“Who woulda thunk it? A kid from Santa Monica getting drafted in the sixth round! What an honor!” exclaimed Rod Allen.
On the other hand, who would have thought that this journeyman ballplayer, who played a total of 31 major-league ballgames, would become a big-time color analyst on television?
If Roderick Bernet Allen’s baseball career had not extended beyond the 15 games he played for the 1984 world champion Detroit Tigers -- he was awarded a World Series ring and full winner’s money share by the team -- that would have been impressive enough. But there’s more, much more, to Allen’s three decades in and around the game.
Allen, born on October 4, 1959, grew up in Santa Monica, California, and was drafted at the age of 17 in 1977 out of Santa Monica High School by the Chicago White Sox. In two weeks, he was on the way to Sarasota, Florida, for Rookie-level ball in the Gulf Coast League, young and scared until he got to know some of his teammates -- and hit .307 for the short season. "You were pretty much on your own. It was a real eye opener. You grew up pretty quickly,” said Allen in a 2007 interview.
In 1978, Allen played outfield on a tremendous Appleton team in the Low-A Midwest League, a club that won 81 games, a league one-season record. Against the stronger competition, Allen batted .243, and was promoted in 1979 to Double-A Knoxville of the Southern League, where he hit .267 with 6 home runs. In 1980, he batted .355 in a short stint at Double-A Glens Falls of the Eastern League, and batted .260 at Triple-A Iowa in the American Association. In 1981, the White Sox kept Allen in Triple A, this time at Edmonton of the Pacific Coast League, where he hit.294, with 11 home runs and 52 RBIs. Then, after five seasons working his way up the White Sox organizational ladder, on December 11, 1981, he was dealt with Todd Cruz and Jim Essian to the Seattle Mariners for Tom Paciorek. Seattle sent him right back to the PCL at Salt Lake City, where he hit .323 with 15 homers and 75 RBIs in 1982.
Along the way, Allen played winter ball -- in Puerto Rico, in Mexico, in the Dominican Republic. “Baseball was how I had to feed myself,” he told his interviewer in 2007.
In 1983, Allen played 81 games at Salt Lake City, hitting .324 with 12 home runs and 69 RBIs, and made it to the majors for 11 games, playing in the outfield and as a designated hitter for Seattle (2-for-12, one run scored). He became a free agent that winter, and signed with the Detroit Tigers. “I didn’t know much about the Tigers,” said Allen.
As Allen told it, “I was performing well” in minor-league spring training. “Word made its way to Sparky [Anderson, Detroit's manager] that there was this kid tearing the cover off the ball.” He was asked to come over to the major league camp. “Once I got there, [Tigers coach] Billy Consolo read off the starting lineup. I was in the lineup!”
Allen expressed the belief that his spring-training performance led directly to a vital piece of the puzzle for the ’84 Tigers. Allen made the Tigers out of spring training; he maintains that “Glenn Wilson was considered to be a stud, but because of my hot start, they were willing to trade him.”
In fact, that trade was instrumental in the Tigers’ 1984 success, since it brought them that year’s American League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young winner. Wilson was traded, along with John Wockenfuss, to the Philadelphia Phillies for reliever Willie Hernandez and first baseman Dave Bergman. Hernandez, of course, went on to win the MVP and Cy Young Award that year, while Bergman was an important contributor to the team as well. So, Allen believed, his spring performance contributed meaningfully to the acquisition of key players for the Tigers’ successful ’84 World Series run.
Allen was with Detroit when the regular season began. He made his Tigers debut on April 5, 1984, when he started at designated hitter, going 1-for-3 (singling off Frank Viola in the fourth inning) and scoring a pair of runs as Detroit beat the Twins 7-3 in Minnesota. “I was there for the 35-5 start; I played in Jack Morris’s no-hitter,” he said. Allen was the starting DH in that game, in which Morris no-hit the White Sox that April 7 at Comiskey Park, the fourth game of the season. He struck out twice and grounded out before being lifted for a pinch-hitter. “But that season was one of pain, too,” Allen said; he was sent down to Triple-A Evansville after playing 15 games. His last game with the Tigers was on May 27, when he pinch-hit and singled off Paul Mirabella in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Mariners in Seattle. For his abbreviated big-league stay, Allen compiled a .296 average in 27 at-bats, with six runs scored, three RBIs, two walks, and a stolen base. Still, Allen took home a ring, plus a bonus. The Tigers “were nice enough to give me a share” of the World Series money.
On April 9, 1985, Allen was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Luis Rosado. After a season with the Orioles’ Triple-A team at Rochester, he was granted free agency on October 15, but was re-signed by Baltimore on January 8, 1986. Then he was released by Baltimore on April 3. He played some summer ball in the Mexican League, but that did not work out. “I was a newlywed, and my wife stayed behind initially in Salt Lake City,” said Allen. Once his wife arrived in Mexico, they quickly decided to move back to Salt Lake City. Not long afterward, Allen received a call from Cleveland, signed with the Indians May 20, and found himself in Double-A ball in Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1986, but moved up quickly to Triple A with the Indians’ Maine Guides team in the International League. The next year, the Indians moved their Triple-A team to Buffalo of the American Association and there Allen hit .302 with 17 home runs and 92 RBIs. In 1988, the Indians moved their Triple-A team again, to Colorado Springs of the Pacific Coast League, and there Allen hit .324 with personal highs of 23 home runs and 100 RBIs.
