The Media Column: Revamped Red Sox booth will feature Sean McDonough's return to Boston and Chris Berman calling games

Alex Reimer
February 14, 2019 - 8:33 am
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This Red Sox season, folks stuck in the worst traffic in the nation will hear Sean McDonough, Chris Berman and Dave O’Brien describing the 2-2 pitch on lengthy summer drives to their cubicles or the Cape. Those are just three of the notable names who will sit alongside Red Sox Hall of Famer Joe Castiglione in a revamped booth this season. 

At least eight different voices will join Castiglione on a rotating basis in 2019, per Entercom’s press release, which you can read in full here. Last season, Castiglione was primarily joined by Tim Neverett, who left last year for a position with the Dodgers. 

Many of Castig’s partners, such as Lou Merloni, Dale Arnold, Tom Caron, O’Brien and McDonough, are fixtures around these parts. Others, including Josh Lewin and Mario Impemba, are newcomers. They all carry unique backstories that led them to the Red Sox, demonstrating that life’s complicated path can sometimes lead to unexpected openings –– or in McDonugh’s case, returns.

“It’s nice to be back in the Red Sox fold, if that’s the right word,” McDonough told WEEI.com on the phone. “I didn’t want to leave 15 years ago, but in many ways, it was a good thing that I did, because it enabled me to do a lot of things that I otherwise wouldn’t have done –– the U.S. Open, British Open. I’ve just had a lot of opportunities that wouldn’t have come along if I were still doing Red Sox games on TV. My path has been winding and interesting, and I’m glad it’s brought me back to this place –– particularly at this time.”

McDonough, who called Red Sox games on TV from the late 1980s until 2004, is expected to be in the booth for roughly 30 dates this season. His debut will come April 11, when the Blue Jays visit Fenway Park. One week later, he’ll be behind the mic for the first Yankees series of the year. 

There will be some three-man booth combinations as well, with Merloni occupying an analyst role. He is doing a stretch of games with Castiglione and McDonough in mid-April. On a Saturday in the middle of May, O’Brien will join McDonough and Castig when the Red Sox host Houston. 

Castiglione, who also signed a multi-year contract extension, says he thinks listeners will enjoy the interplay in the booth this season –– and there will be plenty of time for it.

“We’ll have conversation. They’re all good baseball people,” he said to WEEI.com in a phone call. “It should flow well. We like to have good conversation –– and tell stories and have background information on players to try and personalize them. That makes the fans feel like they know these people versus ‘here’s a guy who’s hitting .302 with 20 home runs.’”

Lewin and Impemba will be heard most often, calling 55 games each. The former is a self-described broadcasting itinerant who never expected to be narrating Mookie Betts’ at-bats this summer. Last year, Lewin decided to leave the Mets’ broadcast team, and move out to San Diego full-time with his wife. He says he is still figuring out his schedule with Entercom in San Diego, and in the meantime, is thrilled at the prospect of spending some of his time in Fenway Park.  

“As a baseball geek, there aren’t too many available faces on a Baseball Mount Rushmore, and the Red Sox are the first face,” Lewin said to WEEI.com in a recent phone call. “So if you have an opportunity to do that, you fly to it like a moth to a light. No offense to the Milwaukee Brewers, but if I was telling (my wife), ‘Hey, honey, I’m going to be spending 50 or 60 days away from you this year to call Brewers games, she would probably raise her eyebrows. But she’s enough of a baseball fan to go, ‘The Red Sox? Go.’”

Lewin has spent his nearly 25 years calling sports in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit –– where Impemba replaced him, ironically –– Texas, San Diego, and most recently, New York. He was also one of Fox’s original national baseball voices when the network acquired MLB rights in 1996. (Lewin jokes Fox, which hired Joe Buck, Thom Brennaman and Kenny Albert during the same period, only hired him because it ran out of famous announcer’s children to bring aboard.)

It’s quite a diverse resume. Lewin says he’s thankful for it now, even though it wasn’t what he had planned.

“You grow up wanting to be Cal Ripken, and you end up being Edwin Jackson,” he said. “Recently, I’ve found peace with it. It would’ve been really cool to have the kind of career where you just settle into some place, and you’re not some vagabond, and you can become one with a community. I think that’s everybody’s goal when they start out. But Edwin Jackson has had a nice little career. I don’t think anyone ever says in this business, ‘I want to be the play-by-play equivalent of Edwin Jackson,’ but I see the value in it. You go where you’re needed, do the job while you’re there, just do your best, go with your strengths, don’t try to be anybody you’re not. That’s how I look at this.”

