Mike Wilner is the Toronto Blue Jays radio play-by-play announcer for SN 590 THE FAN. Mike is also the commissioner of the THROW League which is a face to face local DYNASTY League Baseball Board version league established in 1987.
Q: DYNASTY League Baseball and its predecessor Pursue the Pennant are
celebrating their 30th anniversary this year. How did you originally find
out about Pursue the Pennant and what are your recollections of playing the
original Board game version?
Mike Wilner: I was introduced to tabletop baseball by my father, who created a very rudimentary version for me when I was very young. Basically it was a pair of six-sided dice with an outcome for each of the 11 possible rolls. “7” was a single, so there was a lot of offense. Then, when I was 11, we went to Detroit for a cousin’s bar mitzvah and I was introduced to the wonderland that is Toys R Us (it hadn’t moved into Canada yet). There, I found a tabletop baseball game called “Statis Pro” and went nuts with it. I did a full 162-game replay of the Blue Jays’ 1980 season (went 81-81, Dave Stieb had over 30 wins and Mike Willis threw 9 perfect innings of relief in a long extra-inning game).
Once that was done, my best friend in junior high introduced my to Strat-O-Matic and we had some great battles using teams from the early ’70s. Then, when I was 17, I walked into my local comic book store and saw a Pursue The Pennant display. It looked fantastic, so I bought it and loved it. I was blown away by the fact that there were 500 possible outcomes for both pitcher and hitter, that there were weather charts, that defenders were assessed ratings for both the ability to get to the ball AND the ability to field it cleanly once they did. It was sensational, an entirely different simulation baseball experience.
Great scoresheets, too. I still use them to this day – I have scored every Blue Jays game since 2002 on PTP scoresheets in the broadcast booth.
Mike Wilner; I like how easy the game is to play. I mean, you have to get the hang of it, just like anything, but once you do, a nine-inning game can be played in less than half an hour, which is great. It seems to be the most accurate of all the sim games out there – at least it takes the most things into account and the 1,000 possible outcomes on each roll of the dice (plus variable plays involving charts to which the results take you) blows everybody else away. The gameplay is second nature to me now, having been playing DLB for two decades, but I still think it’s pretty intuitive. The results make a lot of sense, baseballically, which makes it really easy to pick up.
Oh, the online version? Oops. It handles the charts for you, which speeds things up a little, and the ability to always still be able to look at the cards means that nothing is taken away from the strategical component. It, too, is quick and easy.
Q: DYNASTY League Baseball Online is the first and only real time Baseball
simulation that allows you to play and manage your series live as well as
the option to have the computer manager profile play the series for you.
What are your thoughts on how well the real time experience works and the
Mike Wilner: I really enjoyed it when I got the chance to take part in the media Greatest Teams League last year. It’s quick and easy, and the chat function with your opponent doesn’t get in the way of playing the game. I will always prefer the face-to-face experience, for sure, but when circumstances prevent people from getting together in person, the online version is a great substitute.
Q: Pursue the Pennant and DYNASTY League Baseball have always been known for
their high level of realism incorporating many subtle nuances of Baseball
that Bill James first popularized in his Baseball Abstracts. What realistic
aspects of DYNASTY League Baseball separate it from other Baseball
Mike Wilner: There’s just so much extra stuff. Separating range and fielding was big, I thought, weather and ballpark charts, intangibles ratings, the two things that go into a pitcher’s hold rating, so many things you can’t find anywhere else. Even which umpires have a temper and which don’t.
Q: I’ve had several Broadcast, Media and Front Office MLB people tell me
that they learned a tremendous amount about Baseball and each player¹s
strengths and weaknesses from playing both Pursue the Pennant and DYNASTY
League Baseball. Have you had a similar experience and what have you
Mike Wilner: Oh, absolutely. There are a lot of fallacies revealed by the defensive ratings on DLB. Thanks to the game, I know which outfielders have a good arm and which are poor throwers, what kind of speed people have, what kind of defense they play, who should be platooned and who shouldn’t, all those things. The offensive stuff is more important, because it seems to be far less subjective than the defense (and I often disagree with some of the defensive ratings given to some Blue Jays, who I watch 162 times every year), but at the very least I’m pointed in the right way. Most importantly, DLB lets me study every player in the big leagues, so I can find out a lot about players I may only see once or twice in a season.
Q: You are the Commissioner of THROW, a draft league that plays most of its
games locally in the Toronto area. Tell us about the league, its players
and the appeal of playing friends and co-workers face to face with the Board
Mike Wilner: The league was founded way back in 1987, with just four teams. We each took a stock team (I had the Blue Jays and there were also the Expos, Mets and Pirates) and then drafted three players each from the rest of the set. I remember drafting Steve Sax, but I can’t remember my other two (Fernando Valenzuela rings a bell). Back then we were very liberal with the rules, figuring that just because a big-league manager didn’t, say, start Mark Eichhorn, didn’t mean that I couldn’t if I felt he’d help me more in that role. I wound up losing the championship in a seven-game series.
The next year, we expanded to 8, then later to 16 and to 24, collapsed back to 20 but got back up to 24 by the mid-’90s and that’s where we have been ever since. I have won the whole shebang seven times, no one else has more than two titles.
We reset the league at some point in the early 90s, allowing each team to keep six players (I kept Mussina, Thomas, Bonds, Ben McDonald and two other guys I can’t remember) and redrafting from there, introducing a contract system, financials and a rookie draft. I handed one of the other owners a sealed envelope that contained a list of the 24 players I planned on drafting and wound up getting 23 of them. I would have had all 24, but Don Mattingly was still available in the 10th round, so I grabbed him instead of Lonnie Smith.
Many of the owners in the league have been around for two decades or more, and we’ve seen each other through college graduations and first jobs, marriages, children, divorces, all facets of life. I can’t wait until our first second-generation THROW owner enters the league. I’m the only one of the original four still remaining, and I was in high school when we started this thing – who would have ever imagined that I’d wind up being a big-league play-by-play broadcaster? We have people from all walks of life – a few others who work in sports, a comic-book writer, a teacher, a claims adjuster, a squash pro. One of our former owners got a PhD from Harvard, another moved to Malaysia, another publishes a magazine on film and has made a movie that played in some major film festivals around the world. it’s really been an interesting group.
We still all play the board game, not the online version, and if we can’t get together in person we do it over Skype with an online dice roller. I try to get as many of my games in as possible face-to-face. I find it’s much more fun to sit down with someone, feel the dice in your hands and hear my kids ask me if one of the nerds is coming over.