Impemba, Allen gone for 2018; Tigers scramble for replacements
Detroit — What happens now, for the Tigers, and for Fox Sports Detroit, after the Friday dismissals of Mario Impemba and Rod Allen was not a topic easily discussed nor clearly resolved Friday at Comerica Park.
FSD's Tigers telecasts were rocked when Tigers broadcast-booth regulars Impemba and Allen were suspended following a Tuesday night fight at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago.
FSD announced Friday afternoon that neither Impemba nor Allen would be returning to Tigers telecasts in 2018. Their future status is undetermined.
"After speaking with all involved parties, FOX Sports Detroit has decided not to schedule Rod Allen and Mario Impemba for any future Tigers telecasts this season," FSD announced in a statement from spokeswoman Courtney Welch. "Since this is an internal matter, we will have no further comment."
The broadcasters' departures are ominous when each man has a contract only through 2018, which was confirmed Friday by a source with knowledge of their FSD arrangement. The source requested anonymity because of the delicate matter Impemba's and Allen's incident had become for FSD, as well as for the Tigers.
Replacement options were being sorted out Friday.
Kirk Gibson arrived about 2 p.m. Friday in FSD's broadcast booth at Comerica Park. His broadcast partner, Matt Shepard, with whom he figures to be working extra closely during the final three weeks of the 2018 Tigers season, a few minutes later stepped into the booth, donning a blue suit jacket and changing into his necktie.
Gibson said Friday that any comment about this week's scuffle would be "inappropriate" and he referred all business questions to FSD, as did Shepard.
But both men now are expected to help fill two giant vacancies during telecasts of the Tigers' remaining 22 games.
Shepard said Friday he had no directive beyond Friday's game and again asked that any queries be directed at FSD.
But the lightning-fast sequence of events that this week sidelined two of Metro Detroit's and Michigan's premier on-air celebrities blindsided all parties and left something of a vacuum in the FSD booth.
Shepard doubles as play-by-play broadcaster for Eastern Michigan University's football team, which Saturday plays against Purdue at West Lafayette, Ind.
Asked on Friday if he would be at Saturday's game, Shepard said he didn't know.
Such is the pace at which a TV network, as well as the Tigers, are scrambling to fill the remaining calendar as they look also to 2019 and beyond.
The same source said the Tigers and FSD likely would continue with Shepard and with Gibson as a primary TV team.
But with Shepard's EMU contract as one example of how complicated a broadcast schedule can become when baseball and football intersect, there already were loose plans Friday to fill the play-by-play chair with multiple replacements.
One option would be to use FSD's John Keating as a play-by-play presence when he has pinch-hit during past emergencies. Keating often works as FSD's post- and pre-game and could easily slide into the primary during-game role.
It is also understood the Tigers will, on one or more occasions, go with Tigers radio play-by-play ace Dan Dickerson, who has worked in the past on Tigers telecasts when he and Impemba switched roles.
Dickerson was smooth during those sit-ins and seemed to enjoy the TV shifts, as did an audience that, based on social-media critiques, generally found him comfortable.
It is expected Gibson will work most games, if not all, as FSD's analyst during these final 22 games, but that was anything but final Friday.
Shepard and Gibson were summoned spontaneously to Chicago after Tuesday night's postgame scrap when Impemba and Allen had a spat that turned physical, the culmination, perhaps, of long-stewing tensions between the broadcasters, who had been a Tigers TV-booth team the past 16 seasons.
The men were suspended by FSD, and Shepard and Gibson were told to board a Wednesday flight to Chicago.
Neither Impemba, nor Allen, has spoken about the incident, apart from Allen's late Thursday Twitter posting that said:
"I’ve always conducted myself as an honorable professional and I always will," Allen wrote, "because this is a personnel matter. I can’t comment right now."
Impemba and Allen have for years worked past a carefully concealed hostility that allowed them to partner within the booth but often on edge. The rift boiled over Tuesday night, long after a pregame spat over a chair that Allen had intended to use as a means for easing back pain.
The two men made it through Tuesday's telecast but not easily. At one point, a 43-second period of dead air signaled, as it had during some previous contentiousness between the two, that there were issues boiling.
Immediately after the game, according to sources who again asked for anonymity, a separate squabble erupted over an issue relating to Tigers telecasts.
The dispute turned physical until it was broken up by a FSD staffer.
The Tigers defer to FSD on hiring and contracting on-air talent but do have the right of approval, which now could mean signing off on new personnel in 2019.
The Tigers had a separate challenge Friday, one they wished they could have avoided, especially this weekend at Comerica Park.
The 1968 world championship team is being celebrated during Friday's, Saturday's, and Sunday's games against the Cardinals, the team Detroit toppled to win a mesmerizing World Series.
The Tigers had intended to make the Cardinals-Tigers reunion fun and festive, minus distractions. A broadcast-booth incident Tuesday changed the weekend's tenor, at least temporarily.
"It's unfortunate," said Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire. "You get to know people, and I like both those guys.
"But in a work environment, things happen."