Hens recognize five of the best Black players in Toledo history
In celebration of Black History Month throughout February, teams across Minor League Baseball are taking a look back at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club. While some of these standout performers went on to long and illustrious Major League careers, others simply had great
In celebration of Black History Month throughout February, teams across Minor League Baseball are taking a look back at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club.
While some of these standout performers went on to long and illustrious Major League careers, others simply had great Minor League careers or, in some cases, just one incredible season that went down as “a year for the ages.”
Here is a look at five of the best Black baseball players to suit up for the Toledo Mud Hens.
MOSES FLEETWOOD WALKER
Walker made his first appearance in Toledo during the 1883 season, appearing in 60 of the Toledo Blue Stockings 84 games as a catcher. He hit .251 that year, helping Toledo to a league championship in the Northwestern League.
On Opening Day 1884, Walker once again suited up as the catcher for the Blue Stockings as the team joined Ben Johnson’s Western Association (which would later become the modern-day American League). By doing so, he became the first African-American player to play a major league game.
During that season, Walker hit .263 but due to battling injuries he was limited to just 42 games during the 104-game season. His brother Weldy joined the Blue Stockings during that season, playing in a total of six games.
Brown spent his entire baseball career inside the Detroit organization that included multiple years in Toledo from 1967 through 1969. His first season in Toledo was as a 25-year-old when he posted a .269 batting average with 18 doubles, seven home runs, and 57 RBI to go along with 15 stolen bases.
A fan favorite in Toledo, Brown finished his Hens career with 34 home runs, 168 RBI, 33 stolen bases, and 48 doubles while appearing in 255 games.
He went on to join the Tigers after scorching Triple-A baseball in the 1969 season with a .356 average in 53 games for the Hens. That started a stretch of six seasons in MLB baseball, all with Detroit. The Memphis, Tennessee native appeared in 280 games for Detroit with a .256 average to go along 15 doubles, four triples, 20 homers, and 65 RBI. He also scored 85 runs in his major league career.
Puckett arrived in Toledo as a 24-year-old that skipped right over Double-A to start the 1984 season in Toledo. It was a short stay as after just 21 games, the Minnesota Twins decided to call up their first round pick (#3 overall) from 1982 to join the club. Puckett stole eight bases while hitting .263 for the Hens before joining the big league club.
The Chicago, Illinois native would never see the minor leagues again after his stay with the Hens, going on to play in 12 seasons for the Twins, including two World Series Championships. Over ten consecutive seasons he was named an MLB All-Star from his first appearance in 1986 to his last in 1995, which was also his final season. Six times he was named a Silver Slugger Award winner and matched that number with Gold Glove awards.
Puckett finished his career with a .318 batting average, 2,304 hits, 414 doubles, 57 triples, 207 homers, and 1,085 RBI. He topped baseball with a .339 batting average, while also leading the league in RBI once with 112 in the 1994 season at age 34. Puckett was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001.
Clark rocketed through the minor leagues after being selected by the Detroit Tigers second overall in the 1990 draft. He reached Triple-A and first wore a Hens uniform for 25 games at the end of the 1994 season. As just a 23-year-old, Clark cracked 14 home runs with 63 RBI in 110 games for the Hens in 1995 that led to his first big league call-up.
1996 became his first of a 15-year MLB career that saw him finish third in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1996 and also saw him as an All-Star in 2001 season. Most of Clark’s career was spent with Detroit (seven seasons) but he also played for Arizona, both the New York Yankees and New York Mets, and also the San Diego Padres. The Newton, Kansas native finished his career with 251 homers, 824 RBI, a .262 batting average, and 1,188 hits.
Clark continues to shape the future of baseball as the current head of the baseball players union.
After being a 30th round pick by the New York Yankees in 1996, Thames found his way to Toledo in the 2004 season after making his Major League debut with New York in 2002 and playing part of 2003 in Texas. That started a stretch of six consecutive seasons for him in the Detroit organization.
Most of his 151 appearances in a Hens uniform came from the 2004 and 2005 seasons with 137 games played during those two years. In 2004, the Louisville, Mississippi native hit 24 home runs with 59 RBI while hitting .329 in just 64 games. The next year while part of one of the best Hens teams of all-time, Thames showcased that power again with 22 bombs and 56 RBI to go along with a .340 average in 73 contests. That year was the first of back-to-back IL Championships for Toledo. In total as a Mud Hen, he hit 49 home runs with 123 RBI.
Thames went on to play in 640 career Major League games with 485 coming in a Tigers uniform. He was a huge part of the 2006 Tigers team that advanced to the World Series only to lose to St. Louis in five games. That year he was third on the Tigers with 26 home runs. Post his playing days, Thames spent four years as hitting coach for the New York Yankees from 2017-2021 and will have that role in 2022 with the Miami Marlins.