Impemba, a Michigan-native, has been synonymous with the Tigers for the last 17 years. His longtime tenure in Detroit ended last season, when he got into a reported altercation with his partner, Rod Allen. 

Fox Sports Detroit did not renew Impemba’s or Allen’s contracts.

“The last five months have really taken a toll on me,” Impemba told WEEI.com on the phone. “It’s something you don’t ever want to see happen –– a disagreement in the broadcast booth. It got to the point neither one of us wanted it to get to. But I prefer not to look back on things like that, but instead to look forward. When people ask me my opinion of the situation, I always say that I’ve worked hard on my professional reputation throughout my career and in this game. I’ll stand by that. I think a lot of what was reported on the incident was inaccurate, so you become guarded after that.”

Though Impemba has Michigan roots, he says he thinks he will be able to jell with Red Sox fans. He learned from Ernie Harwell, who became a Detroit legend, despite his southern roots. 

“Harwell was more of a homespun kind of announcer, and forged a Hall of Fame career based on his personality and upbringing,” he said. “I think baseball fans will gravitate towards you as you become more familiar to them and into their homes every single night. I’m banking on that. I’m not worried about it at all. I think the fans in Boston are as passionate as I’ve ever been around, and I’m looking forward to being part of that.”

Each broadcaster brings a little bit of a different vantage point to the booth. Lewin and Impemba come from TV backgrounds, whereas Dale and Lou spend their days arguing with “Kevin in the car” on the airwaves. No baseball broadcaster in the country resembles Berman, who will call the Red Sox’ home series against the Indians at the end of May. 

For McDonough, the opportunity to work again in Boston is sweet. He says there’s no personal animosity with the Red Sox over his NESN exit 15 years ago, which led him to work at ESPN, where he’s been assigned to some of the biggest events in sports, including “Monday Night Football.”

His two-season run on MNF ended in 2018, resulting in his move back to college football. In an interview with WEEI last year, McDonough said he knows some figures in the NFL offices weren’t thrilled with his proclivity for candor, whether it’s criticizing bad officiating or sloppy play.

McDonough vows he’ll keep telling it like it is in the Red Sox booth this summer.  

“I’m not going to change,” he said. “I’ve been doing it this way long enough. If it is really slow, and people listening to the game think it’s slow, it’s OK to acknowledge, ‘This is really slow.’ I’m going to continue to try to be a speaker of the truth.”

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NBC Sports Boston jettisons one of few interesting voices: Pardon the horrible baseball pun, but NBC Sports Boston struck out with its decision to not bring back Red Sox reporter Evan Drellich’s this season. He says he was informed of the news shortly after he had returned from vacation.

Drellich is an odd character –– I mean that in the most endearing way possible –– and the Red Sox beat is less interesting without him. To take his place, NBCSB is expected to hire ex-ESPN anchor Jorge Andres, and primarily leave digital Red Sox duties to three aggregators. 

That’s bad news for the consumer. Whether it was getting into a clubhouse confrontation with David Price or nagging Dave Dombrowski about his love for trading prospects, Drellich mixed up the monotony. Originality is good. 

Danny Ainge playing dangerous media game: We all love Ainge’s wheeling and dealing. But the negative side is, players are guaranteed to hear their names in the rumor mill for the next five months. 

Look no further than the latest stories surrounding Jayson Tatum’s future. Even though the trade deadline is over, it was reported Tatum “wouldn’t mind” being sent to the Pelicans as the centerpiece of a trade for Anthony Davis. ESPN’s Tim MacMahon shared the rumor on a podcast, citing his source as “gossip.”

Several parties have an interesting in leaking information about Tatum’s future ambitions. The stories will likely keep coming.

There’s no evidence any of these whispers translate to anything other than Kyrie Irving making snide remarks to the media about its interest in his pending free agency, which he talks about often. 

But still, it’s something to watch. Maybe Anthony Davis Sr. had a point when he called out Ainge for his mercenary ways.

AAF Football won’t enjoy sustained success: The Alliance American Football League’s primetime slate on Saturday garnered higher ratings than Rockets-Thunder on ABC (2.1 to 2.0). It speaks to our love for football, but color me skeptical about the long-term sustainability of minor league football. Seeing Trent Richardson run into the line of scrimmage gets old quick. 

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