"Besides," Lajoie adds, "we spend approximately $600,000 to go into that working agreement. The cost is very high. If we want to have a guy play for 30 days for the Toledo Mud Hens, we feel we have the right."
Minor league baseball. Different baseball.
The players mostly are transients. They stay in Toledo only as long as they have to stay or only as long as they are allowed to stay. Produce or go home. No one on the roster has been here longer than three years. Most have been here for far less. Professional baseball has been played in Toledo since 1882 on a more-or-less regular basis; 14 years are missing, only because various franchises failed. There have been times when players stayed in Toledo into their 30s and played most of their careers here, but those times were long ago. Triple A life is different now.
"You look at the pictures of those old teams," 66-year-old Mud Hens broadcaster Frank Gilhooley Jr. says. "They're much older men. Those players knew how to play the game. I see things happen on the field now that you wouldn't believe. Everyone is so young. People ask me about the players of yesterday against the players of today. I say the player of today is bigger, stronger, faster, but not better. Definitely not better."
Gilhooley has been around baseball his entire life. There is a picture of him in the Mud Hens office as a four-year-old, held in Babe Ruth's arms as his father looks on. In 1919, Frank Gilhooley Sr. was Ruth's roommate with the Boston Red Sox. Frank Jr. remembers walking to the old Toledo ballpark, Swayne Field, on Sunday afternoons to watch doubleheaders with his father. He remembers Casey Stengel as a young Mud Hens manager. Frank Jr.'s first job with the team was as a clubhouse attendant in 1936.
"The best player I ever saw in Triple A was Mickey Mantle, when he was playing for Kansas City," Gilhooley says. "He had everything. He could run like a deer, and he had all that power. Then again, Enos Slaughter wasn't bad, either. Then again, there have been some players who were terrific at this level who never succeeded in the majors. A guy named Roy Cullenbine had the best raw talent, but he loved to chase those dollies and he never slept. He'd be up all night, then tee off at the golf course at 5:30 in the morning on the day of a game. There was another guy, Jerry Witte. Hit 46 homers for the Mud Hens in 1946. Just wore this league out. Never did anything when he went up. There must have been some weakness that didn't count here."
There have been few Mud Hens stars recently. When the team was affiliated with the Twins, they had a tendency to move the best players to the big leagues in a hurry. Kirby Puckett played in Toledo for only a month. Kent Hrbek never played for the Mud Hens, jumping to the majors from A ball. Gary Gaetti never played-in Toledo. The Tigers, who took over the affiliation in 1987, have been struggling. They need as much immediate help as they can get. The last Mud Hens pennant was in 1968.
"On your Triple A team, you always have a number of players you are hoping to develop as long-term prospects, and a number of players you want to have ready immediately in case of injury," Lajoie says on the telephone. "Last year, we had 20 players come up at one time or another [because of] injury. This year, for the most part, we have developmental players in Toledo. Mostly pitchers. You're always looking to develop pitchers."
An example is Kevin Ritz, a 26-year-old right-hander from Iowa. He is a lanky kid, 6'4", 210 pounds, in his fifth year of professional baseball. He had a brief turn with the Tigers a year ago, when he won four, lost six. He is back in Toledo to try to find some consistency. Or another pitch. Or some composure. Or something. Every player is trying to find some missing ingredient that will make him famous.