End Of An Era, Mike Wilner Gone From Blue Jays Broadcast Team, New Stadium Talk & MoreMike Wilner No Longer Part Of Jays Radio, Word Of A New Stadium & More

<span class="entry-title-primary">End Of An Era, Mike Wilner Gone From Blue Jays Broadcast Team, New Stadium Talk & More</span> <span class="entry-subtitle">Mike Wilner No Longer Part Of Jays Radio, Word Of A New Stadium & More</span>

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..

COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 21
  • comment-avatar

    I predict they put Scotty Mac in a more prominent role as he used to kill it on TSN with his Blue Jays coverage. IMO, he’s not being maximized at Sportsnet.

    I also agree that building on the current property has a lot of challenges. Blair was saying there’s enough space to build beside it. I’m not so sure, even less so when you mention what it will take to tear down the current building.

    Great article.

  • comment-avatar

    There’s so many possible, fantasised, and even actually proposed projects in that direct area which would benefit greatly from the Skydome land being opened up. Every big real estate developer and land owner, including the big pension investors like Teachers and OMERS would love Skydome gone and that land opened up. There is both the Rail Deck park proposal. and the proposal to demolish and redevelop the Toronto Convention Centre site next door, both of which involve adding massive amounts of office and residential space. Even Metrolinx is out there on the government side wanting back the slice of the rail corridor taken when the Skydome was built. Anyone out there in the investment, real estate, construction industry and the government have big interests in kicking this forward sooner rather than later.
    I think it likely this “tip” came from that side and not the baseball side.

  • comment-avatar

    Re Wilner being fired –
    Has anybody seriously given any thought to the fact that over the years
    he stepped on a lot of toes was simply too abrasive/egotistical and in ‘the booth’ was just not very good? I for one will not miss him in the least –

  • comment-avatar
    JB in NT4 months ago

    Worth noting that Mike Wilner made no mention of Ben Wagner in his statement, and Wagner offered faint praise and linked to a Sportsnet statement. Hmmm.

    I feel badly for Mike and I hope he negotiated a fair exit package.

    His love for the Blue Jays was well-established. Unfortunately, he developed an unwillingness to accept any criticism of the team or its management — much like a religious zealot or political partisan. And we all, eventually, tune them out.

  • comment-avatar

    That last quote by Andrea Goldstein drives me nuts. Marketing-speak is what we always read after layoffs. Just robotic words.

  • comment-avatar
    Drumanchor4 months ago

    Very good column, Jonas as there lots and lots to digest here. However, the two main points from Friday continue to be:

    1) Wilner: Regardless of the plethora of ridiculous questions he had to deal with on his postgame show, his never-ending vain smugness and arrogance were a major turnoff. McCown also did it for years but never came across anywhere near as badly as Wilner. The way people talk about him, you’d think he was the only person to every have to deal with dumb callers. Every major or minor market in North America likely has similar shows. There is a way to do it correctly and a way not to do it. He chose the latter. Add to that his over-the-top homerism and I think the decision is sound.

    2) Rogers Centre: Did you know that when you drive by on the Gardner that you see the name Rogers in 5 separate places? Huge red letters, of course. Why, isn’t there a statute of Ted Rogers outside? Of course there is. Meaning, everything about Rogers is about Rogers. More precisely, the shareholders, profits and bonuses. I don’t think they are going to spend one dime demolishing the dome to build a new park.

    Talk is cheap and what this is proposing is anything but. Like you, I don’t necessarily buy any of it.

  • comment-avatar

    MontfromLondonOnt, JB in NT, TomB and Drumanchor have all summarized very nicely the truth about Wilner.

    The crocodile tears being expressed by so many on social media sites now, are a bit much. To his credit, he never changed and stood by his persona, however it was not appreciated by many.

  • comment-avatar
    Anonymous4 months ago

    Guy was a jerk, when he was a call in host all he did was insult his audience. Was wrong half the time too, I remember a caller telling him BJ Ryan should be released, after a 5 minute berating of the caller and a defense of BJ the show ended and the news came on telling the world that the Blue Jays had released BJ Ryan. Just one of many stupid takes, he actually told a caller Jose Bautista will never hit 50 home runs when he had 40 something already. My guess is he was fired because he told the wrong person to F off.

  • comment-avatar

    A fair and balanced article. What changes do you anticipate on the Tv side?

  • comment-avatar

    Mike’s rude, condescending act as postgame host sure wore thin on me in a hurry, and I could never take him seriously as a supposedly pleasant play-by-play guy. Also, when it comes to Jays talents in the latter regard, he’s not even top 5 – Shulman, Buck, Campbell, Wagner, Siddall all shine brighter, then throw in other potential talent like Scotty Mac, Arash, Barker and Hazel. The market is better served without him.

  • comment-avatar

    Correction…Should have said that I also agreed with TomB’s take on the Rogers radio programming changes.

