MINNEAPOLIS – Jim “Mudcat” Grant, the first black American League winner of 20 games and a key part of Minnesota’s first team in the 1965 World Series, has died. He was 85 years old.
The Twins announced Grant’s death on Saturday. No cause was given. Grant’s personal assistant, on behalf of the former right’s family, informed the Twins of the death.
Grant spent less than four full seasons of his 14-year major league career with the Twins, but they were by far the best.
After being acquired in a trade with Cleveland on June 15, 1964 by George Banks and Lee Stange, Grant led the American League with 21 wins in 1965. Don Newcombe of the Brooklyn Dodgers was the first black winner of 20 games in the majors. in 1951.
The best season of Grant’s career helped the Twins post a 102-60 record for a World Series spot. He also led the league with six shutouts in 1965.
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He started three times in that World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and won twice, including a 5-1 complete game victory in Game 6, during which he also hit a three-run home run. Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers won Game 7.
Grant was 50-35 with a 3.35 ERA in 129 appearances, including 111 starts, with the Twins. He was traded to the Dodgers after the 1967 season and also ended up pitching for Montreal, St. Louis, Oakland and Pittsburgh.
Former Major League Baseball pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant greets the crowd before throwing the ceremonial pitch before the Indians host the Boston Red Sox in Cleveland on April 14, 2008. (Associated Press)
Grant was known for a long time by his unique nickname, although there are various stories about his origin. Born in Lacoochee, Florida, where he grew up in poverty in a small, segregated city north of Tampa, he signed with Cleveland at age 18 and made his major league debut with the Indians in 1958. He ended his 14-year career with A 145 -119 record and a 3.63 ERA in 571 appearances, including 293 starts.
Minnesota Twins pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant is seen on June 21, 1964. (Associated Press)
After retiring from the mound, Grant worked in Cleveland’s community relations department and as a broadcaster while becoming an activist and advocate for black participation in sports. He co-wrote a book published in 2006, “The Black Aces,” which chronicles the lives of his fellow black 20-game winners like Bob Gibson and Ferguson Jenkins. In 2007, President George W. Bush honored Grant and “The Black Aces” at a White House ceremony for Black History Month.
“At certain times in our past, we didn’t have many African-American pitchers,” Bush said that day. “I want to thank you, Mudcat, for showing courage, character and perseverance, and also thank you for setting an example.”
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The Twins held a moment of silence for Grant before their game against Houston on Saturday night after showing a brief montage of black and white highlights from his playing career.
He was a frequent visitor to the team’s annual winter fan festival and maintained strong relationships with the Twins long after his playing days were over. Grant was also an accomplished musician, with a talent for the blues. He sang a cover of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” at the 2011 memorial service for his former Twins teammate Harmon Killebrew.
“I will never forget her smile, her voice, or the way she could light up a room,” Twins president Dave St. Peter said on Twitter.