Henning: Candidates who could replace Rod Allen, Mario Impemba in Tigers TV booth
Relationships between baseball announcers and audiences tend to be deep, and tend to be long.
The Tigers and Fox Sports Detroit understand this is business. They know also it’s personal.
They will be careful in naming replacements for Mario Impemba and Rod Allen, whose strained moments and tensions that spanned too many years ignited in a final flare-up Sept. 4 at Chicago that has ended each broadcaster’s tenure in Detroit.
The parties also might have learned a lesson. Rather than tell two broadcasters to “work out” their problems when those issues were about as likely to be unified as oil and water, it might be wise this time around to assure that two parties can indeed work as partners.
It is essential, too, it seems, if there are irritants, bosses should take charge to avoid the steadily rising volatility that all but ensured a final Impemba-Allen blow-up, which ruined two careers and led to unnecessary drama surrounding a big-league baseball team’s TV tandem.
The Tigers have one of the gold-plated TV audiences in all of baseball. While ratings have dipped the past three seasons as the team has dealt with a bottoming-out and rebuilding cycle, Detroit remains one of the elite per-capita baseball audiences in either league.
Ratings were record-breaking during the Tigers playoff run from 2006-14, and are sure to rise again should the team’s reconstruction follow typical timelines.
These are treasured jobs, the ones now vacant at FSD. They also are lucrative.
Impemba had been the Tigers telecasts’ play-by-play voice and was earning at least $500,000, it is estimated by market analysts familiar with Detroit’s size and baseball pay structure. Allen is believed to have been earning about $350,000.
The pair’s earnings reflected not only the market standard, but their years of raises that would have been natural for men so tenured.
FSD will now search, interview, and peek at audition tapes and hope it comes away with a long-term successor who can become a play-by-play fixture at least as enduring as Impemba, or, ideally, on the exalted level of the '60s, '70s, and '80s great, George Kell.
The analyst’s seat, almost certainly, will be filled by an ex-big-leaguer, as it was with Allen, or as it now is handled on most nights by Kirk Gibson.
It is expected the current studio cast will remain closer to status quo, with former Tigers outfielder Craig Monroe working as co-pilot alongside John Keating or Mickey York or whichever FSD personality is chosen to “drive” the pregame and postgame shows.
That leaves a swath of candidates for the FSD booth’s two chairs, some of which already are on duty, some of which could be hired from other markets and teams.
► Gibson: He would be a natural pick to go full time next season with the new play-by-play pick. Health is the only issue for a one-time Tigers knight and former manager whose insights into baseball, and sundry other subjects, are resolutely sharp. Gibson deals with Parkinson’s disease and has taken a wait-and-see approach in deciding with FSD his workload for an upcoming season.
He is sure to have an analyst partner in 2019, probably one who works more games than Gibson, as was the case with Allen, who also doubled as an in-studio option.
► Dan Petry: The Tigers, and perhaps FSD, have been waiting for some time to make him a regular. As with Gibson and another one-time Tigers co-pilot, Jack Morris, Petry has a pedigree from 1984 and the Tigers’ last championship. He also is known as a dream partner. It is safe to say had he been in the booth the past decade, Impemba would be returning to next year’s FSD booth, minus incidents or stresses.
Petry was brought aboard in the season’s waning days when FSD needed studio help. It would be natural, and no doubt crowd-pleasing, if he were handed a fuller role in 2019.
► Dan Dickerson: Here, it seems, is the Tigers’ ready-made answer. During occasional stints in the TV booth, Dickerson has been as smooth, as comfortable, and as enlightening as he is heading the Tigers’ radio play-by-play for nearly 20 years.
There, ironically, is the problem, for an immensely talented professional who can shift fluidly from one booth to another.
The Tigers view radio as baseball bedrock. While it’s TV that carries the cachet in 2018, baseball radio plays to a core audience as important to the Tigers’ broadcast landscape as the Rocky Mountains are to Colorado’s.
Tigers execs will be open to any conversation that makes sense as their broadcast teams for 2019 are arranged. But it’s no secret they, along with his radio audience, love Dickerson in his traditional role.
► Matt Shepard: He is one of the region’s best all-around sports broadcasters. His versatility and command were on stage when he became Impemba’s primary fill-in. Shepard is a ravenous baseball student and seemed to settle seamlessly into the play-by-play chair even before September, when Impemba was absent due to his son’s wedding and, later, following the passing of his mother.
Shepard works the gamut of sports for FSD and has his own morning radio show. If FSD and the Tigers were interested, he would report for duty.
► Don Orsillo: He now works for the Padres and earlier was a hit with the Red Sox audience. That is, until an executive decided with the usual subjectivity these matters can be treated that Orsillo needed to go.
Red Sox fans, who can be notoriously finicky about their broadcasters, nearly tore down the Green Monster when Orsillo was axed.
He since has flourished as the Padres’ primary TV play-by-play captain, but he could be open to an overture from Detroit. Those familiar with Orsillo’s work say he would be a fast fit with the Tigers’ discerning crowd.
► Lary Sorensen: Sorensen is a former star pitcher at the University of Michigan and a longtime, big-league pitcher who once worked Tigers radio broadcasts alongside Frank Beckmann. Sorensen departed 20-plus years ago when he was dealing with alcoholism, but has been in recovery for years and now works as a color analyst on Wake Forest baseball games.
He is strong on insight and preparation and is interested in a second act with the Tigers broadcasts. While it would appear a long shot, Sorensen’s broadcast credentials are nearly as potent as his appetite for a return to the Tigers booth.