End Of An Era, Mike Wilner Gone From Blue Jays Broadcast Team, New Stadium Talk & More

By TSM

I couldn’t believe that Scott Ferguson was not going to be the voice associated with pre-and post-Toronto Blue Jays games when he announced his departure for a short-lived competitor to the Fan 590.

I also couldn’t believe it when the replacement, Mike Wilner for YEARS let it be known that he had never traveled with the team on the road.

I still couldn’t believe it when Wilner took a regular spot in the booth doing play by play.

I can’t believe it today that he won’t be part of the Blue Jays broadcasts moving forward.

There have been iconic names associated with our teams as we have grown up and old(er).

Mike Wilner earned his stripes and was Toronto Blue Jays.

I can’t and won’t try to pretend that I was his biggest fan. We had disagreements publically and via DM on Twitter. So much so that I never thought once of being too tone-deaf of even inviting him on a podcast. However, and, I don’t know if he read this I have always said he earned his stripes, paid his dues and that the Blue Jays would have a hard time finding a more loyal voice than they had in Wilner.

Bob Elliott captured what I have thought and said for years perfectly in a tweet:

By all accounts taking listener calls is the host dilemma. You get to know people are engaged. However, you get to hear who is engaged and more importantly how long they are willing to sit on hold to share their thoughts with you, no matter how far from reality those thoughts may be. For every cab driver Alan there are 100 Moro from Maple. For every one interesting question or comment, there are 1000 idiotic takes or trade ideas.

Wilner did it and for a LONG time.

Wilner developed a reputation for being brash or rude to callers. Maybe not the smartest tactic but wholly hell we all have limits.

Jeff Blair had a really nice tribute on air, equally as complimentary on Twitter:

As did so many, many others.

I bet Mike Wilner NEVER thought he’d be named in the USA Today!

I was able to reach out to Nelson Millman who hired and groomed Mike Wilner for his thoughts on the news:

“I was sorry to hear about Mike’s departure from the Blue Jays broadcasts. I hired Mike because of his passion for baseball and especially for the Blue Jays. When I first met Mike he told me his dream was to be a play-by-play broadcaster for the Jays. I’m glad he got that chance to do that for a couple of years.”

Don Kollins who replaced Millman wrote to me:

“Sad to read the news. There is no one that bleeds Blue Jays more than Mike and those will be some big shoes to fill in the broadcast and as a Blue Jays insider on radio.”

Tributes and well wishes were literally everywhere as they should have been.

Jeff Blair, on his radio show with Richard Deitsch, gave an emotional goodbye to Wilner, recognizing Wilner for the job and dedication he showed over the years. Blair was in the booth with Wilner down in Tampa Bay apparently and was blown away by just how hard the job was and he well Wilner executed. Every time a door closes, one tends to open was the theme of Blair’s emotional commentary.

So, the number one question I got was why and number two was why now.

I don’t know so the following is a mix of thoughts, educated guesses, and observations.

First, while the sports media business is taking it on the chin right now during the pandemic I do not believe this was a cost-cutting move. I have no idea on the exact numbers involved here but I don’t imagine that has anything to do with it. I am told that Wilner will be replaced.

You read here when Rogers hired Chris Cuthbert to join their hockey play by play crew with an eye to mid-week Maple Leaf games that it was the key hire since they took on the NHL rights deal. I don’t believe Maple Leaf or hockey fans received talent commiserate with the size or value of the market. Toronto is one of the top tv/radio markets in North American and deserves the best.

I think that this is the start of that change with the Blue Jays.

Personally, I had no issues with Wilner doing pre and post games. I get that there is a need to promote someone and give an opportunity. It’s not personal. I thought then and do now too that the Blue Jays fans deserve world-class talent on the field and in the booth and I sense that this part of a new day. I’d argue with the Jays, as the only team in Canada the need here is stronger than the Leafs.

Before you start, that is not an intended shot at Mike. As others said, he bleeds (hope present tense) Blue Jays blue. It’s apparent in his work. He worked his ass off to get where he got. Personally, I think the wrong role for the guy, and that’s not a knock or intended as one. That’s just me.