  • comment-avatar

    Great post.

    I know Mike wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I really enjoyed him. He’s so passionate about the Blue Jays, knows so much about the team, and such a big personality. Jays Talk was must listen for me at times – he could be grating but it was funny, entertaining and (in my opinion) great radio. I also met Mike in person once and he was an extremely nice guy. I completely agree with you TSM – if they wanted to upgrade at play by play, OK. But at least leave him as the third man in the booth. To kick him off entirely seems really unnecessary.

    I understand that things change, and as talent gets older, sometimes they need to be replaced with a fresh voice. But I think one of the big problems at 590 these days is that they don’t seem to be developing young talent (I guess there’s JD Bunkis who I don’t enjoy listening to). So when The Fan lets go of guys like McCown and Wilner, there doesn’t seem to be any new, compelling voices taking their place. With every layoff and firing, the station just keeps losing personality and people who compel you to listen.

  • comment-avatar

    Very interesting nuggets on the Jays. With all the rumours about free agents, and now rumours of a new stadium, it’s all fascinating to think about. Great point to wonder why these things are being leaked. Personally, as long as it’s not using public money, I’d love a new stadium. Skydome is adequate, but I think it would be amazing if Toronto had a jewel of a ballpark.
    One other point – days like yesterday show the value of having a show like Writer’s Bloc (or Prime Time Sports). I think Blair and Brunt really nailed talking about the story and what it all means in a broader context. I listened to Overdrive’s take on it, it was a pretty surface level chat, and I didn’t learn much. No knock on them, I think that’s just not their wheelhouse. It’s good to have shows with different approaches.

  • comment-avatar

    I wrote about what changes the new regime at Sportsnet might make in this post back in February:

    https://torontosportsmedia.com/2020/02/17/is-it-time-to-rebuild-blue-jays-broadcasts/

    It’s interesting to read the comments in light of this news. I’ll have more to say about this topic later but for right now it’s worth noting just how well liked Mike Wilner was by so many of his colleagues.

  • comment-avatar

    Does this radio booth analyst role feel like Pat Tabler’s role to take? If Dan’s gonna move to doing more and more games, Pat’s probably gonna need a new role.

  • comment-avatar
    Original Mitch4 months ago

    Like it’s been said, Mike wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea but other than Jewish holidays, he never seemed to miss a shift, which at a place like the Fan, is what’s most important. I hated his on-air persona and have never understood taking that approach with callers. Like it was mentioned, Bob never or rarely did it with callers. With guests and co-hosts? That’s fine. That’s a legit interview/conversation, which of course Wilner never had the balls to do. And to carry it over on Twitter, it was just petty. The real good radio jocks never treat their listeners and callers that way. I honestly hope it’s the reason they fired him. That said I feel bad for him because he has nowhere to go. He’ll never get a job in broadcasting again, like Barry Davis. Sad.

  • comment-avatar
    Bingo Bango Bongo4 months ago

    The Weakest Link is back on television, and I guess a lot of people feel Rogers let the weakest link go. I disagree. Wilner was fine, he was homegrown and was very passionate about the Blue Jays. Love him or hate him, you knew who he was. The guy they should have let go was Wagner. He’s weak, has no presence and certainly no long term ties to the team. The creampuffs who didn’t like Wilner’s arrogance apparently prefer bland. If Wagner is the lead voice, they’re in big ,bland trouble.

  • comment-avatar

    I think that’s the next domino to fall. I don’t know when, but Buck will be the next to exit and we will get more Dan.

  • comment-avatar
    Liberty Village Bob4 months ago

    Good for Wagner. He deserves a better partner. Maybe Wilner can look at AAA jobs like Buffalo?

  • comment-avatar

    Agree with your comment Bingo.

    I can understand the desire to go to a traditional commentator and analyst. I’ve always wondered about the way the Jays have often done it with two commentators swapping back and forth during the game. So, add a Jack Morris, Joe Siddal or an Alan Ashby type. But for my money, Wilner was better at the play by play than Ben Wagner. Yes, Wagner is totally bland, and still after several years still seems to be reading off a script. Also, somehow he never refers to the team as the Jays or the Blue Jays – always “Toronto”. Makes him sound like an outsider.

    I’ll miss Mike. His call-in schtick was always entertaining – even if it wasn’t completely a schtick.

  • comment-avatar
    Original Mitch4 months ago

    Is it me (and it may very well be) but why does this site bury popular posts with multiple engaging comments in favour of posts with almost literally zero comments or interest?
    Again maybe I’m missing something, but I come back to follow up on popular articles only to find other ones with no interests taking the headlines.
    Could there not be a prominent displayed section that lists the articles in terms of engagement ?
    Say what you want about Wilner, he always brought multitude of comments here. Why do I have to dig and find this only a week later?