When I was a kid in the mid-1980s, I spent a lot of time watching, playing, reading about, and thinking about sports. I was truly obsessed. That obsession led me to taking the logical next step of writing letters to major and minor league teams to get pocket schedules, team information, and whatever else they happened to send back to me. We didn’t have the internet back then where I could get this information in approximately 30 seconds, like we do now. I had to put pencil to paper, buy a stamp, and drop an actual letter into the mailbox. (Thanks for assist USPS!) The cool stuff I received in return – which I absolutely treasure – has been sitting in waterproof boxes for the better part of 35 years. I’ve looked at it often, but I haven’t shared the stuff before now. Enjoy!
The fourth team into the time machine is the 1985 Toledo Mud Hens. I’m sure everyone reading this is familiar with the Mud Hens. Not only are they one of the oldest minor league teams still playing today, but they also have the distinction of being featured in the 1970s/80s sitcom M*A*S*H, where Corporal Maxwell Klinger (played by Toledo native Jamie Farr) longed for his hometown and wore a Mud Hens cap and jersey in a number of episodes. Farr’s promotion of the team led the Mud Hens to be be known far and wide. The team still uses Jaime Farr to make announcements in-stadium, despite the fact that M*A*S*H has been off the air for almost 40 years. The Hens remain one of MiLB’s most popular teams both from an attendance and merchandise standpoint.
I lived in Toledo for 15 years from the late 90’s through the early 2010’s. I was lucky enough to witness the team absolutely transform itself during that time. The team – with generous public support since the team is owned by Lucas County, Ohio – built a wonderful new downtown stadium, and the move back to the city from it’s previous suburban location brought thousands of new fans to the ballpark (Fifth-Third Field). I wasn’t a big Hens fan when I arrived, but I certainly departed as one having sat through dozens of games, witnessing a Governor’s Cup victory, and seeing Mike Hessman – the Minor League Home Run King – ply his trade.
The 1985 version of the Mud Hens was the AAA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins and a member of the International League. They played at the quaint Lucas County Stadium (an old barn of a ballpark that was completely outdated by its end, but still quite charming – I went there a number of times). They were managed by Cal Ermer in his last year of managing pro ball. Even though I lived relatively close by in central Ohio at the time, Toledo and northwest Ohio seemed a million miles away as we never heard a peep from that part of the state. But I wrote to the team to see what I could learn and they sent some pretty interesting stuff.
Nothing too snazzy, but it got the information across. Again, it is absolutely shocking in this day and age of multiple Minor League promos each and every night to see that the only team promos were Family Sundays and the “San Diego Chicken.” As an aside, if you weren’t there to personally witness the mania that surrounded the Chicken in pop culture at that time – he really did seem to be everywhere and on tv all the time – you really might not get how big a crowd teams would expect for this promo. The 70s and 80s were weird. We can leave it at that.
The team also sent along a lengthy (by minor league standards) team history. Fun to read then, fun to read now:
Of course, the obligatory merchandise sheet:
As you can see, the usual fare for the 1980s. I don’t know who it was or which team managed to supercharge merchandising of professional sports teams (again, another great philosophical debate), but can you imagine this being the *only* gear you could get?
The Hens also included a team roster. There are a fair number of players who made it to the big leagues on this roster:
What set the Mud Hens apart from every other team I received mail from came in the form of the correspondence from team secretary Lori:
I was pretty pleased to get a personal note inside the letter and I remember reading it aloud to my mother. It was pretty standard stuff until I read the part that she was going to be in my hometown the following weekend. Cool, I thought. Then I read further that it was to attend the wedding of her nephew. Also cool, I thought. And then the piece de resistance. It turned out that her nephew was my high school band director whom I knew very well. (It was a small town). He was marrying the middle school band director who had directed me for three years at that point. To say that I was gobsmacked to get such an interesting letter from a nice lady who worked for the Mud Hens sells it short. I ended up telling the high school band director that I received a letter from his aunt, and sure enough I was able to meet Lori a year or so after this. I was an ineloquent 9th grader at the time, so I didn’t have much to say other than I wondered how she got the job, tell me all about it, and was it awesome…or something along those lines. I was in 9th grade so small talk wasn’t my strong suite. Still…it makes for a fantastic story to this day.
That’s it for Minor League Time Machine, Part Four. Please pardon some of the camera angles as it was tough to unfold the paper items and keep them flat after so many years tucked away. We will be back with Part Five soon. I still have a LOT of stuff to share. If you have any feedback, I’d love to hear it.