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.
The color game charts are designed to be the stable rock of DYNASTY League Baseball so when there is a new edition it is big news. The last new DYNASTY League Baseball game charts edition (5th) was released in 2004. The new 6th Edition game charts are included in all new Board game editions at the Ticket Window. The 6th Edition game charts can also be ordered separately as ITEM# charts ($12.95).
DYNASTY League Baseball Online which runs on both Windows and Apple Mac platforms will be incorporating the new 6th Edition game charts in the future. There is a free trial for the new DYNASTY League Baseball Online version for Apple Mac and Windows at the new DYNASTY League Baseball Online site.
The F rated Pitcher Hold section of the ATTEMPT chart has an increase in the Pickoff Pitcher result and a decrease in Good jumps. The end result is that potential pickoffs by F Hold pitchers have been doubled and it is also a bit more difficult to get a Good Jump off a a Pitcher with an F Hold rating.
Great examples of the type of pitcher this will help are F rated Hold pitchers like Jason Isringhausen (Pickoff rating of 9), Matt Thornton (Pickoff 5), Jesse Crain (Pickoff 7), Tony Sipp (Pickoff 7), Matt Lindstrom (Pickoff 5), Ross Ohlendorf (Pickoff 6), Tommy Hanson (Pickoff 3), Dan Runzler (Pickoff 10), Jordan Walden (Pickoff 4), Tony Watson (Pickoff 6) and Eric Surkamp (Pickoff 8). These pitchers fall into the category of easy to get a Good Jump off, but also very adept of picking runners off. It’s an interesting combination of a Hold and Pickoff rating that is more common that you might expect.
Umpire crews have all been newly updated along with new strike zone ratings. Crews now include their last name as well as first initial. Also new is the red HOT symbol ~ for certain umpires that come into play on the updated BIZARRE play charts. If you guessed Joe West as the leader in ejections has a HOT symbol you are right!
Umpire result # 16-24 has been changed to decrease the number of singles and increase the number of strikeouts for Umpires with a Normal strike zone.
There are 15 new play result changes to the Bizarre plays. Skip Schumaker and the rally squirrel, ground rule HR off the C ring in Tropicana Field, Jeffrey Maier’s interference play, video replay on a disputed HR and rf shoe string catch and doubling off runner at 1st by the likes of Ichiro Suzuki Nick Markakis and Jeff Francoeur
Minnesota Weather and Wind were researched over the last two years at Target Field using box score data (thank you Josh Nelson) and are included in the new 6th Edition weather charts.
During spring training this year I had a chance to meet with Milwaukee Brewers Bob McClure and Paul Molitor and reminisce about Pursue the Pennant and it’s succesor DYNASTY League Baseball . My visits with “Mac” and “Molly” reminded me of another meeting I had with Brewer manager Tom Trebelhorn in May of 1987 in which I played Pursue the Pennant with “Treb” in his managerial office in Milwaukee County Stadium:
After getting off to a scorching 20 and 3 start, the Milwaukee Brewers were languishing in the midst of a seven-game losing streak. Some of the hometown faithful seemed to have already soured on rookie manager Tom Trebelhorn, or so it appeared as I entered his office in County Stadium.
“Where do we file letters like this?” queried Trebelhorn as he handed a letter to Public Relations Director Tom Skibosh. I read the hand-written letter alongside of Skibosh. At the top of the page, Trebelhorn had written the words, “STAY POSITIVE” The writer began by saying that the 13-0 streak was the worst thing that could have happened to the Brewers because now they would be “stuck with this miserable manager (Trebelhorn).” The letter contained such compliments as “you stink” and “I can’t wait till (sic) they get rid of you.”
I guess that’s what you get for piloting the Brewers to the best record in baseball after most people picked the team to finish no higher than sixth.
I first met Treblehorn at the annual Diamond Dinner held each January by the Brewers. It’s hard not to like the man. Words like “thoughtful”, “organized” and “down-to-earth” come to mind when describing him. In many ways, he reminds you of a favorite teacher you once had. By now, you probably know that is exactly what Trebelhorn is in the off-season…a school teacher in Oregon.
