The Toledo Mud Hens are a minor league baseball team located in Toledo, Ohio. The Mud Hens play in the International League, and are associated with the major league baseball team the Detroit Tigers, based approximately 50 miles to the north of Toledo. The current team is one of several professional clubs that have existed in Toledo since 1883. The name "Mud Hens" was first used in 1896, after the team was bought by Charles Strobel. One of the two parks where the team played that year, Bay View Park, was adjacent to marshland which was inhabited by American Coots, also known as marsh hens or mud hens, from which the team adopted their name.
They won back-to-back Governors' Cup championships in 2005 and 2006.
The Mud Hens currently play at Fifth Third Field, at 406 Washington Street. The stadium, built in 2002, was named the best minor league ballpark in America by Newsweek on August 5, 2002. The new stadium replaced Ned Skeldon Stadium, located in suburban Maumee, as the Mud Hens Home. The older facility being best described as "quaint" or "rustic."
Toledo was without organized baseball for nine seasons (1956–64). That was the city's longest stretch without professional ball since the 1880s. Toledo is a special place to baseball historians due to its early (failed) attempt to break the color/race barrier in the game. The Toledo Blue Stockings operated during 1883–1885, including an entry in 1884 with the then-major American Association. In the 1880s, before the major leagues stabilized, it was not unusual for a minor league team to be "promoted" to major league level for awhile. The 1884 club was the only major league team with black players (Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother, Welday Walker) prior to Jackie Robinson's appearance with the Brooklyn Dodgers in . The refusal of prominent baseball figure Cap Anson to play the Toledo team, in an exhibition game with his Chicago White Stockings, accelerated the drawing of the color line.
Several minor league teams in Toledo lasted for short durations late in the 1880s and during the 1890s. The team also returned to the AA in 1890, as the Toledo Maumees (some sources say their nickname was the Black Pirates). That was one of several short-lived nicknames, including, ironically, the White Stockings. It was in 1896 that the team acquired the nicknames "Swamp Angels" and "Mud Hens" due to the ballpark's proximity to marshlands and waterfowl. "Mud Hens" gained popularity and has stuck with most of the Toledo teams ever since.
When the American Association revived as a minor league in 1902, the Mud Hens joined as a charter member. The team had been playing at Armory Park since 1897. With the success and stability of the Association, a better ballpark was built. Swayne Field opened in June 1909, and would be the Mud Hens primary home through the 1955 season. Swayne Field remains the longest-lasting venue of any of the Toledo teams.
The Mud Hens temporarily relocated to Cleveland during 1914 through 1915, to help the Cleveland Indians counter any territorial threat by the Federal League by ensuring that League Park would have a game every day. Another team was placed in Toledo in 1914 for the South-Michigan League. The "Soumichers" or "Little Mud Hens" drew poorly and took to the road for the second half of 1914. There was no team in 1915. The Fed disbanded after that year, and when the team returned from Cleveland to Toledo in 1916, they had acquired a new nickname, the "Iron Men". The name "Mud Hens" was restored in 1919.
This incarnation of the Mud Hens usually resided deep in the second division of the circuit, winning the AA pennant only once, in 1927 when the manager was Casey Stengel. After the farm system era began in the 1930s, the Mud Hens were usually affiliated with the St. Louis Browns, who by then were also a perpetual second division team in the American League.
By the early 1950s, Toledo annually trailed the other seven Association clubs in attendance, reaching a desperation point in mid-season of 1952. On June 23, 1952, the team moved to Charleston, West Virginia, that state's capital city, and became the Senators. However, the city gained another American Association franchise the next year, when the Boston Braves transferred to Milwaukee in March 1953, displacing their farm club, the Milwaukee Brewers, which then shifted to Toledo as the "Sox". The relocated Brewers were loaded with talent, and the T-Sox won the second Association pennant in their history and drew over 343,000 fans, a 244% increase compared to 1951.
But the Braves stayed only three seasons (1953–55) before moving the team to Wichita, Kansas, as the Wichita Braves. Swayne Field was demolished soon afterward. By the 1960s there was revived interest in minor league baseball for Toledo, and public official Ned Skeldon led the effort to remodel the Lucas County Fairgrounds stadium into a suitable minor league ballpark. The Yankees' transfer of the Richmond club to Toledo in 1965 restored professional baseball to Toledo.
The mascot's name is Muddy, and the female mascot is named Muddonna. The logo for the Mud Hens has undergone several updates, "Mortimer" Mud Hen was used in the 1940s and 1950s. The logo was recreated by Gabriel Pinciotti in 1965, and since then has remained close to his design. The latest update took place for the 2006 season. The logo and name continues to be amongst the most popular and best selling in Minor League Baseball history.
The Mud Hens were the favorite team of the character Max Klinger, played by actor (and Toledo native) Jamie Farr on the television series M*A*S*H. The Mud Hens are also mentioned in the children's book Maniac Magee. In the motion picture Major League they were referenced as coach Lou Brown's former team. They were mentioned in the Richard Pryor movie Brewster's Millions, a movie about a career minor leaguer who suddenly has a chance to inherit a fortune. Some of the most famous Mud Hens alumni are Minnesota Twins Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, Hall of Fame Manager Casey Stengel, and Olympic hero Jim Thorpe.
On November 1, 2007, The Mud Hens offered Alex Rodriguez a position as third baseman. This was a playful gesture following Hank Steinbrenner's remark following Rodriguez opting out of his contract. Steinbrenner said, "Does he want to go into the Hall of Fame as a Yankee, or a Toledo Mud Hen?
The Mud Hens first had their games broadcast on radio in 1965, when minor-league baseball was revived in Toledo. The broadcasts ended after the contract ended in 1970. Radio broadcasts returned in 1975 and have remained ever since. Radio play-by-play has been handled since 1975 by Jim Weber. The 2008 season marks his 34th year in the broadcast booth. Weber has been partnered since 1987 by Frank Gilhooley, and since the early 2000s, Jason Griffin.
When radio broadcasts returned to the airwaves in 1975, only 52 games were broadcast. Between 1976 and 1983, 80 games were broadcast on WSPD-AM, mainly Thursday through Sunday. The entire schedule has been on radio since 1984, first on WMTR-FM (through 2002), then on WLQR-AM (through 2007). Games can now be heard on WCWA-AM, which is contracted to carry Mud Hens baseball through at least the 2010 season.
The Buckeye Cable Sports Network (BCSN) has been televising Mud Hens games since 2004 on the Buckeye CableSystem. For the 2008 season, all Mud Hens home games are televised, along with five away games. Weber and Griffin call the action on television, with Jordan Strack as sideline reporter.