Interview: Tigers TV color commentator Rod Allen

Rod Allen has had a very varied 30 year career in professional baseball. His current gig is as the color commentator for Tigers broadcasts on FSN alongside Mario Impemba.

The 2007 season will mark Allen’s 5th season in Detroit. While he, along with pretty much everyone associated with the Detroit Tigers, toiled in relative obscurity the first few years, his calls during the 2006 season are now part of Tiger lore. The very genuine “CRAIG DID IT AGAIN” call after Monroe’s 9th inning homer in Yankee Stadium captured the emotion and excitement that all Tiger fans were experiencing at that time.

Rod was kind enough to do an interview with me over the phone. We talk about the 2006 and 2007 Tigers, Allen’s career, and I ask him “Who’s your Tiger?”


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DTW: This year will mark your 30th year in professional baseball since you were drafted in 1977. You were a part of a World Series champ as a player, and you were also a broadcaster when the D-backs won it all. Where does 2006 rank for you in terms of special seasons?
Rod Allen: Probably 2nd. As a player in 84 that was pretty special because I made the team out of spring training. So that’s always going to be number 1. But I didn’t play that much in 84. I was sent down to the minor leagues part way through. But they still gave me a World Series ring, they still gave me a share. But I really wasn’t able to share in all the champagne celebrations and what not because I wasn’t in uniform at the end of the year. But it’s special anytime you get around a group of guys and you’re able to accomplish a goal of winning a world championship.

But I’d have to say 2nd to that was last year because it came out of nowhere – even though I predicted at the beginning of the year that we’d be a championship caliber team. No one else really believed it. Just to watch that team and everything come together, to watch the excitement of the Detroit fans and the whole history of the team probably made it a little more special than Arizona.

Arizona was just so new. They really didn’t even know they had a baseball team, and I mean that jokingly. But there’s 100 years of baseball tradition in Detroit. And they’d had so many losing seasons, but just to see so all the people come out last year was amazing.

DTW: Last year you went out on a limb on Opening Day and predicted the Tigers would win the Central – and you were darn close to being right. What are your thoughts for this year, or are there certain things you need to see first in spring training?
Rod Allen: I probably won’t go out on a limb and saying anything like that. But I will say that I think the Tigers have the best offensive ball club in baseball. They don’t have guys that walk a lot as far as on base percentage is concerned. But they added Casey for the entire year and Sheffield for the entire year and I think both of their on base percentages are close to .400, which is outstanding. And you added on a career .300 hitter to the middle of the lineup. It’s going to be a dangerous lineup.

Everybody would probably say the Yankees have the best offensive team, but I think the Tigers have the best offensive team. I really do. And I think they’re going to put up some huge numbers offensively.

DTW: That’s interesting because the Tigers strength is typically cited as their pitching. What do you see from them in 2006?
Rod Allen: Well they’ve got some of the best pitching in baseball as well. A lot of people are worried about Verlander and the innings he logged last year. Zumaya had a little bit of a wrist thing going on at the end of the year. People wonder if Rogers can duplicate what he did last year. But I think pitching is their strong suit. They’ve got some more youngsters coming too.

As long as they stay healthy I’ think they’ll be the class of the division again. With that being said with their offense and pitching staff they have a pretty good chance of once again playing meaningful games at the end of the year.

DTW: Do you see the wild card coming out of the Central or will it be heading back to the East?
Rod Allen: It’ll probably go back to the East this year, I really do. But there are still some good teams in the Central. The White Sox won 90 games last year.

The Twins, I’m not really sold on them even though they play hard every year. Ron Gardenhire their manager and Terry Ryan their general manager do a marvelous job. They always seem to pick the right people. But I just don’t think they’re in the same class the Tigers are – even though they won the division last year. On paper I don’t like that team nearly as much as I like the Detroit’s team.

DTW: Speaking of the wild card heading back to the East, the Red Sox added Daisuke Matsuzaka from Japan. Having played for 3 years in Japan, you’re very familiar with Japanese baseball. What kinds of things are you hearing about Matsuzaka? What are you expecting from him? Did you ever face a gyroball?
Rod Allen: No one was throwing the gyroball while I was there, but they had a pitch they called the Shooto which was where right-handers could make a ball run in on the right-handed batter hand – almost like a screwball type pitch. They threw a lot of those.

When I played over there, there were probably only 2 or 3 guys who could have come over to the States and play and compete. Since then there have been so many that have come over, that either they’re getting better or we’re not as good, or dominant, as we used to be as players.

