For over a century, professional baseball has been played in Toledo, and that rich tradition has been documented in a new book that will be discussed tonight and Sunday on The Editors.
From Toledo's first professional team, the 1883 Blue Stockings, to its brilliant new ball park, Fifth Third Field, author John Husman talks about his book “Baseball in Toledo,” with Tom Walton, vice president-editor of The Blade. The show airs at 9 tonight on WGTE-TV, Channel 30, and 12:30 p.m. Sunday on WBGU-TV, Channel 27.
Husman, who collected photos and other memorabilia that appear in the book, works as a human resources manager for The Blade and is also a historian for the Mud Hens.
Toledo has had professional minor league baseball teams named the Toledos, Maumees, Black Pirates, Swamp Angels and White Stockings. But Walton pointed out that the team's current “odd ball” nickname - the Mud Hens - is one of the most recognizable in baseball. Husman explained that the name came about in 1896 when the team played on a field surrounded by marshes.
The author said that Toledo has had two major league teams, in 1884 and 1890, that played in the American Association, then considered major. Toledo also has had two Negro League teams, in 1923 and 1939.
Husman and Walton also discuss the numerous famous ball players and athletes who played in Toledo. Jim Thorpe, one of the best athletes of the 20th century, played for Toledo in the 1920s. Other legends who played exhibition games against Toledo's minor league teams included Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig and Johnny Bench.
“Mickey Mantle had an especially great day here in 1951 where he hit for the cycle with an extra home run that many people remember,” Husman said.
“In fact, I've talked to about a half-million people that were at that game,” he quipped.
Even golf legend Byron Nelson, who was the head pro at Inverness Club, played in an exhibition game for a Toledo team in 1941.
Husman said about 30 native Toledoans have gone on to play professional baseball. The most famous from Toledo is Roger Bresnahan, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1945.
From 1909-55, Toledo's pro team played at Swayne Field, at Monroe Street and Detroit Avenue. It was the first stadium in America that had concrete walls, and a portion of it still stands, according to Husman. After Toledo lost its pro team for 10 years, the Mud Hens played from 1965-2001 at Ned Skeldon Stadium in Maumee. The team moved to $39 million Fifth Third Field last year.
Husman said that long time Mud Hen general manager Gene Cook played a pivotal role in moving the team back downtown. Cook died just months before the ballpark opened.
“It was his vision. Fifth Third Field is just a fantastic ball park,” Husman said. “It has just been a jewel in our downtown.”
The author did not ignore the fact that Toledo teams have won just six pennants in 106 seasons of baseball. But he also said 15 members of the major leagues' Hall of Fame have played in Toledo. Kirby Puckett was the latest inductee.
Husman also notedthat many former Toledo managers went on to have great major league careers, including the late Casey Stengel of the Yankees.
Husman credited long time radio announcers Jim Weber and Frank Gilhooley with providing information for the book, which includes numerous photographs.
The book, which is divided into five sections or “eras,” is available at bookstores throughout the area and at Fifth Third Field.