Allen’s time in the Indians’ organization included a five-game stint in the majors for Cleveland in 1988, He debuted for the Indians on September 10, when he pinch hit and flied out in the ninth inning of a 6-0 loss to the Red Sox in Boston. His last game for Cleveland -- and his last major-league appearance -- was on October 2 in Cleveland's season finale, as they beat the Red Sox 6-5 at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. Allen entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning, hitting a double off Bruce Hurst and eventually scoring a run. He stayed in the game as DH, and had one more at-bat, this time facing Tom Bolton and flying out to end the sixth inning in his last major league at-bat. Allen was released by the Tribe on November 28.
With Allen’s blessing, his contract was sold to the Hiroshima Carp in Japan. “I was finally able to make some money -- I made good money in Japan,” he told his interviewer. However, the opportunity was not without its challenges. “My wife was pregnant with our first child together. I left her behind once again. I made more money than I ever made in my life. But it was a tough adjustment. Americans had to learn to check their ego at the airport. After three years with the same teammates, they still referred to me as `gaijin’ [foreigner] rather than use my name.” Still, Allen had success in Japan, spending three years there. He hit four home runs in four consecutive at-bats, setting a record, and hit two home runs for the Carp in the 1991 Japan Series.
Allen came back to the States, just as Cecil Fielder had done after his stint in Japan. Allen tried out with the Mariners in 1992, but did not make the team.
Between seasons, Allen had given private baseball lessons to young players. This led him to a decision to stay in the game as a coach. John Boles Jr., then the vice president of player development for the Marlins, told Allen he could play in Triple A for years or he could pursue coaching. Allen became a hitting instructor for Florida, and managed in the instructional league. Allen was with the Marlins organization from 1992 to 1995.
Allen’s family had moved to Arizona, and when the Arizona Diamondbacks were awarded a National League franchise, Allen expressed interest in joining the organization. He went to spring training as a hitting instructor, but as the team neared its first game, he took a fateful tour of the stadium’s construction site with the Diamondbacks’ director of broadcasting, Thom Brennaman.
Brennaman walked with Allen around the hole in the ground that was to become Bank One Ballpark (later named Chase Field). They talked baseball the whole time, and then Brennaman shocked Allen by asking him to consider becoming an on-air analyst. “Very few guys that are in my position, as a career minor leaguer, are doing major-league broadcasts. I’d never thought about it. But Brennaman did,” Allen said.
Brennaman arranged for Allen to work some Arizona Fall League games, and Allen did some on-air work with the Giants’ Triple-A club in Tucson as well. Allen also spent time with legendary broadcaster Joe Garagiola, whose son, Joe Jr., was the Diamondbacks’ general manager.
Allen spent five seasons with the Diamondbacks as an analyst for radio and television. He also worked as an analyst for the Fox network’s Saturday regional baseball telecasts and the 1997 National League Division Series between the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros. He worked the Diamondbacks’ radio broadcasts for their 2001 postseason run: the Division Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, the Championship Series win over the Atlanta Braves, and the World Series victory over the New York Yankees.
Allen got his second World Series ring with the Diamondbacks. But he saw a dark cloud on the horizon. “I knew when Mark Grace was done playing, he was going to get my job. So I called [Tigers president Dave] Dombrowski.” (Dombrowski had been his boss with the Marlins.) Soon, Allen was headed to Detroit, and in 2003 he made his debut as color analyst for the Tigers’ FSN Detroit broadcasts, teaming with play-by-play announcer Mario Impemba.
When Allen arrived, the Tigers were struggling, to say the least. But it wasn’t the cold weather or the abysmal team that was the most difficult part of the transition. “The toughest was from a family point of view. I had a son in high school. Not only was the team horrific [a 43-119 season], but it was a tough adjustment as a man with a family,” Allen recalled. But he stuck it out; 2008 was his sixth year with the Tigers.
Allen quickly became beloved by the Detroit faithful for his perceptive opinions and colorful, often humorous commentary. He famously picked the Tigers to win the American League Central crown in 2006 after watching Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya in spring training. The Twins squeaked by to win that title by one game, but the Tigers, claimants of the wild card, went to the World Series.
Allen developed a unique parlance, calling a fastball “cheese”; former Tigers outfielder Craig Monroe “Baby Boy”; Impemba "Padnuh." “Country strong” hitters “elevated” pitches. Great pitches could be “nasty” or “filthy,” while Detroit starter Jeremy Bonderman’s slider earned the nickname “Mr. Snappy” from Allen. A broken bat “died a hero,” and an inside pitch “got in his [the batter’s] kitchen.”
As of 2008, Allen had won two Michigan Emmys for his work. He provided studio and on-location analysis for the Fox network’s postgame coverage during the Tigers World Series run in 2006. And he served as analyst for a Fox Saturday Game of the Week regional telecast on July 22, 2006, when the Tigers lost 9-5 to the Oakland Athletics.
Rod married Adrian in 1985, and they had four children: sons Rod Jr. and Andrew, and daughters Rachel and Rhonda. Rod Jr. was a freshman All-American while at Arizona State, then played minor-league ball in the Yankees and White Sox organizations. Andrew was picked in the 2007 draft by the Diamondbacks in the 43rd round, but he chose not to sign and instead played for the University of Arizona.
Three decades in baseball. Playing in the Japan Series. Two World Series rings. A high-profile broadcasting job. All for this kid from Santa Monica who had just 51 at-bats in the majors. Who woulda thunk it?
Block, Joe. “Major voice learned in minors.” Available from callofthegame.com. Accessed October 27. 2007.
Kirby, Tim. “Announcer Allen Gets Second Emmy.” Available from http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20070619&content_id=2036320&vkey.... Accessed July 11, 2008.
Parker, Rob. “Allen has the gift of foresight.” Detroit News, April 4, 2007.
Vosik, Rick. Interview with Rod Allen, December 26, 2007.