As far as Daisuke, I don’t know that much about him. I’ve heard he’s got a very good arm and control of 4 pitches. But it remains to be seen until he gets into Boston and appears in Yankee Stadium under that kind of microscope.

DTW: You were working for the Diamondbacks and living in Arizona (where you still live). What is it that made you want to come to Detroit, and after (or during) that 2003 season were you second guessing your decision?
Rod Allen: I second guessed my decision as soon as I made it to be honest with you. The reason why I did is because so many people in Detroit while I was doing my introductory interviews asked me that same question, probably 5 or 6 times. People asked me why would you want to leave the weather, and your home, and a winning team to come to Detroit? I started to wonder myself why all of you in Detroit are there, but you’re asking me why I’d come there.

But also it was a decision I needed to make. If I was going to grow as a television analyst I had to do it someplace else because the job was promised to Mark Grace when he signed as a free agent 3 years before that. When they brought him over from the Cubs they promised that when he was done playing, he’d be the television analyst. It didn’t matter how well I did or how poor I did, that after that season I was going to need to find another job – either doing radio locally or television someplace else.

And then everything started to come together in Detroit. The whole 84 thing with Trammell and Parrish, and then Gibson moving downstairs. I knew Dombrowski from my prior days as a player and a coach in 2 organizations where he had been. It just seemed like a nice fit. But it didn’t hit me that I was leaving Arizona until I was offered the job. It was an extremely tough adjustment.

DTW: Your baseball career is pretty varied, with a solid minor league career, time in the Majors, playing in Japan, a coach, and now a broadcaster. Is the booth your final baseball destination or would you like to get back on the field or perhaps work in the front office?
Rod Allen: I would probably go down on the field before the front office. You know, I’d like to manage at some point in time. There have been some announcers that have left the broadcast booth and gone downstairs and been very, very successful. But the one thing I continue to fight is that I don’t have a lot of name recognition as a guy who played a long time in the big leagues. I think that hurts me from time to time in doing National gigs because a lot of times in this profession the bigger the name the more people they think are going to watch.

I think sometimes if you don’t have a huge name you’re going to get passed over by guys who have bigger names than you do. That doesn’t mean they’re better, just that they have a bigger name and that’s the appeal to the networks here in the United States. I know I’ve run into that already on several occasions. But even given that I’m still extremely grateful for the opportunity that’s been given to a guy like myself, without the big name recognition, to be able to broadcast games in Detroit on television is a tremendous honor.

But that’s no reason to quit. I know I’m a good announcer. I know I’m good at what I do and I’ll continue to wait my turn. But I think that’s what’s hurting me from getting a managers job is the fact there isn’t a lot of big league name recognition associated with the name Rod Allen as there has been with Larry Dierker, or Bob Brenly, or Jeff Torborg, or Joe Torre. These guys have done the exact same thing that I’m doing but they have been given opportunities to manage. If it happens great, I’d welcome an opportunity like that at some point in time, but I don’t really ever expect that to happen.

DTW: What is a typical work day like? What types of research do you do, what is your routine when you get to the park?
Rod Allen: It really starts a couple days prior for me. Say we have the Minnesota Twins coming to town. I might get on their website a couple days prior and start to read some of the clips coming out of Minnesota. I may go back to MLB.com and watch the opposing pitcher’s last start so I have a pretty good idea what he’s doing in certain situations. I can do that from home or my hotel room.

If you’re playing a team on that particular day you’ll pick up the newspaper and read all about that team and research on the internet to see if there are any questions you might have.

When you get to the ballpark about 4:00 that’s when you start asking question to some of the things that you read so you can validate it. You don’t want to say things with out validating them. So you find out what the truth is to some of the things you’re reading.

Then you go from there. That’s just the information you compile. If you have a good game, obviously it takes precedence over any of that information you’ve compiled. But if you have a bad game – and you have a lot of bad games over a 162 game schedule – that’s when you go to some of the information that may be interesting for your listeners to hear.

DTW: As a former player, and someone who has been with the club, and been around the players on a daily basis for the last 4 years, just how much of a difference did Jim Leyland make? Or did he benefit from better health and better talent?
Rod Allen: I think he was the absolute difference maker – without question. It was one of the most spectacular managerial jobs I have ever seen. For him to take that team with a losing attitude and losing culture, and not only the team but he changed the culture for the state, for the city, and for all Tigers fans. It was an unbelievable job done by a magnificent manager.

