TV: Detroit Tigers

Flagship: Fox Sports Detroit

PxP: Mario Impemba (since 2002)

Color: Rod Allen (since 2003)

Reviewer: David B. Wilkerson

Category: Play by Play
Grade: 60

In terms of handling the game’s vitals – updates on the score, the inning, the count and other such details, Mario Impemba is flawless. You’ll always know what the situation is during a Tigers telecast, even without the aid of the graphic box in the upper left-hand corner. He has a strong baritone voice, conveying smooth confidence, and he leaves plenty of space for broadcast partner Rod Allen to step in with his comments.

One sign of a solid play-by-play announcer is the ability to keep the exploits of an extraordinary player from seeming routine, and Impemba rises to that challenge.

During a game at Yankee Stadium, with one man on and the Tigers down 3-1 in the ninth inning, Impemba set the stage for the drama that was unfolding, as third baseman Miguel Cabrera faced off against the all-time saves leader, Mariano Rivera. “And here comes the sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium,” he said as the fans stood and roared. “Tying run at the plate, 3-1 ballgame in the ninth.”

When Cabrera smashed a towering drive toward center field, Impemba exclaimed: “Gardner going back, still going back. Track, wall – IT’S GONE! UNBELIEVABLE! HE DID IT AGAIN! YOU WANT SOME OF THIS? COME GET SOME!” As this example indicates, Impemba is not averse to a catchphrase or two – which may strike some viewers as forced – but he saves this level of hyperbole for overwhelming circumstances.

Impemba is remarkably even-handed on big plays, giving full, robust voice to home runs and other heroics by the opposing team. 

Category: Color Commentary
Grade: 55

Rod Allen offers relevant, if unsurprising, observations as the game goes on. Given the task of describing the deeds of a team blessed with outstanding starting pitching and one of the game’s most formidable lineups, Allen is able to explain just what the Tigers do that has proven so effective over the last six years.

During one game against the Kansas City Royals, Allen turned his attention to Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder. “Wherever I go, people ask me what’s wrong with Prince Fielder,” he said. “And I tell them, he’s got 22 home runs and 95 RBIs. The only problem is that he’s overshadowed by that man right there [camera shows Miguel Cabrera], the best hitter in the game.” It was a useful point during a season in which Cabrera, despite stellar offensive numbers, has been hurt at various times during the season, while Detroit still manages to put up staggering run totals.

If the Tigers aren’t playing well, Allen will say so in blunt terms, explaining what a player has failed to do or has done the wrong way, without making excuses. The same certainly goes for the Tigers’ opponents.

Allen is very much prone to catchphrases – usually short exclamations like “filthy,” or “nasty,” to describe a particularly unhittable pitch, or “Oh no he didn’t” as an all-purpose expression of surprise when a great play of any kind is made. The best one can hope for in such situations is that Allen will follow up, as he often does, with some further insight into what made the play special.

Category: Broadcast Team Commentary
Grade: 55

Impemba and Allen combine to create a very watchable telecast, one that will probably entertain most casual fans, but is also unmistakably tailored for the diehard Tiger partisan.

Umpires’ calls that will irritate Tigers fans may bother Impemba and Allen, as well. When Cabrera was ejected from an interleague game against the Philadelphia Phillies by plate umpire Chad Fairchild for arguing balls and strikes, the Tigers broadcasters sounded downright offended.

As an angry Comerica Park crowd booed, Impemba said, “Are you kidding me? Oh my goodness …. Unbelievable.” Allen chimed in: “Chad Fairchild – we did not come here to watch you today.” During replays of two pitches to Cabrera, Impemba pointed out that the slugger did seem to dislike the strike calls, one of which seemed to be on a ball that might have been high, the other on a fastball that could have been construed as outside. “But he was nowhere near demonstrative about it.” When Tigers manager Jim Leyland was tossed shortly thereafter, Impemba commented, “Well, he’s not going to go quickly here, and I don’t blame him.” Allen called the entire situation “bull.”

As shown here, Impemba and Allen keep the viewer aware of the emotional swings of a game. Exultant moments for the Tigers are certainly conveyed as such, and if something doesn’t go the team’s way, the duo sounds disappointed.

Fortunately, such homerism is not blind; the two will point out bad plays and ongoing lapses by Tiger players if such problems are germane to the situation at hand, just as they will for opposing teams.

