The 2014 season will mark the 13th season that most Detroit Tigers games will be called by play-by-play announcer Mario Impemba for Fox Sports Detroit.
Mario began calling Tigers’ games in 2002 and has won several awards along the way, including the 2011 Michigan Sportscaster of the Year and a 2006 Michigan Emmy for Sports Play-by-Play.
Mario took time out of his busy off-season schedule to discuss a variety of topics in an exclusive interview with Motor City Bengals.
Through email, we discussed the moves the Tigers have made in the off-season thus far, what to expect from the new manager, his take on advanced metrics, how he deals with the haters and trolls on the internet, and more. He even provides us with a Rose Bowl prediction for his beloved Michigan State Spartans.
What’s your take on the Tigers’ off-season moves so far? Some fans are worried that perhaps the team is no longer taking the “win now approach.” Are they retooling on the fly or making moves to get their team better equipped to win in the postseason?
I think the Tigers have accomplished a few things so far this off-season. First, they acquired some payroll flexibility in the Prince Fielder deal which will allow them to work on retaining Max Scherzer. The drag of Fielder’s nine-year contract has been eliminated and that bodes well for the future financial structure of the team.
Mostly though I am excited about how the Tigers have transformed the team a bit. The additions of Ian Kinsler, Rajai Davis and even Jose Iglesias last year, will give the Tigers more speed and offensive flexibility.
For those that are worried that the Tigers have not added enough big names this off-season, remember that two of the Boston Red Sox biggest pick-ups before last season were Jonny Gomes and David Ross.
What are your thoughts on Brad Ausmus being a rookie manager on a team with postseason aspirations? What will be his challenges this season?
I thought Lloyd McClendon was going to get the job, but the word is that Ausmus interviewed extremely well. Brad is highly thought of in the baseball world and is a very intelligent guy. There will be a period of adjustment, but retaining Gene Lamont as the bench coach will smooth the transition.
I think his biggest adjustment will be dealing with the speed of the game from the dugout as opposed to the press box or the stands. Jim Leyland said many times that the speed of the game is so much faster in the dugout.
As we look forward to the new manager, let’s take a look back at the former manager. Where do you think Jim Leyland will rank in Tigers’ lore? Do you think he will be remembered as fondly as Sparky has been?
Sparky brought a World Series to Detroit, but Jim Leyland ranks with any manager in Tigers’ history. Three straight ALCS appearances, two World Series berths and three straight playoff appearances for the first time since the early 1900’s. Many think his personality is defined by the sunglasses and cigarettes, but Leyland had a genuine affinity for the city and its fans. He had his detractors, but when you look at the whole picture, you can’t deny that he was at the helm of a major renaissance in the history of Tigers baseball.
Thinking of 2014, is there a Tiger that could have a breakout year and/or surprise fans?
Well, I don’t know if it would be labeled a surprise based on his performance in the bullpen last season, but I think Drew Smyly will have a big year in the rotation. I love his makeup and ability and I think the Tigers were comfortable in trading Doug Fister because they had Smyly waiting in the wings. The Tigers really needed a left-handed presence in the rotation and Smyly will take advantage of his opportunity in my opinion.
Tigers’ fans often lament when their team is on national TV and they don’t have the comfort of hearing and watching Mario and Rod. This is especially true in the postseason. It’s tough not hearing you guys in playoff games, but I can imagine it is even tougher for you and Rod when you call 150+ games per year, the team heads to the playoffs and then you’re not able to call them. Is this a tough thing for you guys or do you understand that it comes with the territory?
Well, I think we realize it comes with the territory, but it is very disappointing to sit out the post season. We stay involved with pre- and post-game shows during the playoffs, but it’s not really the same. My dream has always been to call a World Series, but I realize it won’t happen on the TV side. Disappointing, but it’s the nature of the business and we have learned to accept it.
What is your usual game day ritual like?
For a 7:00 p.m. game, I am usually at the park around 2:30. The first thing I do is to check in with the production truck. I’ll chat with our producer, director and graphics people to see what our game plan is like for that night’s game. After a quick stop in the booth, I’ll head downstairs for the manager’s press meeting and work both clubhouses, talking with players and coaches.
I usually head back upstairs around 4:45, have a pregame meal and then finish filling out my scorecard. 7 o’clock usually rolls around quickly and it seems like there is never enough time to prep for the game.
I’m an “old school” stat guy, but most of my Motor City Bengals colleagues use advanced metrics, or sabermetrics. Where do you fall in this debate? Do you still rely more on old school stats when making assessments on players performances or have you began to adopt more advanced metrics? Also, will FSD begin incorporating more of the “new school” stats in game broadcasts in the future?
I am also an old school stat guy, but I am slowly starting to embrace some of the advanced metrics. I think they have a place in evaluating players and their performances, but it is very difficult for us to fully incorporate them into our telecasts. The main reason is that we have to keep things relatively simple. It is easy enough for us to explain on base percentage, OPS or slugging percentage during a telecast, but to delve into how we arrive at a player’s WAR would be difficult to do on air in the middle of a game.
When the season is over, do you step away from baseball coverage to give yourself a break, or do you continue to closely monitor the playoffs (assuming the Tigers are no longer involved) and all the hot stove moves?
I still heavily follow the game until the final out of the World Series, whether the Tigers are involved or not, but after that, I need to step away for a few weeks. Baseball has become a 12 month sport now with all of the off-season moves and awards and before you know it, spring training arrives. The bottom line is that you are always following the game because there is always something happening.
You call Oakland University basketball games and called hockey games as you were starting out. As a Michigan State grad, you also follow their football games closely. Outside of baseball, what others sports keep your interest?
Well, I gave up the Oakland basketball job this off-season because the travel and time demands were becoming too much for me to juggle. I’m working on some other projects and need more time for family obligations as well. I do however love the college game and follow it closely in the fall and winter. I had a chance to go to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship game and will be in Pasadena for Michigan State/Stanford.
I thoroughly enjoy following you on Twitter and seeing you interact with the haters and trolls on there. I love how you handle the hate by simply retweeting the troll and letting your followers have at it. Does the negativity of internet commentators (which is rampant everywhere) ever frustrate you or do you take it with a grain of salt?
The negativity is frustrating at times, and anyone that tells you it that it doesn’t affect them is not being truthful. I am not above criticism if it is constructive because I am not nearly a perfect announcer. However, when it becomes personal or chronically negative I will use the block button. The truth is that the tweets are overwhelmingly positive.
What’s your prediction for the Rose Bowl?
Two teams that play a similar style. I am really excited to see MSU finally return to the Rose Bowl.
Spartans’ defense is too much: Michigan State 28, Stanford 17