No disrespect to Alan Trammell, but he had never managed before and it’s a tough job to do. It goes back to what I was saying about myself, that would be like me getting an opportunity to go downstairs and manage. Although, I do manage upstairs pretty much all the time. I do a lot of first-guessing, I know what’s going on. You surround yourself with good people, and you allow the good people to work, and you kind of do your job.

Without question Jim Leyland was the difference maker in that team’s run to the World Series last year.

DTW: Finally, the question that everyone in Detroit has an answer to: Who’s your Tiger?
Rod Allen: You know, I really don’t have a Tiger, but if I were to name one I’d say Pudge Rodriguez. For just the type of energy that he plays with every single day, To play that position at age 35, 13 time All Star, 12 time Gold Glover, he’s won an MVP. He’s going to go down as one of the two best catchers in the history of the game, whether you like him or Johnny Bench. Most old guys like Bench, most young guys like Rodriguez.

For a guy of that stature, 5’ 9” to dominate at that position, to dominate a game, to shut down running games. A couple years ago when no one else would come to Detroit, people said “he came for the money.” Well of course he came for the money, no kidding. Most guys go for the money. But as soon as he put that uniform on, the team was back on the map once again.

He’s my guy. He’s the guy I enjoy watching on a day-to-day basis. He’s the guy who takes all the heat in the organization. He’s just a bona fide superstar. For him to stop by Detroit for the last 5-6 years of his career (if he stays that long) Detroit fans should be absolutely elated. Any time you have Al Kaline saying it’s the best free agent signing the Tigers have ever had, there’s some truth to it.

DTW: I have to agree with you on Rodriguez as the best catcher of all time, and what I think differentiates him is his baserunning. He’s a 35 year old catcher and he was the best baserunner on the team.
Rod Allen: And he maybe the fastest as well. He’s a dedicated player. He gets rubbed the wrong way because he’s a superstar and everybody wants his time and everybody wants a piece of him. And sometimes if everybody doesn’t get a piece of him, that’s when the media starts to write negative things about you. I’ve been around a lot of superstars. I’ve been around Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. Guess what, they all act the same way. It’s something about those guys that makes those guys as good as they are. And maybe it’s that edginess and their unpredictability and that they just don’t give you everything you want.

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I’d like to thank Rod Allen for taking the time to chat with me. When I was preparing for the interview, I noticed that Allen’s page at Baseball Reference hadn’t been sponsored yet. That spot is vacant no more and now Detroit Tigers Weblog is the sponsor of Rod Allen at Baseball-Reference.com.

21 Comments

  1. pfife

    February 27, 2007 at 8:36 am

    good read, thanks. I think Rod is a superb announcer.

  2. Kyle J

    February 27, 2007 at 8:47 am

    Great interview. Interesting to read about how he prepares for games.

    Rod had himself a pretty decent minor league career. .291 BA. 121 HRs. Seems like he should had a better shot at sticking in the big leagues.

    http://www.thebaseballcube.com.....llen.shtml

  3. Chris Y.

    February 27, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    Awesome.

    Rod has become a great announcer and makes watching the Tigers that much more enjoyable. Here’s hoping he’s sticks around for a long time.

  4. Chris Y.

    February 27, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    I know Joey C. posted this last year, but considering this interview:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_Allen

  5. Rob

    February 27, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    Rod needs to check up on those stats a little more:

    But they added Casey for the entire year and Sheffield for the entire year and I think both of their on base percentages are close to .400, which is outstanding.

    Ummm, yeah. Casey’s OBP in Detroit was .286 last year. That’s like calling Neifi Perez a guy that hit 40 HRs last year. Sure, Casey used to get on base a lot (.399 in 1999 and .385 in 2000), but he’s only been above .350 twice in the last 5 seasons and is steadily declining across the board offensively.

  6. Matt W.

    February 27, 2007 at 9:28 pm

    Nicely done, that was a great interview.

  7. Walewander

    February 28, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    I’m very worried about Pudge. He looked lost at the plate a lot last season.

  8. Joey C.

    February 28, 2007 at 6:37 pm

    Rod is the best! Can’t wait to watch him work his magic again this season.

  9. Jojo SunDevil

    March 1, 2007 at 2:26 am

    PUDGE!!!! For the longest time, I have said that Bonderman is my Tiger. He was on that time that was horrible and lost 19 games and he fought through all the difficult times, and rather fade like other young pitchers, the adversity only made him better. It was shown in the playoffs when he shut down the Yankess in Game 4 with his icy cold stare and 5 and two thirds perfect innings, as the Yankees all look befuddled.

