Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Sean McDonough lends voice to Red Sox broadcasts on WEEI radio
BOSTON — When the news broke last baseball offseason, the decision WEEI radio made about its Boston Red Sox broadcasts brought howls of protest and cries of derision.
How could they replace a quality baseball broadcaster like Tim Neverett? How could they do it with a rotating cast of characters?
Somehow, when it comes to the Red Sox and broadcasting, even the worst ideas end up all right.
We all remember the controversy when NESN chose to replace the beloved Don Orsillo with Dave O'Brien. While I still miss Orsillo in the broadcast booth — and loved it when I heard him last week doing a game on TBS with Pedro Martinez — O'Brien has been just fine, thank you very much. O'Brien is a pro's pro, and in my opinion, has been a net positive on NESN.
But when WEEI parted company with Neverett, admittedly a friend of mine, there was talk that the station wanted the baseball broadcasts to sound more like the sports talk shows that populate the Boston station 24-7. That did not happen.
What did happen, and what people didn't think much of, was that there would be a rotating cast of broadcasters working with Hall of Famer Joe Castiglione. I have to admit, it has worked better than I could have imagined. It has, thankfully, brought Sean McDonough back to baseball broadcasting.
"It's been a lot of fun" broadcasting baseball again, McDonough said. "The reason I decided to do it, when they called me over the winter, was because I thought it would be fun. What's not fun about doing Red Sox games and the chance to work with Joe?"
McDonough was the Red Sox TV play-by-play guy before Orsillo came on board. McDonough's career includes being the baseball voice of CBS Sports, and he is currently a football and basketball broadcaster for ESPN. He does the Saturday night prime time football game on ESPN.
Coming on board at WEEI gave him a chance to get back to his roots.
"I do one radio game a year, and it's the college football national championship game for ESPN Radio," he said, "and it's always fun. I always say to their executives that are there 'If you need somebody to do anything else, I can do football or basketball, or any of these other things.
"I've always wanted to do more radio."
McDonough has been rotating in and out of the Sox radio booth, sharing time with broadcasters like Mario Impemba, the former Detroit Tigers TV broadcaster, ex-Mets radio broadcaster Josh Lewin, and WEEI's Dale Arnold.
All of them bring their own professional sensibilities to the broadcast. Impemba and Arnold are pretty straight broadcasters, Lewin is enthusiastic and well-prepared, while McDonough is prepared, and has a really good sense of humor that plays with Castiglione well.
If you've been listening, sometimes, Joe and Sean are laugh-out-loud funny. The high point of the season, to me, was when McDonough and Castiglione were joined in the radio booth by O'Brien, who didn't have a NESN broadcast to do. It might have been the best radio broadcast of all time.
For a guy who hasn't done full-time baseball on the radio in some 30 years and who stepped away from ESPN's Monday Night Baseball broadcasts a couple of years back, dropping into baseball might not be the easiest thing to do.
"I thought I was a little rusty the first couple of games, especially the radio part, where I almost constantly remind myself that you need to describe what's happening because people can't see it," McDonough said when we spoke in the WEEI booth at Fenway Park last week. "On TV, someone can see it. On radio, you have to weave the stories in between pitches because people rely on you to let them know what's going on.
"My discipline in that part of it has gotten a lot better."
McDonough has worked with a who's who of broadcast partners including Tim McCarver, Bill Raftery, Jay Bilas and Todd Blackledge. He said that working with Castiglione was one of the key reasons he said yes to WEEI.
"He's done a great job adjusting to all of us," said McDonough. "The biggest reason I wanted to do it was I thought it would be fun, and the biggest reason I thought it would be fun was because it would be with Joe. As you know, he's the nicest man on the planet, a legendary broadcaster, and he's been so welcoming to all of us and such a great partner and teammate, which is what he is. It's been a treat.
"Anytime you get to sit alongside a legend and work with a legend, it's a blessing."
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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