Rod Allen Aims to Level the Playing Field

Jul 8, 2007  •  Post A Comment

As an African American in sports broadcasting, Detroit Tigers commentator Rod Allen said he has beaten the odds.

One of just a handful of African American announcers in baseball, Mr. Allen’s relatively new career in broadcasting has been bright so far. Last season, paired with Mario Impemba for FSN Detroit, he followed the Tigers as the team went from having one of the worst records in the history of the game to playing in the World Series. This year he captured back-to-back Michigan Emmys in the sports analyst category.

Mr. Allen said he is thankful for his success and the accolades, but he still is concerned about the lack of minorities, both in Major League Baseball and in the broadcast booth. The opportunities have decreased for African Americans in baseball in recent decades, he said.

“When you watch the College World Series, you just don’t see many African American kids on the field,” Mr. Allen told TelevisionWeek in an interview at Detroit’s Comerica Park, where the Tigers play. “I believe that they’re just not given the scholarships and the opportunities to succeed. That’s a big part of the problem.”

In the ’60s and ’70s, baseball academies were more integral to the fabric of baseball. At these academies African American players were able to flourish and gain skills on the diamond that colleges were offering other players. Such academies have long since disappeared from the landscape.

Add to that the decrease in baseball scholarships and the fact that baseball has slowly evolved into a middle-class game.

“Look at a guy like (African American) Ron Washington, who manages the Texas Rangers,” Mr. Allen said. “He signed in 1971 for the Kansas City Royals Academy. (Tigers manager and the manager for the American League in the 2007 All-Star Game) Jim Leyland has so much respect for this guy that he named him one of the coaches for the All Star team. Putting things like academies back in the inner cities would really allow some of the African American kids to play baseball and have more of these opportunities.”

Mr. Allen started out as a TV broadcaster after serving as a hitting instructor in the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system.

With more than 30 years in the game, Mr. Allen has had stints as a player with the Cleveland Indians and the Seattle Mariners; he also played in Japan with Hiroshima of the Central League. In 1984, he played 15 games with the Detroit Tigers, earning his first World Series ring. In 2001, as a broadcaster for the Diamondbacks, he was fitted for his second.

His TV break came in 1998 after Diamondbacks Director of Broadcasting Thom Brennaman approached him during a tour at the building site for Bank One Ballpark. The two talked about life, career and baseball.

“He said point-blank that he was going to do some hiring and one candidate would be a minority,” Mr. Allen said.

During the interview process, the Diamondbacks brought in current ESPN broadcaster Joe Morgan and current MLB.com commentator Harold Reynolds, among others, but Mr. Allen eventually landed the job.

“Thom said he thought I had what it took to be a broadcaster,” Mr. Allen said. “It’s one thing to be given an opportunity, but it’s another to take advantage of it.”

Mr. Allen learned quickly, developing his own style while paying close attention to some of baseball’s best announcers.

“I’ve had some great people teach me along the way,” he said.

In 2003, Mr. Allen shifted from the Diamondbacks to the Detroit Tigers.

Arizona had brought in Mark Grace to play first base toward the end of his career, Mr. Allen said. Rumors circulated around the organization that part of Mr. Grace’s deal centered on doing TV analysis once his playing career was over.

For Mr. Allen, that likely meant he would be out of his TV gig. As he saw it, he would do radio or leave.

“The Tiger position came open, so I took it,” he said.

Detroit had one of the worst records in baseball when Mr. Allen arrived, but last season he and Mr. Impemba followed the team’s incredible turnaround that culminated in its World Series appearance (the Tigers lost to the St. Louis Cardinals).

Making the switch from the Diamondbacks to Detroit meant Allen had to adapt to some stylistic differences.

“In Arizona it was basically like two guys in a bar talking about baseball,” Mr. Allen said. “In Detroit that isn’t Mario (Impemba’s) style. He’s more nuts and bolts, more play-by-play, so that was an adjustment I had to make.”