    But Pudge is Pudge. He is the free agent that came over here, and if it weren’t for him, there is no way that the Tigers could have gotten this good. His free agent signing validating the Tigers as a legitimate baseball presence and it paved the way for more free agent signings.

    But above all the job he has done with the pitching staff is just unbeleivable. It is not Chuck Hernandez, Pudge is the putching coach. He has taught those young pitchers how to pitch to win. And he is the best asset a young pitching staff could have.

    Then on top of that, he is arguably the best defensive catcher ever. Sigining him was the best signing that the Tigers could have done.

    But Bonderman is still awesome.

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  11. ripismoney

    March 3, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    This was a great interview — nice work! Rod Allen adds a nice dynamic to the booth whenever he’s the analyst, and I look forward to more of him, Mario Impemba, and the Tigers this summer.

  12. Mark P.

    April 27, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    Check out this video of Rod Allen during his playing days in Japan. Classic!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aw8iF9Zxaz0

  13. Bix

    April 27, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    Mark P – I saw that linked in Simmons’ article last week. One of, if not THE, funniest thing I’ve ever seen. The look of sheer terror on the pitcher is AWESOME. :)

  14. Len K.

    May 16, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    Rod Allen seems like a nice enough guy. I just wish he’d drop the cliches and repetitive explatives ie. “special,” “huge,” “make no mistake about it” etc. Also, why is it that all announcers think they have to talk all the time. Isn’t the game good enough to carry itself a little?

  15. Anne

    May 16, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    That’s why Ernie Harwell was such a master. He wasn’t afraid to let a little silence build yet never let it become awkward.

  16. Rob Flores

    June 18, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    Hey Mario and Rod, Ive seen a lot batters wear a thum/index finger brace or grip. Can you tell me what that is and how it works.

    PS. Awesome game you both called for Justin V.

  17. james von tobel

    June 19, 2007 at 8:30 pm

    Rod Allen uses superlatives far too often and sometimes comes across as though he were part of the public realtions department of the Detroit Tigers. “They will be slow to try to steal on Pudge for sure” (at a time when Pudge had failed to throw out 22 of 24 runners). “For me Guillen is the best shortstop in the AL(look up his errors last year, consider his range,12 errors so far this year)..I’m glad we have him…but “the best”?.cut down on words of”awe”, fantastic, unbelievable etc.
    A little more critical sense is part of being a good color man.

  18. Barbara Gabrick

    August 22, 2007 at 11:38 pm

    Please mention a long time fan of over 50 years who passed away August 30,2006. She never missed a game whether it be on T.V. or listening on her Radio. Marcy Velting was always true to the Tigers no matter what, she waited for the season to start and never gave up on them ever. It was so sad that she passed away the year they came back to prove there ability as the great team she always knew they were. Thank you so much, this will mean a lot to her family. Go Tigers!! We love all of you, (Mario & Rod too),and we know you can go all the way this year.

  19. tracy matlock

    February 6, 2008 at 11:48 am

    hello rod

    back last summer, the final series with the indians and us tigers, while in clevland. my dad had the honor of finally meeting you at the hotel pub, you both sat there and chatted for a while about all passed teams and the city. He never made it a secret of the admiration he had for you and the tigers.

    saddly on christmas morning my dad suddenly passed away. it hurts more knowing how excited he was this year for the tigers. as a youngster growing up in the city of detroit, opening day was my dads christmas and birthday all in one.

    he was fortunate enough to get to know jim and todd jones on a personal matter. In his honour, my family and the grandchildren will be attending opening day. im sure you can recall that meeting you had with him. His personality and demenor is far from forgettable.

    rod, again i would like to thank you for that little time you shared with my dad. it made him very happy

  20. Sandy Servalish

    June 30, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    Hi Rod:I am a 70 yr. old grandmother from Westland. I have never written a note to anyone before but you said something on the TV about 3 games ago that made me jump from the chair, I was so surprised you said it. I remember the Tigers had a man on 1st and 3rd and you said to the “batter” – come on, DUCKS IN THE POND bring em’ home……..My father used that expression many many years ago when I was a kid and I never heard it from anyone…….and when my husband & I watch the Grandson’s play baseball -I’m always yelling Ducks in the Pond and everyone looks at me like I’m crazy including my Daughter in Law who said -”where in the world did you ever hear that expression -what does it mean?” -you just gave me a good laugh and brought back some wonderful memories of my Dad. Thanx Rod for some very plain & simple but wonderful memories.
    Mrs. Sandy Servalish – Westland, MI

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    July 16, 2008 at 5:23 am

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