Rod Allen had Mario Impemba in choke hold; Allen responds

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Mario Impemba, left, and Rod Allen

They have been a Detroit baseball broadcast team for 16 years — the only TV broadcasters many Tigers fans have known. But the days of Mario Impemba and Rod Allen calling games side by side may be over.

Impemba and Allen, as well as Fox Sports Detroit, are dealing with the aftermath of a physical fracas following Tuesday night’s Tigers-White Sox game in Chicago.

Impemba and Allen had to be separated after an immediate postgame flare-up in which Allen had Impemba in a choke hold, a source familiar with the event told The Detroit News. The source requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the incident.

Allen’s agent, Tom Shaer, denied there had been any “choke hold” used against Impemba.

“Absolutely, utterly, completely false,” Shaer said.

Allen, himself, posted on Twitter late Thursday night, "I’ve always conducted myself as an honorable professional and I always will. Because this is a personnel matter. I can’t comment right now." Impemba hasn't commented.

None of the principals returned messages from The News on Thursday, including Greg Hammaren, FSD’s senior vice president and station manager.

The two men had a heated pre-game exchange in the FSD booth at Guaranteed Rate Field over a special chair Allen was using to ease back issues, the source said.

Tensions eased but later exploded over a separate issue. The confrontation turned physical, the source said, and had to be broken up by an unidentified FSD employee.

The Tigers television partners were suspended Wednesday and replaced for at least one night by Matt Shepard and Kirk Gibson.

This was not the first instance of tension between the pair, who away from the booth have little contact with one another, the source said. Their relationship some years ago became noticeably icy during on-air periods of silence when one waited out the other to make a remark and fill time — a baseball broadcast’s constant challenge.

But the two men in recent seasons maintained, at least in the booth, a seemingly healthier alliance, even as new faces and voices — Gibson, Jack Morris, and Craig Monroe — either joined Impemba in the booth or alternated in roles on the studio set.

The two men returned to Detroit on Wednesday, separately, according to The Athletic, which first published reports of Tuesday night's skirmish. Shepard and Gibson were hustled to Chicago for the series finale.

Spokesperson Courtney Welch said in a statement that FSD would not comment on the "internal matter." She did not respond when asked when Impemba or Allen would return to the air.

Impemba has been FSD’s primary game-by-play voice since 2002, with Allen joining him in 2003. Impemba is a Detroit native, Sterling Heights resident, and Michigan State University graduate who came to the Tigers after working as a radio play-by-play voice for the Los Angeles Angels.

Allen played for the Tigers briefly in 1984 and had been an analyst on Arizona Diamondbacks broadcasts before shifting to the Tigers and to FSD. He lives during the offseason with his wife, Adrian, in suburban Phoenix.

How the issue of returning Impemba and Allen to the booth is resolved, comfortably for them and for FSD’s audience, was a key question Thursday.

The Tigers have three weeks remaining in their regular schedule and, while Gibson was slated to be Impemba’s partner during the next two series, it appeared doubtful Thursday that Impemba and Allen would work together again this year — or, perhaps, in the future.

A source with knowledge of the parties’ discussions said Thursday that Allen was still scheduled to be part of the Tigers’ telecasts, working either from the studio or from Comerica Park’s FSD set, during the upcoming six-game homestand.

Two years ago, the Tigers experimented with having Dan Dickerson, the radio play-by-play man, switch positions with Impemba during a handful of regular-season games.

The tradeoff appeared to go smoothly for all parties. Whether that could potentially be at least an initial remedy was not clear Thursday. More likely, perhaps, is that FSD's backup team of Shepard and Gibson could continue as during their occasional pairings they have appeared to be a comfortable fit.

All that appeared certain Thursday, according to the source, is that Impemba and Allen likely are done with each other for at least the remainder of 2018. 

The contractual relationship between the Tigers, their networks, and the broadcasters differs from radio to TV. Tigers radio broadcasters are employed jointly by the Tigers and by WXYT's radio network.

Impemba and Allen are independent contractors hired by FSD, with approval by the Tigers.