Fox Sports Detroit doing ‘Players Only’ broadcast for 17 Tigers games

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Tigers games on Fox Sports Detroit were, for many, many years, called by Mario Impemba and Rod Allen. As you may recall, both were fired last year after a long-simmering personality conflict turned into — allegedly — a physical altercation of some sort about which everyone has stopped talking, probably due to healthy severance packages and non-disclosure agreements.

This year Fox Sports Detroit promoted backup play-by-play guy Matt Shepard to join a mix-and-max combo of analyst Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris, depending on the day (all three were in the booth for the home opener last week). This morning we learn that, starting with tomorrow’s game, and repeating 16 more times this season, Tigers games will be called in a “Players Only” format, with nothing but ex-Tigers on the mic. And on the phone.

According to Fox Sports Detroit,  Jack Morris, Kirk Gibson, Craig Monroe, Dan Petry and “special guests,” who will be calling in via video conference. No, I am not making that up:

Special guests will join the broadcast through the Video Call Center (VCC).

“With this technology, we can check in with guys from all over the world and we plan to do just that,” said Gibson, who used the VCC during the 2018 Opening Day broadcast from Los Angeles.

The VCC enables broadcasts to leverage the world’s billions of smartphones to enhance their coverage, with two-way video calls from any location, using any device. FOX Sports Detroit will be utilizing these patented technologies and services to bring in acclaimed former players, who will engage in rapid back-and-forth dialogue and even play-by-play commentary, enabled by VCC’s hyper-low-latency-return video feed.

“These broadcasts are going to be a lot of fun,” said Monroe, who played for the Tigers from 2002-07. “We’ll have a chance to share even more analysis and stories from our playing days. Viewers will truly feel like they are watching the game with us and part of our team.”

My favorite part of this is the “. . . and even play-by-play commentary,” bit, which makes the play-by-play sound like something which we may, if we’re lucky, get a bit of. It’s an admission that paying attention to the actual game at hand is going to take a back seat to banter and war stories from ex-players, none of whom are particularly invested in calling the game because it’s not their job. Even the GM of the network talks in the press release about “the conversation” these guys are going to have as opposed to couching it in terms of a them calling a game for the benefit of fans.

Which makes me think that, in essence, Fox Sports Detroit is recreating the ballpark experience in which four bros in the row in front of you get a text from bro five who is elsewhere in the park, he comes over, squats in the aisle and they all start talking about when they were back in college. Just substitute “that time Chad passed out while doing a keg stand” with “that time Dave Rozema came back to the Marriott with all of those Eastern Airline stewardesses during the road trip to Baltimore.” As Morris, ever the enlightened one, condescendingly says that “the P.C. term is now ‘flight attendants'” viewers will be wondering who the new pitcher is. It’ll be epic.

OK, I exaggerate. I presume that there will be some seriously stressed and aggravated producers helping guide this a bit more than that — and I imagine Gibson can only take so much in the way of shenanigans that he’ll at least attempt to restore order at some point — but I fear the worst here. At the most basic level, the idea that ex-ballplayers are, without question, the best people to analyze the game was dubious to begin with, but the notion that they are also the best ones to call the play-by-play is beyond idiotic. Putting four or more of them on the broadcast at a time with the intention of engaging in “conversation” makes a bug of multi-person booths — too much non-game chatter — a feature. I cannot see how on Earth it will work.

If you’re a Tigers fan and you watch the game on your laptop or mobile device, I highly recommend using the “radio overlay” feature for these 17 contests. As I’ve noted in the recaps a couple of times this year already, the radio guys do it way, way better anyway.