DETROIT -- While the Tigers continue their youth movement on the field, they'll go with a veteran lineup on the microphone that includes familiar faces in the broadcast booth. FOX Sports Detroit will turn to Hall of Famer Jack Morris to team with Kirk Gibson as analysts on Tigers telecasts
DETROIT -- While the Tigers continue their youth movement on the field, they'll go with a veteran lineup on the microphone that includes familiar faces in the broadcast booth. FOX Sports Detroit will turn to Hall of Famer Jack Morris to team with Kirk Gibson as analysts on Tigers telecasts alongside play-by-play man Matt Shepard, whose late-season audition led to the full-time job.
The trio was officially introduced on Tuesday morning along with former Tigers Craig Monroe and Dan Petry, who will serve as pre- and post-game analysts. The network begins its 2019 slate with a Spring Training broadcast on Thursday, March 14, against the Red Sox at Joker Marchant Stadium.
"Tigers baseball has a long, rich history of excellence on the field and in the broadcast booth," FSD general manager Greg Hammaren said in a Tuesday morning conference call introducing the trio. "With our announcement, fans will be treated to an authentic, experienced and fun broadcast. …
"Matt has earned this opportunity and represents the authentic aspect. Jack and Kirk represent the experience and the fun."
Said Shepard: "Our broadcast team, you're going to have a lot of laughs, and you're going to learn a lot. Hopefully fans will enjoy the broadcasts. There's going to be a lot of storytelling."
The trio replaces Mario Impemba and Rod Allen, whose 16-year stretch together made them the second-longest-running TV duo in baseball before a press-box altercation following a September game in Chicago ended their run.
The homecoming for Morris, who has worked with MLB.com the past few years, is far from his first stint on Tigers broadcasts, but it's his first as a regular. He began working on Tigers telecasts in 2003, when he teamed with Frank Beckmann on select over-the-air telecasts in Detroit. He joined the Twins' broadcast team a few years later to stay closer to his Minnesota home, first on the radio side before moving over to FOX Sports North in '13.
Morris, 63, joined FOX Sports Detroit on select telecasts in 2015, splitting his time between the Tigers and Twins over the course of the season. He worked occasionally on Tigers broadcasts the last few years and spent a good share of time around the club last year as part of his Hall of Fame induction. He developed a friendship with Matthew Boyd on the team's Winter Caravan last offseason, and Boyd credited Morris with encouraging the aggressive approach to pitching that helped Boyd emerge as an effective starter.
"I'm excited," Morris said. "I couldn't be happier about where my baseball career has taken me and where it's going to be taking me down the road. For me to be coming back to Detroit, it's special."
While Christin Stewart and Spencer Turnbull made an impression on Tigers fans with late-season auditions on the field, Shepard and Gibson did the same on air, stepping in as the everyday duo following the incident in Chicago. Gibson, a Tigers analyst on FOX Sports Detroit from 1998-2002, returned to the booth in '15 after his run as the D-backs' manager, doing a select number of games while Allen was off or in the studio for pregame and postgame coverage.
"I've known Shep for many years, listening to him," Gibson said. "He's basically born and raised in the Detroit area as I was -- the first thing I noticed is that he's as crazy as I am about his work. Shep is a relentless idea guy. He loves the game, and he has passion, and he cares about the people and the fans."
Though Gibson, 61, revealed his battle with Parkinson's disease that year, he has maintained a regular schedule while maintaining his health. A monthlong stretch of everyday broadcasts posed a challenge down the stretch, but Gibson took the same mentality to the schedule that he did as an everyday player. With Morris in the fold, Gibson is expected to go back to his previous schedule of select series and games.
But as special as the opportunity is for the former Tigers, it may be more so for Shepard, who grew up a Tigers fan in the Detroit area and has been part of the network's coverage for years.
"Matt's roots here in Michigan had a large influence on our decision," Hammaren said. "The fact that he not only knows the fan base, but is the fan base, represented a lot of what we were looking for in our future play-by-play man."
Shepard, 53, became a fixture on the Detroit sports scene long before his Tigers play-by-play turn, doing everything from college football and basketball to Pistons games and Lions preseason broadcasts. He also filled in for Impemba on Tigers telecasts earlier in the season. Add in studio work all over FSD's broadcasts and a morning radio show on WDFN and other stations across Michigan, and Shepard has a well-earned reputation for his tireless work ethic. He has been the radio play-by-play voice of University of Michigan basketball for more than a decade, along with Eastern Michigan University football.
Shepard was honored with the Ty Tyson Award for Excellence in Sports Broadcasting by Detroit Sports Media last summer. He's a two-time Michigan Sportscaster of the Year as selected by the Michigan Sports Broadcasters Association, and a two-time Michigan Sports Emmy Award winner.
The Tigers job is the pinnacle.
"It means everything to me," Shepard said. "This is the greatest honor I've ever had in my broadcasting career, by far. When [FSD executive producer Jeff Byle] offered me the job, we hugged. It was emotional. I cried."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.