Despite the long losing streak, on this day as on all others, the rookie skipper was upbeat and positive. When I told him that the name of the game that we were about to play was called Pursue the Pennant, he replied “That’s what we’ll be doing this year.” Based on what had transpired in the first thirteen games of the season, he wasn’t kidding. Lately well….
Like many of the “new breed” of managers, Trebelhorn is aware of the numbers which are necessary to make sound baseball decisions. He combed with delight the Project Scoresheet data I had along on opposition stolen bases vs. pitchers and catchers.
As a field general, Trebelhorn is aggressive. His teams will steal bases. The Brewers are 2nd in stolen bases compared to a dismal 9th last year under George Bamberger’s reign. The hit and run play is often employed to stay out of the double play. Baserunners are more aggressive, going from first to third on singles, stretching base hits, forcing the other team in to making mistakes. Of course, the more chances you take, the more likely things are to backfire, but more often than not in 1987, Trebelhorn had been pushing the right buttons.
Meanwhile, Skibosh was still musing over the letter, describing the author in terms not to be repeated in a family publication such as this. Seemingly undaunted, Trebelhorn took up position behind his desk. He would manage the Brewers and I would manaage the Oakland Athletics in a “preview” of that night’s major league game. It would be Mike Birkbeck vs. Dave Stewart.
We each began to construct our lineups for the game. There were no Pursue the Pennant cards for B.J. Surhoff or Terry Steinbach (although there will be in the upcoming rookie card set), but otherwise, we had all the key players from both teams. As I was making out my lineup, I mentioned to Trebelhorn that the A’s seemed to be weak against pitching. He nodded in agreement.
I briefly explained how to play, and Trebelhorn rolled the dice for Birkbeck as Alfredo Griffin stepped in. He drew a walk, and Carney Lansford followed with a single to center. No outs, men on 1st and 2nd, and Davis, Canseco, Jackson and McGwire due up. I began to think that it looked like things were going just as they had on the current losing streak. My competitive fire took a back seat to secret longing that the Brewers would get out of it. After all, it’s bad enough that Treblehorn’s crew had been getting their brains beaten out in real life, without someone unloading on them in a baseball table-top game.
Birkbeck got out of it, but not without a scare. Davis flied to right, Canseco struck out, but Jackson walked to load the bases before McGwire stuck out.
Both teams went quietly until the bottom on the 2nd. With one out, Deer singled, Cooper walked, and Schroeder reached on an error to load the bases. With Gantner at bat, I explained that the squeeze play is also an option in PTP. Trebelhorn elected to swing away, and Gantner hit into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. Wrong button.
In the bottom of the 3rd, the Brewers got something going again. Sveum led off with a walk. Molitor struck out. Yount flew out deep to left. Braggs singled to center, Sveum to 2nd. Greg Brock then pounded the next offering over the wall in left-center field. Calm, cool, and collected Trebelhorn noted “Brock will do that”.
After Deer struck out to end the inning, Trebelhorn notified our Pursue the Pennant umpire (Andy Etchebarren, a Brewer coach) that he had to get back to work, and that the fourth would have to be our last inning. What a great managerial ploy if it could be worked into the Pursue the Pennant rule book. – RULE 7.03 The home team manager may call the game at anytime if he has to go back to work.
The Athletics loaded the bases with two out, but Birkbeck got Tony Phillips to fly out to Deer to end the game. I hoped that Brock would repeat his feat that night, but he didn’t, and the Brewers troubles continued as they lost their seventh straight game.
After our game was over, Trebelhorn commented that he was impressed with Pursue the Pennant. “I saw some interesting things here, especially with all the information on the player cards, ” he said. He then inquired about the price, commentiing that it would be fun for him and his son, an avid board game enthusiast.
Milwaukee Brewer fans can only hope that manager Tom Trebelhorn can find enough interesting things to get his team turned around and continue their pursuit of the pennant.
The new DYNASTY League Baseball 2011 season player card set with Brewers Ryan Braun, Zack Greinke, Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, John Axford, Yovanni Gallardo, Corey Hart and Francisco Rodriguez is available at the Ticket Window store and also at DYNASTY League Baseball Online.