Tom Prince out as Mud Hens manager after leading Toledo to first place in division
He says he was told, simply, “We’re going in a different direction.”
No other explanation was offered Tuesday when Tom Prince, who managed the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens to a first-place Midwest Division finish and 74-56 record in 2021, was told he would not be returning in 2022, all during a short conversation with Tigers general manager Al Avila.
"I asked, but I didn’t get one,” Prince said Wednesday when questioned if there had been any elaboration on why he was being dismissed. “I’m just thankful for my time there. I enjoyed the people I worked with.”
The Mud Hens in 2021 had only their third winning record since 2012, and their best finish since 2007, as a stream of players who either shared time in Detroit, or moved to the threshold of Comerica Park, revived a team and its Fifth Third Field venue.
Prince, 57, was a big-league catcher for 17 seasons. He later joined the Pirates as a farm-team manager and minor-league field coordinator before moving to the big-league Pirates as bench coach in 2017.
He was hired two years ago as the Mud Hens’ new skipper in a move engineered by Dave Littlefield, then the Tigers’ head of player development, who had been a past Pirates GM.
Littlefield was replaced last month by Ryan Garko, who is the team’s new vice-president of player development.
Garko’s preference for a new manager at Toledo, and perhaps at other Tigers farm stops, would be a natural result of new authority at an area of player-grooming the Tigers are moving aggressively to upgrade.
It is not known if other moves are in the offing. Avila did not immediately respond Wednesday to a text inquiring about the security of Arnie Beyeler at Double-A Erie, Brayan Pena at high-Single A West Michigan, or Andrew Graham at Lakeland, which is now the Tigers’ low-A outpost.
The Mud Hens nonetheless appeared, at least on the surface, to be one team that might remain status quo in terms of manager and staff after their generally impressive 2021 showing. The team’s everyday roster was jostled by the usual parade of call-ups and send-downs from Detroit, but it maintained a certain steadiness along the way and got a big late-summer boost when Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, and Ryan Kreidler — big bats, all — were promoted from Double-A Erie.
The skipper’s seat at Toledo is, however, in the fashion of so many minor-league venues, not always the most secure niche for a manager.
Mike Rojas was fired in 2017, after a single season during his second stint as Mud Hens manager, when his team finished 70-71.
Doug Mientkiewicz had a sometimes-testy relationship with the Tigers during his two seasons in Toledo (2018-2019) and was dismissed two years ago — with a year remaining on his contract — before the Tigers hired Prince.
“I thought things went great,” Prince said Wednesday, speaking of the move to Garko, as he and his wife drove to their home in Bradenton, Florida. “But they’ve got new leadership now.
“I have no other inclination what happened.
“No one has told me.”
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.