Now, I don’t know what happened here. Did they approach Mike about going back to his old role? Did they think he wouldn’t accept it? I have no idea. Do I think there was anything lingering from the time out he had to take years back? No. Sorry to the 100’s of you who have asked me if this had something to do with that. I don’t think you get to be a play by play guy if that issue is lingering.

I genuinely think this is about making the team better off the field.

Let me say this.

There are very few of us in life who get to realize their dream job. With kids in high school now I laugh when I hear those things we tell little kids that with enough work you can be anything you want. Well, work is definitely part of it, so too is luck. I don’t want to be a downer but there just aren’t too many people who get up and LOVE what they do. To his credit, Mike got it. That, for however long it lasted is admirable and should be celebrated.

Dealing Wilner this fate right now during the pandemic is not right by the way. Someone should have to take sensitivity classes for this brilliant move.

To me, there should be a place for Mike on Jays’ games if he so desired. Maybe one day he will get to come back. Until then I wish him well.

Not sure if you know alternatives, but who would you like to see do color for the Jays on the radio?

Are changes coming on the TV side???

Me thinks that may be the case.

In other news…

Andrew Willis of the Globe and Mail dropped a news bomb yesterday morning in his page one story that Rogers is looking to build a new stadium, contemplating either a waterfront location or demolishing the Dome, replacing with a modern, baseball-only stadium on part of the current footprint with the remaining be filled with condos, green space and I am sure retail.

This set of quite a stir of media attention, which, let’s be honest is badly needed in the world of Corona bad news stories.

The dome which has now been totally vacant for months, and will remain so for the foreseeable future is in serious need of repair.

It’s not that much of a surprise that a bean counter at Jarvis and Bloor suddenly opined that maybe spending 500m on a renovation wasn’t the best use of funds if an entirely new facility could be arranged.

A couple of things worth noting.

One, multiple MLB HQ folks told me this weekend that there is no way MLB would ever allow the Blue Jays to play in a temporary location for however long it may take to build a stadium should the dome be imploded and a new stadium erected on the same site.

Two, building at a different site removes all the pressure related to building delays, etc. If they can arrive at a new location to build the Jays don’t have to play anywhere else during what is supposed to be the new era of competitiveness.

Shi Davidi, a Rogers employee note that not much is going on this front right now from a civic standpoint right now:

“Two of the people I spoke with today insisted that there was nothing new here, that this file has been largely dormant since last fall. A check of the City of Toronto’s lobbyist registry supports that, as there’s been no documented meeting since Oct. 17, 2019, when a staff member for Councillor Joe Cressy, whose ward includes the dome site, spoke with Jodi Parps, Rogers’ manager of government relations, provincial and municipal. That followed a bigger meeting July 10, 2019, that included Cressy, two staff members, Edward Rogers, the RCI chairman, Tony Staffieri, RCI’s chief financial officer, Parps, Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro and Ben Colabrese, the club’s executive vice-president, finance.”

So what’s really going on here?

We talk about this all time, why did this story get leaked now?

Who wanted it out there and why?

I don’t know.

The best part of the story as a sports fan is that the author, Andrew Willis covers Rogers as his day job. So he is well connected. Similarly, he used to work at Brookfield (the property company rumored to be involved in the development). He has a good reputation for veracity and in this case, his sources should be impeccable.

The leaking of this story allowed Rogers to go on the record and say they are not thinking about the dome during the pandemic. So, we can forget any upgrades no matter how long the dome remains vacant. That takes the pressure off.

I think it’s safe to say the blow up the dome build a new stadium where the stadium currently resides is a red herring. I don’t buy it for a second.

Now, did the story got floated to put pressure on a different location?

Maybe.

Is there something else going on?

I think so.

Would Shapiro and others want a new stadium? Of course.

So who leaked the news and why now?

Remember, everyone has a motivation for leaking a story. It shall in time come out the motivation here.

