Meet Jason Benetti, the New Voice of the Tigers

Before the season started, Detroit was one up on Chicago, with Jason Benetti now calling games for our home team.
Jason Benetti poses in his new home turf — Comerica Park. Last November, the longtime Chicago White Sox TV play-by-play announcer announced his new role, calling games for the Detroit Tigers. // Photograph courtesy of the Detroit Tigers

At first glance, you might think: accountant. Perhaps an attorney — he does hold a law degree. Maybe even a physician, with a unique specialty.

But when Jason Benetti opens his mouth and speaks, almost every sports fan in America can make a positive ID. One of the most recognizable voices in contemporary sports broadcasting, Benetti has worked for ESPN; currently calls college football, basketball, MLB, and NFL games for Fox Sports; and for eight years was the TV play-by-play announcer for his beloved Chicago White Sox.

Until now. This spring, Benetti enters the booth as the TV voice for our beloved Detroit Tigers — yet another victory over our bitter division rivals — replacing hometown talent Matt Shepard. The Chicago Sun-Times ranked Benetti’s departure as Chicago’s No. 1 sports media story of 2023.

Take that, Second City.

“Jason is a world-class talent,” said a beaming Ryan Gustafson, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Ilitch Sports and Entertainment, upon announcing his hiring last November. “We are thrilled to welcome him to our family.”

But the burning question is, Why did he leave his family? A native of suburban Homewood, Illinois, Benetti was raised by die-hard White Sox parents and became a scion of the South Side. Landing the Sox TV gig, replacing a Chicago legend in Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, would seem to be the ultimate career achievement, an impossible dream come true.

So, Jason … why are you here?

Benetti’s instantly recongizable voice can also be heard calling college football, basketball, and NFL games for Fox Sports. // Photograph courtesy of the Detroit Tigers

“The reason I did it is because of the people here,” he says earnestly, seated in a boardroom at Little Caesars Arena, Comerica Park peering over his shoulder through the window behind him. “During the interview process, you learn a lot about people and what they value through the questions they ask. And what the Tigers value is humanity, the full scale of who I am.

“Empathy is important to them. How do I fit with the group, and how can we build something that is outstanding TV production? It sounded like they wanted me, someone who cares about baseball but also really likes to have a good time. So I’m here because of that, and also because of [Tigers manager] A.J. Hinch, who I revere, and [team president] Scott Harris, who is one of the most inquisitive people I’ve ever met.”

It was widely reported that a rift between Benetti and a White Sox executive caused by an incident in which Benetti felt disrespected may have hastened his departure.

“… What the Tigers value is humanity, the full scale of who I am.” – Jason Benetti

“A lot has been written about that,” Benetti acknowledges. “Much of the stuff people talked about happened after the 2022 season, and I stayed another year after that. And if the Tigers weren’t who they are, I wouldn’t have left. I was planning to be the voice of the White Sox for a long time. But then this came open.”

Benetti, an Illinois native, attended high school in a Chicago suburb. Born 10 weeks premature and hospitalized his first three months, he received a cerebral palsy diagnosis as a toddler and underwent years of physical therapy. To this day, his right eye tends to drift off on its own occasionally and he walks with a discernible hitch.

“I don’t really have physical limitations; it just doesn’t look great when I walk,” he says. “I’m fine. I have no chronic pain, which is a total blessing, and I handle stairs. I’m not as fast as other people, but if I need to get across the street when that little orange hand gets to seven, I’m going! I’m stubborn as hell.”

No lie. It was stubbornness that led him to play tuba in his high school marching band, until the band director suggested he might be better suited to announcing their routines from the press box. It prompted him to attend Syracuse University, a school renowned for its broadcasting program, even though he had never visited the campus. And it motivated him to earn a Juris Doctor from the Wake Forest University School of Law.

The Illinois native says he joined the Tigers “because of the people here.” Pictured: Outfielder Riley Greene. // Photograph by Allison Farran, courtesy of the Detroit Tigers

“I signed up for the bar, then I got the White Sox job,” he recalls. “I never really wanted to be an attorney, mostly because I’m not that fond of paperwork. But I’m glad I took the courses because it’s helped me in reading rule books, asking questions, and learning that even if you say something as correctly as you intended, sometimes the audience is going to mishear.”

Benetti has become an informal spokesperson for cerebral palsy, collaborating with the Cerebral Palsy Foundation in New York to star in a series of animated shorts called Awkward Moments, taking a lighthearted look at the uncomfortable situations people with disabilities often face. “They’re all things that have actually happened,” he says.

“One of my favorite parts of what I do for a living is that some people hold me as a version of hope, sometimes for their kids. Since I didn’t have that as a kid, I appreciate that and cherish it. But I’m very cognizant that not everybody with CP is as physically fortunate as I am, so I’m a little bit leery of being a capital-A advocate for everyone. I want people to be able to live their own lives, but if you do derive some hope from me, phenomenal.”

His advocacy work makes his relentless schedule of travel, game preparation, and play-by-play even more remarkable, and Benetti plans to maintain his national profile. He’s committed to call at least 127 Tigers games when not covering other sports; Dan Dickerson, Detroit’s longtime radio voice, will shift to TV when he’s away.

Beyond his White Sox coverage, Benetti may be best known nationally for the zany, trippy college basketball games he calls with Bill Walton as his color analyst. In Detroit, his rotating booth partners will include Kirk Gibson.

“Gibby and I have had dinner and chatted on the phone,” he says. “The way he loves nature and looks at humanity gives me a Bill Walton vibe. I want them to be friends. They don’t know each other, but on a human level they need to. It’s my crusade to make that happen.”

This story originally appeared in the April 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. To read more, pick up a copy of Hour Detroit at a local retail outlet. Our digital edition will be available on April 5.