Jerry Remy died over the weekend. Unless you’re a Red Sox fan, you may not have heard of Remy, but he was a Boston icon by the time he died at the age of 68. I was trying to come up with an ethics theme to justify writing a post about him: I can’t, in fairness. He was just a normal guy who got to live his dream, some would say: a Boston kid (Fall River, to be accurate) who grew up, like me, loving the home town team with all of its drama and disappointments, and was talented enough to play for it, after being traded by the Angels to the Sox in 1976. Then Remy became part of Sox lore, the frustrating parts, as his team battled the New York Yankees in their most repulsive incarnation for primacy in the late ’70s, always falling short. In the most famous and tragic of those near misses, Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent’s cheap home run became the decisive blow in a single play-off tie-breaker in 1978, making Dent a a Yankee immortal. Only moral luck prevented the hero of that historic game from being Remy. In the bottom of the 9th with the Red Sox trailing by one run, Remy hit a blast to right field that Yankee outfielder Lou Piniella lost in the sun. It landed in front of him and bounced to his left: Piniella threw his glove up in blind desperation, and the ball, somehow, landed in it. Lou later told Remy that he never saw it until it was in his grip. Had that ball gotten by him, Rick Burleson would have scored the tying run from first, and Remy would have had an easy triple. He might even have had an inside-the-park homer, winning the game, the division championship, and immortality for getting the biggest hit in Red Sox history.
Remy’s knees gave out eventually, like many second basemen before base runners were forbidden from breaking up potential double-plays with hard slides. He eventually became the Sox cable broadcast color man for 34 years, until he left the booth in August to battle lung cancer. Remy was warm, informative, candid, modest and funny, all while describing himself as a mediocre hitter who felt honored to play on a team with stars like Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski. He also kept doing his job, despite more than his share of tragedy and pain. His oldest son was a drug addict, and murdered his girlfriend in a steroid rage. He is serving life without parole in prison; Jerry and his wife took on shared custody of their infant granddaughter. Remy’s battle with lung cancer began in 2008; he kept fighting off multiple recurrences with operations, radiation and chemo, and it kept coming back. He battled depression as well, and spoke and wrote about the illness, inspiring and comforting many who shared that often crippling condition.
Jerry’s last appearance on a baseball field was, appropriately, when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch on October 4 for another one game play-off with the Yankees, who had ended the season tied with Boston, just as in 1978. I knew he was through: he looked pale and weak, but Remy beamed at the huge ovation he received from the Fenway Park crowd as he lobbed the ball to his frequent NESN broadcast partner and fellow member of that tragic 1978 team, Dennis Eckersley. This time, the Red Sox beat the Yankees.
Jerry Remy made a lot of people happy during his life, was respected and loved by those who knew him and worked with him, and kept fighting his way through what chaos threw at him, becoming a better, kinder, nicer human being in the process. That’s a pretty good legacy, better than many greater baseball players. I know he made me happy lots of times, and did so while he must have been suffering.
Good for you, Jerry. Good job at life. I’ll miss you, and so will everyone else. The more good, hard working, courageous human beings we have around, the better it is for everyone.