Here’s what puzzles me the most.

Every day there are multiple reports of 1 Blue Jays interest in class A free agents and trades for big salaried stars. The like of which we have not seen in years.

The curious part is that I am told by many close to the action that Shapiro, at this moment in time does not have a budget for the upcoming season.

Why is that?

There appears to be some friction between those responsible for shareholder value and one Edward Rogers. Some believe that the family wants to win badly and recognizes this is the time to strike. The story goes that those with offices on Jarvis are putting up quite a fight.

Is it possible that the likes of super-agent Scott Boras and USA based media members are stroking the appetite of Mr. Rogers to get him to win the battle?

Enquiring minds want to know.

The spectacle of a new stadium is fascinating. Several issues present themselves beyond just the lack of buy-in by the government yet. Even if this was all arranged where would the team play during the 5 years it would take to demolish and replace the dome. To be frank, even with the team on the cusp, if it means getting a new stadium with grass that is fan-friendly I don’t care where they play. Richard Peddie former kingpin of the dome told the OD boys yesterday that “when he built the dome” (right after Al Gore built the internet) it was built to survive a nuclear bomb. Yes, I know he was joking, but the point was it’s not as simple as a few sticks of dynamite. Taking it down would require significant time and money.

This is going to be interesting to watch as the interest around this was deservedly high and I am sure more people are going to be digging.

I know nothing. Here is my bet though, in early 2021 an announcement on a funded feasibility study on building at the Portlands begins and eventually they build on another site and the dome gets repurposed for uses other than baseball.

You should listen to Andrew Willis on Writer’s Block with Blair and Deitsch. It is a really good interview. Willis tells Blair he will be sitting in a new pressbox in 5 years.

We will keep an eye and ear on this as I think it’s going to be fun.

Other things to watch…

Tuesday will be December 1. Mike Tyson fought Saturday night. We have this Jays story. There are NHL issues to cover. The Raptors are about to re-launch. The NFL is on-going. There are a ton of sports stories to cover. Lots of things to talk about. Editors and PD’s should be relieved. If we can get through the next few weeks we will have games again to watch. That could be welcome news.

Speaking of which, The NHL/NHLPA collective bargaining issues have flared up and gone silent.

I am told that there is significant displeasure in the commissioner’s office in that he had to reneg on a deal where the ink was not yet dry. Not a good look nor something that he takes lightly.

If you didn’t hate the Bruins before, perhaps you now have even more reason, or so the story goes.

I am a big believer that they all need the money and ascribe to the 100% of 0 is 0 theory and they will figure it out but it’s not good.

One rumor circulating is that the current market for new TV money in the USA is not what Bettman had believed and Jacobs and Co. are looking for savings now while they can.

Black Friday came and went. The Athletic is available for $12 for the year. If the Globe and Star offered that would you sign up? I would. If they joined forces and created an all you can eat model with the other papers I would pay for that too.

There were more cuts at Rogers and other media outlets this week.

With the exception of Burlington Vermont, I have never called a small town my home. So I can’t say for sure, but at least one of the reasons people live in small towns is to avoid the big cities.

However, earlier this week, the KiSS morning radio show programs in North Bay, Timmins, and the Sault, listeners learned, will be replaced with the Roz and Mocha show based in Toronto. With more changes to be announced soon.

The pandemic was blamed, for the changes:

“We are modernizing our business to position us for growth as we face the continued effects of a seismic shift in the media industry from traditional to digital and the challenges of the global pandemic,” Rogers spokesperson Andrea Goldstein said.

“These changes allow us to prioritize our focus in areas where we have the assets and capabilities to deliver best-in-class multi-platform experiences. Decisions like this are never easy, particularly as they are not a reflection of the enormous talent, dedication, and passion displayed by the team members leaving the company.”

Ouch…

if you are driving around these Saturdays tune into Jim Tatti and Perry Lefko on TSN radio. A couple of older gents talking sports on a Saturday afternoon. Not the worst idea ever.

Listen on all your favorite podcasts or listening services..

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