Jim ‘Mudcat’ Grant, AL’s first Black 20-game winner, dead at 85

Jim “Mudcat” Grant, who led the Minnesota Twins to the 1965 World Series as the American League’s first Black pitcher to win 20 games, died at the age of 85, the team announced.

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The Twins announced Grant’s death on Twitter but did not provide details.

Grant spent 14 years in the major leagues and went 21-7 in 1965, the year the Twins won their first American League pennant. It was the franchise’s first pennant since 1933, when the team was known as the Washington Senators.

He led the A.L. in wins, winning percentage and shutouts in 1965.

Don Newcombe of the Brooklyn Dodgers was the majors’ first Black 20-game winner, going 20-9 in 1951.

“Though he spent just four years of his 14-year career with the Twins, Mudcat remained a beloved member of our organization well into his retirement and was a frequent visitor with fans and staff alike at Twinsfest,” the Twins said in a statement. “We send our condolences to the entire Grant family, as well as the other organizations impacted by his 60-plus years in and around the baseball world.”

Grant, who was born in Lacoochee, Florida, on Aug. 13, 1935, began his major league career with the Cleveland Indians in 1958.

He went 67-63 with Cleveland before he was traded to Minnesota during the 1964 season. He was a two-time All-Star, selected to the A.L. squad in 1963 and 1965.

He pitched three games in the 1965 World Series, winning twice.

“The Cleveland Indians family is deeply saddened by the loss of Jim ‘Mudcat’ Grant, a true fan favorite on both the playing field and in the broadcast booth,” Indians spokesperson Bob DiBiasio said. “To this day, Mudcat was a cherished member of the Indians Alumni Ambassador Program. We send our condolences to the entire Grant family, as well as to his many teammates and other organizations impacted by his 60-plus years in our game.”

After he was traded from Minnesota after the 1967 season, Grant became a reliever, most notably with the Oakland Athletics and the Pittsburgh Pirates, The New York Times reported.

Grant said he earned his nickname at an Indians tryout camp in 1954 through a combination of racial stereotyping and disregard for his home state, the newspaper reported.

“In those days, they thought all Black folk was from Mississippi,” Grant told the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. “They started calling me Mississippi Mudcat. I said, ‘I’m not from Mississippi,’ and they said, ‘You’re still a Mississippi Mudcat.’ And it’s been very good to me.”

In mid-September 1960, Grant was involved in an incident with racial overtones, the New York Times reported.

Grant was in the bullpen before a game and was singing the national anthem when he altered the final line. He reportedly changed “land of the free and the home of the brave” to “This land is not so free, I can’t even go to Mississippi,” according to an Associated Press.

Bullpen coach Ted Wilks objected to the improvised lyrics and got into an argument with Grant, who left the ballpark, claiming later that Wilks had made a racist remark.

Wilks tried to apologize but Grant did not accept it, The New York Times reported.

Grant finished his career with a 145-119 record, 18 shutouts and 54 saves.

After retiring from baseball, Grant was an activist and advocate for Black participation in baseball, WJW reported. Grant also called Indians games for WJW with Harry Jones and served as a member of the team’s community relations department, the television station reported.

He also authored a book titled “The Black Aces,” which paid tribute to the 15 Black pitchers who were 20-game winners in MLB.

As a child, Grant sang in a choir. After the 1965 World Series, he formed Mudcat and the Kittens, a song-and-dance group that played at nightclubs during the offseason, the Times reported.