Ben Shulman, Wagner in good place despite Rogers' 'deplorable' handling of radio broadcast crews

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DUNEDIN, Fla. — They were not the best months of Ben Wagner’s career, a long and winding road through minor-league broadcast booths that had finally paid off in the big leagues.

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Things had been far from perfect in what would be his final three years as the Blue Jays’ radio play-by-play man. Persistent roadblocks put up by Rogers Sportsnet were, in the words of former Jays broadcasting legend Jerry Howarth, setting him up to fail.

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Things were looking up in October, however, after Sportsnet freed Wagner from the shackles and allowed him to travel to Minneapolis for the ill-fated Jays playoff performance. Less than two months later, however, Rogers showed what it thought of Wagner’s loyalty and six years of work in their broadcast booth by not renewing his contract.

The indignity did not end there, however.

His former employer sent out a news release to announce his replacement, Ben Shulman, and somehow Wagner was still on the Sportsnet distribution list and the news dropped in his inbox.

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Ouch.

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Within weeks, Wagner’s fortunes would turn as he was hired by the Baltimore Orioles to handle play-by-play duties on radio, and, according to the O’s news release, select games on television. For Wagner, it was a welcome bit of good news and a testament to the hard work and talent that landed him the Jays job in the first place.

“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Wagner said shortly after the announcement was made. “I’m just grateful to continue with a job in the majors and calling games for an exciting young team.

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“I can’t wait to get things going.”

Wagner surely has much more to say about his new gig, but a scheduled interview with him to discuss his new role — and his thoughts on 17 years of calling games in the Jays system — was cancelled by a member of the Orioles public relations staff who said Wagner “is focused on getting settled in his new role.”

Included in those steps is packing up his Dunedin home — a couple of Vlad Guerrero Jr. moon shots away from TD Ballpark, where he has spent so much time over the years — and moving to Baltimore for the next step in the Indiana native’s career.

While the next chapter in Wagner’s career is a welcome positive turn, the reason he had to find it remains a head-scratcher to those familiar with how it all went down — specifically why he was let go by Rogers in the first place.

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“With the injustice of all of this, Ben never once did anything but do his very best each day for his six years showing his true character and class to be admired by all of us,” Howarth said when it was announced that Wagner wouldn’t be returning.

Others in the industry were just as pointed.

“(Sportsnet) can be a joke with the way they handle their people and it is clear that radio is such a diminished property for them,” a source familiar with Wagner’s tenure at Sportsnet said. “For a company in the broadcasting and communications business, it sometimes seems like they just don’t get it. They certainly treated radio as an afterthought. And the way they handled (Wagner’s) situation was deplorable. Ben deserved better and it’s good to see him getting the opportunity.”

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Sportsnet did not respond to a request from the Toronto Sun for clarification on why Wagner’s contract was not renewed.

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Before he was muzzled by his new employer, Wagner said he will be doing some travel with the O’s, who have restructured their broadcast crew. The opportunity to work on the television side will also give him further voice with his new team.

Going forward, meanwhile, it’s incumbent on Jays fans to separate the two Bens when evaluating the newer one — Shulman, son of longtime TV play-by-play guy Dan Shulman.

If the circumstances of his new gig were awkward for Ben Shulman when he began, he certainly hasn’t shown it in his first few games on the job.

In fact, it has been the opposite.

In the innings we’ve caught the younger Shulman’s work, it’s clear he has a feel for the game, the team and what makes a good baseball broadcast, a point not lost on those who work with him.

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Bright and well-prepared, he has established a solid rapport with Buck Martinez on the TV side for Grapefruit League games and on radio will have the luxury (though it should be standard) of having a regular partner in Chris Leroux. Baseball folks have already taken notice of Shulman’s excellent work and the consensus prediction is that after a strong start, he’ll only continue to improve.

For those rushing to judge, two things can be true with the two Bens: In the case of Wagner, his exit was handled poorly, remarkably so. In the case of Shulman, the future is bright and Jays fans tuning in on the radio will be well-served for as long as Rogers features the Jays on radio.

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