Mr. Allen said he knows having a voice to express his concerns is a powerful thing. He also said he realizes that doing his job and earning Emmys is a big part of raising awareness of minorities’ situation in the field.

“There are many occasions when I get the chance to go into the community and speak at events,” he said. “As an African American in this business, it’s important for me to lead by example and show kids that anything is possible.

“When the door was opened for me, I knocked it down,” he added. “I felt like I could have spent more time in the big leagues, but it just wasn’t my calling. At the end of the day, it’s about expressing what I see on the field to the best of my abilities, and that’s what I’ll always strive for.”


  1. Rod & Mario,
    I’d like know why a man sits with his back to the Tiger’s games when they play in Detroit? He’s right behind the batter, at the bottom of the stairway.
    Marilyn Poole
    Levering, Michigan

  2. Rod & Mario,
    I just wanted to tell you that you make my Father’s Day each and every one that you broadcast! He was never a huge Tiger fan until he retired last year. Now he is hooked, and it is because of your broadcast…I even offered to buy tickets to take him to a game, but he said “No thanks, because I wont be able to hear Mario and Rod calling the game!” Thanks for doing what you do! I would like to purchase an autographed photo of you two……..it would make his day (or maybe year!) Please send me some info as how to do this. And thanks again…….

  3. Just want to let you know how much we enjoy you and Mario. I have developed into quite the Tigers’ fan, with your help.
    I am curious – no one is saying anything about Kenny Rogers. My husband is saying he is finished – what do you know, or what is your opinion?

  4. My son Miles is thirteen. He is my heart and soul and wants to play professional baseball. Since I live in New York and he lives in Atlanta with his mom. As divorced parents we share custody, I am concerned about the paucity of young African-American boys pursuing careers in pro base ball. As a parent, I would like to know what I should be doing as his father. Do I consider a baseball academy? Outside of little leagues, what other infrastructure or platforms are available? Any insight you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again.

  5. Mario and Rod:
    On Wednesday May 7th two friends of mine (Brian and Darlene Wilmot) will be attending the Tigers vs Red Soxes game. They will be sitting in the 1st row behind the Detroit bullpen. It was an anniversary gift. They celebrated their 3oth wedding anniversary on April 28th. They have a banner that will hanging over the railing saying the last time they were at a Tigers game Mark “the bird” Fidrych was on the mound, August 1976. They also have matching shirts saying the same thing. These are two incredible people in our town of Alpena. Brian has worked over 30 years in the Special education field in our community and is now the Alpena Montmerency Alcona Educational Service District Superintendent. Darlene owns her own company and has started a program that provides swim lessons and tennis lessons to all 2nd and 6th grades in our county at no charge to the families or schools. They are great. To finish the story Darlene gave Brian the tickets, Shirts and the Banner for their anniversary. But that was not all. She found Mark Fidrych’s address and wrote him a wonderful letter about Brian and his family’s journey over the past 30 years. She asked if he could send an autograph for Brian. A week later he sent an autograph photo of the cover of Sports Illustated with him and Big Bird on it. It was signed with Happy 30th anniversary Mark “the Bird” Fidrych – Rookie of the year 1976. This showed me two things what a wonder idea by Darlene and what a great guy to take the time and send the autograph picture. It speaks alot to the fact that alot of great athletes come through Detroit but even more great people. This shows how much the fans mean to these athletes and that Detroit is one of the best sports towns anywhere. In an era of so amny questionable things like steriods and cheating, maybe we should take time to point out things like this to balance the playing field. Thanks for your time and if at all possible give the Wilmot’s and “The Bird” a shout out on Wednesday during the game.

  6. You were talking about Chet Lemon’s nickname during the game tonight. I was wondering what Alan Trammells nickname was during the 84 season. A couple of years ago you mentioned that he had one you couldn’t mention. Since he isn’t the manager any more is that knowledge fair game now

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