walk, stole the first two bases and scored the first run on a Don Baylor double, all in the first inning.

The Angels thought enough of Remy that manager Sherry named him as team captain in 1977… a rare honor for a young player. However, the team’s roster was changing., with the addition of second baseman Bobby Grich. The Angels moved him to shortstop, but he hurt his back and underperformed in the role. Management decided that Grich would be better served going back to second base, where he had been a Gold Glove winner for Baltimore. That change meant that Remy would be on the move as well. Maybe being team captain for the Angels wasn’t that great a job. The only other player to hold the title to that point in time, Frank Robinson, was traded after a month.

The deal happened on December 8, 1977. Remy was traded to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher Don Aase. For the second baseman, it was a dream come true. He got to go home to Massachusetts and play for his favorite team. “It’s tough to leave California; I made a lot of friends out there and my family liked it… but it’s good to be back home in New England,” he said.

Jim Rice of the Boston Red Sox carries teammate Remy off the field after a knee injury. Source: El Paso Times, July 2, 1979.

Playing front of his home crowd, Remy had one of the best seasons of his career in 1978 and slashed .278/.321/.350 with a career-best 24 doubles, 30 stolen bases and 87 runs scored. He was named to the All-Star team as a replacement for injured teammate Rick Burleson but did not play in the Game. He would have had his first chance to play in the postseason, as the Red Sox won 99 games, but the Yankees and Bucky F*****g Dent stopped that from happening.

In his first four seasons, Remy averaged 148 games a year. In 1979, he went on the disabled list in July for the first time in his career. He had hyperextended a tendon in his left knee when he caught his spikes trying to score against the Yankees. He missed almost the rest of the season. Remy had been hitting over .300 when he was hurt and settled for .297. He injured his knee again in 1980, this time badly enough that he needed season-ending surgery in July. At least he finished with a career-best .313 batting average.

Remy was finally healthy in 1981, but the strike limited his action to 88 games. Still, he hit .307 and re-signed with the Red Sox. For the next two seasons, he battled increasingly nagging injuries to his legs, but he still hit .280 in 1982 and .275 the following season. His stolen bases had declined greatly, but he still managed double-digit totals each year. He came into the 1984 season with the intention of pulling the ball more often and got off to one of the hottest starts of his career. His dedication to his work impressed hitting coach Walt Hriniak.

“He has looked at himself in the mirror and asked, ‘How can I make myself better?’ every year in his career. He’s done a heck of a lot with himself by hard work, dedication and being realistic with himself,” Hriniak said.

As late as April 25, Remy was batting .333. Then he re-injured his knee in May. He pinch-hit for a while but underwent a fourth arthroscopic knee surgery on June 5. Remy missed the rest of the season and all of 1985 as he tried to recover. He went through more surgeries, but the Red Sox released him in spring training of 1986. He had for the last two years resisted the thought of retirement, options for more painful knee surgeries as a way to keep his career going for as long as possible. At last, he couldn’t hold back the inevitable and accepted the fact that his playing career was over. “I was hoping I could get back and hit one more homer. That would have given me one more homer than knee operations,” Remy said. “Now I have to settle for seven of each.”

In 10 seasons, Remy slashed .275/.327/.328, with 1,226 hits. He had 140 doubles, 38 triples and 7 home runs. Of those seven homers, three came off Hall of Fame pitchers — Fergie Jenkins, Catfish Hunter and Jack Morris. He stole 208 bases and scored 605 runs. He also had 328 RBIs. He had a career .981 fielding percentage at second base.

The Red Sox had hoped that Remy would get into coaching and become a future managerial candidate. Instead, he decided that managing wasn’t for him and became an analyst for the Red Sox on New England Sports Network. Like any new job, it took time for him to learn the ropes and develop a rhythm that worked on a television broadcast. But he had the enthusiasm that was needed to win fans over. He also had that thick New England accent that mirrored that of many Red Sox fans. It was so appropriate that someone who sounded like Red Sox Nation be the one to work the games.

Remy built up a cult following in Boston over the years and had a great rapport with all of his partners during his career. You could spend hours on YouTube going down a Jerry Remy-Don Orsillo wormhole, starting with “Here comes the pizza!” and going from there. He opened restaurants, had a successful e-commerce business and became one of the voices of the Red Sox championship seasons in the 2000s. He was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2006

Remy was a lifelong smoker and began dealing with lung cancer in 2008. He would deal with treatment for it for the rest of his life. He and his wife, Phoebe, also had to face the aftermath that came when their son, Jared, was convicted of murdering Jennifer Martel, with whom he’d had a child. Not one to hide away his feelings, Remy discussed everything in his 2019 memoir, If These Walls Could Talk. He didn’t hold back and discussed his illnesses, his son, and depression. Through every tragedy and setback, Remy always returned to Fenway Park and the fans who loved him, right up tot he first pitch on October 5. In that instance, his longtime teammate and broadcast partner Dennis Eckersley caught the ball.

“”I think we all knew that that was kind of a goodbye at that time, but it’s so moving to look back at that,” Eckersley told WCVB Sports. “It’s special at the same time because I got a chance to catch a ball, hug him, tell him how much I loved him and how the crowd loved him — you know, he got that moment.”

Watch Jerry Remy honored by the Red Sox for 30 years of color commentary.

For more information: Boston Globe

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