Mario Impemba's first post-scuffle interview: 'It's been challenging'
For every one baseball broadcasting job, especially at the highest levels, there are hundreds if not thousands of applicants.
So when a broadcaster loses one of those coveted gigs, especially amid circumstances that results in juicy, explosive headlines, it often means having to spend at least a year or two on the sidelines — and that's if you ever get back into the chair.
Mario Impemba is back in business, however, just five months after a press-box altercation with his longtime broadcaster partner cost him his beloved Tigers job.
WEEI, the flagship station for the Boston Red Sox, made it official Thursday morning, introducing Impemba as one of the new radio play-by-play voices who will join incumbent Joe Castiglione on the call for the 2019 season.
"I'm excited. I always wanted to remain in the game, and this is going to give me that opportunity," Impemba told The News in his first interview since he was let go by the Tigers this fall, along with Rod Allen, after 17 years, 16 together, in the TV booth.
"You can't be more excited than getting a job with the world champions."
Impemba, 55, a Metro Detroit native and Michigan State alum, will be one of a number of play-by-play men on Red Sox radio, along with Castiglione, a longtime acquaintance; Josh Lewin, who was Impemba's predecessor in broadcasting Tigers games; and Sean McDonough of ESPN.
Former Red Sox player Lou Merloni, ESPN's Chris Berman, WEEI's Dale Arnold, and Dave O'Brien and Tom Caron of NESN also will call select games as part of the "broadcast play-by-play committee," according to a release from WEEI.
Impemba is expected to call between 50 and 60 games, including several in spring training. In interesting scheduling, his second spring-training game will be a Red Sox-Tigers game, in Lakeland, Fla., on March 14 — with FSD broadcasting the game a booth over.
Impemba will continue to reside in Metro Detroit, and commute for Red Sox games, the best of both worlds for a man who in his one and only comment, via tweet, since the altercation wrote, "I will always view Detroit as my home."
Connections with Castiglione and Dave Dombrowski, the Red Sox president who previously was the top executive with the Tigers and who wrote the foreword for Impemba's book, helped Impemba land his third major-league broadcasting job.
He began with the Angels in 1995, and joined Tigers TV in 2002. The Tigers job, of course, was his dream job, and he broadcast more than 2,000 games, the last one being Sept. 4 in Chicago, when a post-game scuffle with Allen cost him the gig.
"Well, it's been challenging. When you spend 17 years in one spot, especially in your hometown and see it come to an end, it's very disappointing," Impemba said. "But I've decided to adopt a word for that, in 2019, and that word is, 'Forward.' I'm just gonna move forward with this and continue my career."
On the physical altercation with Allen — the two teamed up starting in 2003 and while they never were close out of the booth, they were the second-longest-running Tigers TV duo (behind George Kell and Al Kaline), and called more Tigers games together than any other duo — Impemba declined to discuss what went down.
"I think it's counterproductive to do," he said. "So I decided, as I just said, to move forward with my life and career.
"Dwelling on the past doesn't do me any good. I've just decided to take that tack."
Impemba did say he has not spoken with Allen, 59, since the altercation.
Allen gave his first interview in January, with a local TV station, in which he strongly disputed media accounts of what went down (some said Allen had Impemba in a "choke hold"), and simply chalked it up to both him and Impemba having a bad day. Allen, too, looks to get another broadcasting job, but acknowledged "baggage" could mean he might have to sit out a year or two before he gets another opportunity.
The Tigers last month replaced Impemba and Allen with play-by-play man Matt Shepard and analysts Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris, while adding Dan Petry to join Craig Monroe for pregame and postgame studio analysis.
The Red Sox opportunity opened up for Impemba when Tim Neverett left the job, and later joined the Los Angeles Dodgers broadcast team.
WEEI quickly responded to Impemba's submitted tape, and Impemba's agent started a conversation with Dombrowski at the winter meetings in December.
The Red Sox and WEEI took their time with the hire, making it a nervous several weeks for Impemba, whose altercation with Allen was thoroughly vetted. He received word of the good news this week.
"I was pretty elated. It's the greatest sports city in the country," Impemba said of Boston, the current home of the World Series and Super Bowl champions. "And Fenway Park, to be able to call that my office is kind of cool. You got in there as a visitor and you're kind of in awe of Fenway Park and the history.
"Now to be a part of it is really a great thing."
Impemba, of course, experienced a lot of great things in Detroit, as well.
He took over broadcasting duties during a severe downturn in the franchise's history, but by 2006, the Tigers were in the World Series. And from 2006-14, they made the playoffs five times, including two World Series.
Amid it all were countless individual accolades (MVPs, Cy Youngs, etc.) and stars to talk about, in what Impemba calls the "golden age" of Tigers baseball. During that run, the Tigers consistently had some of the highest local television ratings in baseball, and Impemba and Allen's popularity soared, especially during that breakout season in 2006.
"Being able to broadcast for my hometown team, the team I grew up rooting for, was a big thrill for me," said Impemba, who added he is grateful for the significant amount of support, public and private, he's received from friends and colleagues since he was let go by FSD. "We really had some great times. Miggy (Miguel Cabrera) winning the Triple Crown, JV (Justin Verlander) throwing a couple no-hitters, all the playoff appearances, the two World Series. In my mind, it was the golden age of Tigers baseball.
"And I had a front-row seat for all of it. I was fortunate.
"Those are things I will remember."