Gary Jones named to manage Triple A Toledo Mud Hens
This will be a different job, as Triple A Toledo history goes, for a new Mud Hens manager named Gary Jones, who Thursday was named Toledo’s newest baseball skipper following the dismissal of former Mud Hens manager, Tom Prince.
What’s unique — in a historical context -— is that there will be some actual talent on hand. Just as life has improved for the Tigers and their big-league product in Detroit, rosters have gotten healthier throughout Detroit’s farm, including that top rung based at Fifth Third Field in Toledo.
Now it’s Jones, 61, who will be overseeing players next season such as shortstop Ryan Kreidler, and pitchers on the level of Joey Wentz and Alex Faedo.
Jones gets the assignment following 18 years as a minor-league manager, and five as a big-league coach, including a three-year stint with the Cubs (2014-17) when they won a World Series. He had managed the last three seasons Triple A Lehigh, a Phillies affiliate which did not renew Jones’ contract for 2022.
“I know major-league clubs, and the Tigers had a hell of a year for a rebuilding club,” Jones said during a Thursday phone conversation from his home in Henderson, Texas, two hours northeast of Dallas. “I know everybody’s excited about moving forward this year. It’s nice to meet new baseball people and talk baseball.”
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Jones talked baseball specifically in recent weeks with Tigers general manager Al Avila, and with manager AJ Hinch. He talked initially with Ryan Garko, the Tigers’ new developmental chief. And he spoke with others from the newly reshaped developmental staff.
As for Hinch, this wasn’t any first introduction. Jones managed Hinch when both were at Triple A Edmonton in 1997. The Trappers that season won the Pacific Coast League championship, which earned Jones one of the four Minor League Manager of the Year trophies he’s accumulated.
What the past month’s chats with Hinch and with Tigers execs made clear was that Jones had the blend of experience and philosophy they wanted at Triple A and at a grooming site an hour’s drive from Comerica Park.
“You’ve got to teach them how to play the game the right way, because once you get to the next level, it’s all about winning,” Jones said Thursday, speaking of his tutorial style.
“AJ Hinch and Mr. Avila want to win — now. So, what’s crucial for us is to remember that winning plays don’t always show up in the stats: It might be a guy running from first to third, or a guy in the outfield with his feet in the right position to make a one-hop throw for an out.
“If you want to win every night, guys have got to do the little things. It’s about paying attention to detail.”
As for thoughts a 61-year-old skipper might not be steeped in all that new-fangled analytical science that’s all the rage in baseball, Jones laughed.
“Funny you asked,” Jones said, “because this is what I tell people: I started playing in 1982 (signed by the Cubs as a second baseman out of the University of Arkansas) and I’ve used analytics all my entire career — I just didn’t know that was what they were called.
“As a player, I kept my own book on opposing pitchers — what they threw, what kind of pickoff moves they had, their time to the plate, everything.
“When I was managing, I kept my own books and my own spray charts — with a four-ink pen. I’d make notes on a 2-2 count on fastball away and what the hitter did with it. That’s the way I gathered info.
“So, the second or third time we played the guy, we knew how to position him. I’ve been doing that stuff my whole career.
“Of course, now you have a great deal more information — and that’s good.”
As for his time with that science-based skipper in Detroit, a man named Hinch, Jones says he knew 24 years ago that a catcher with an uncommon mind was headed to the big leagues — in one fashion or another.
“You could tell he was a student of the game,” Jones said. “AJ came through the system pretty quick. You could tell he had that way, the way he carried himself, that he was going to be a big-league player — and if he wanted, to be on the coaching or managing side.”
That’s the side both men now occupy. One will be in Detroit, and one will work an hour away, at Fifth Third Field, buffing talent a team in Detroit now has in greater abundance at its Triple A venue.
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.