Category: Charisma and Chemistry
Grade: 55

Impemba and Allen have established a nice working rhythm over their 10 -plus seasons together. As noted earlier, Impemba leaves plenty of room for Allen’s interjections during his play-by-play, and Allen knows how to make an initial observation and then expand upon it. The two sound as though they respect each other.

They also demonstrate an ability to show us baseball’s lighter side, realizing that when a game situation is just funny, the best thing to do is to just go with it, especially in a blowout game. As the Tigers were bludgeoning the Houston Astros 17-2 in the ninth inning at Houston, catcher Carlos Corporan hit a two out single, putting runners at first and second. Allen noticed that Corporan flipped his bat as he headed down the line, In the seventh inning, he had been demonstrative after a home run.

As a replay showed the bat flip, Impemba couldn’t help but laugh. “Dude – it’s 17-2, and you’re Cadillac-ing a base hit,” he said, clearly bemused. “Bat flip,” Allen said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bat flip over a single.” It was an entertaining exchange, one that must’ve given Tiger fans one more thing to smile about during the lopsided victory.

Category: Analysis
Grade: 50

The Tigers TV crew is probably best at analysis of individual at-bats, as Allen breaks down what the pitcher is trying to do, and how the hitter adjusts.

During one game, with the Tigers trailing the A’s in the ninth inning at Comerica, DH Victor Martinez lined a crucial two-out single into center field to make it 6-4 and put men at first and third with Torii Hunter coming to the plate. Allen, commenting on A’s closer Grant Balfour’s dilemma, explained: “Balfour was able to get ahead of Victor Martinez no balls and two strikes. Had he gone to this fastball on that count … he probably would have gotten a swing and miss.” The replay, which began to unspool as Allen spoke, revealed a high heater on the outside part of the plate to the left-handed Martinez. “But he threw a couple of breaking balls, Victor fouled those off, and Victor knew he was going to get a fastball, and he was able to muscle that ball into center field.” It was a useful observation, one that asked the viewer to consider the tough choices closers face in getting those last three outs against a prodigious lineup.

On the flip side, this is not a broadcast that makes use of advanced statistical analysis, preferring to stick with either traditional numbers like RBI, pitchers’ wins and batting average allowed against a team or particular pitcher, or the most basic sabermetric concerns – what the batter has done with runners in scoring position and on-base percentage. 

Category: Production Values
Grade: 50

Camera work, direction and graphics are up to the normal Fox Sports standard, with perhaps a few too many reaction shots from the dugout and the stands, one of the more maddening hallmarks of the Fox style.

The boisterous Torii Hunter seems to get in a lot of screen time during such moments, including a spasm of wincing and smiling during a Cabrera at-bat in which he fouled two straight pitches off his body. Shortly thereafter, when Cabrera homered, it was inevitable that we would see Hunter’s gleeful reaction in close-up.
The average fan might instead prefer to just see the game as it’s played on the field, one good replay, and then get back to the pitcher vs. batter confrontation that is at the heart of the game.

Category: Commercialism and Cutaways
Grade: 50
Detroit Tigers telecasts employ typical commercial cutaways that tout upcoming promotions at Comerica Park, with partners such as Belle Tire and Little Caesar’s (owned by Tigers owner Mike Ilitch). Nothing intrusive or objectionable occurs, and we’re able to get back to the game before there’s an overwhelming urge to grab the remote.

Category: Overall
Grade: 54

Mario Impemba and Rod Allen know the game, and convey its spectacle as well as its mundane moments with class. Casual fans will learn from Allen’s cool assessments of in-game situations, though neither announcer seems interested in the sabermetric innovations of the last 20-25 years. Impemba knows how to use his resonant baritone voice to highlight the drama of a big situation, and while he can sound contrived at times, the net result is usually compelling. With the usual blessings and curses of the Fox Sports production style, this is a very watchable, well-carpentered broadcast, fronted by a solid announcing team.


About the author:

David B. Wilkerson is a veteran journalist and lifelong baseball fan who joined SABR in 2012. His work, usually focused on the business of media, has appeared at MarketWatch and the Dow Jones Newswires.


DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this evaluation are solely those of the author.  As such, the views expressed by the author should not be interpreted as representing the opinions of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), its board, or anyone otherwise affiliated with SABR.  Likewise, the conclusions included in these evaluations are not to be viewed or interpreted as official endorsements (or lack thereof) by SABR, or of anyone affiliated with SABR, of any particular broadcasters or broadcast organizations.

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