As much as media has changed dramatically in recent years, the bond between longtime baseball broadcasters and even casual baseball fans remains as strong as ever.
We have seen that here in Detroit in recent weeks after public reports of conflict, suspension and now the termination of the long-running Tigers TV broadcast duo, Mario Impemba and Rod Allen.
Detroit News sports writer Tony Paul estimates the pair has announced more than 2,000 Tigers games in the past 16 years. For many of those years, those broadcasts, on average, were the highest-rated regular programming of any kind in the market. Tigers games, for several seasons, were the closest thing to “mass media” television we saw, especially in the summer season. Even in 2016, as the team continued its fall toward losing, Tigers games averaged a 7+ rating. In today’s environment, that’s outstanding.
Baseball, with its 162-game regular season and “leisurely” pace lends itself to a deep broadcaster-audience attachment. For so many in Michigan, Mario and Rod were invited into our living rooms night after night, month after month, to spend the evening with us. Even out of the house, at just about every restaurant, from the neighborhood dive bar Up North to the 4-star steakhouse Downtown, there were Mario and Rod on the flatscreen, joining us for the evening. Players, even stars, came and went, but Mario and Rod, were the constants. That’s part of the baseball fan experience.
According to reports, including this extensive piece by columnist Lynn Henning, the two had a long-strained relationship away from the mics, that boiled over into an ugly HR situation last month in Chicago.
Now, a search for new voices begins. With that comes risk. With the team in rebuilding mode for the foreseeable future, will fans, especially marginal fans, welcome a new broadcast crew into their homes with such regularity? Will they come across authentically Detroit, as Impemba, a local, and Allen, who connected with locals and seemed to enjoy the area, consistently did? Will the hires happen soon enough to use PR to ingratiate the new broadcast team into the community?
The rules of the game have evolved, but local sports play-by-play and color broadcasters still tower as major media figures, especially in a market like Detroit and especially in baseball.