Jim 'Mudcat' Grant, former star Twins pitcher, dies at 85

Jim 'Mudcat' Grant, former star Twins pitcher, dies at 85
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Jim "Mudcat" Grant, a key figure on the Twins' 1965 World Series team, died at the age of 85, the team announced Saturday.

Grant pitched for seven teams during his 14-year big-league career and was with the Twins for four of those seasons. He was an All-Star in 1963 and 1965.

In 1965, the Twins went 102-60 for the best regular season in club history before losing in seven games to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.

In that season, Grant became the first Black pitcher in the American League to win 20 games when he led the American League in victories, finishing 21-7 with a 3.30 ERA in 270⅓ innings and starting 39 games. He started three World Series games, winning two. In Game 6 at Metropolitan Stadium, he gave up only one run in a complete game, and hit a three-run homer in a 5-1 victory.

"I never will forget that," Grant told Star Tribune columnist Sid Hartman in 2014. "My mother was in the stands. It was a tough Series to lose, and of course that was the great [Game 7] that Sandy Koufax pitched. Jim Kaat matched him from game to game, pitch to pitch, but Lou Johnson hit a home run off Kaat and we got beat [2-0]. It was tough, but being in the World Series beats all of that. We lost and we didn't get back to it, but it was a great Series.

"Those are memories you're never going to forget. I have 34 great grandbabies. They all know about 1965 and being in the World Series and being an All-Star. Thanks to technology I can show them, every Christmas we have a good time. They say, 'Papa, that's you!' I say, 'That's right, that's Papa out there on that field!'"

Before the 1967 season, Grant was traded to the Dodgers along with former MVP Zoilo Versalles for catcher John Roseboro and pitchers Bob Miller and Ron Perranoski. Grant finished his stint with the Twins 50-35 with a 3.35 ERA in 129 games.

Grant made his major league debut in 1958 for Cleveland. His overall big-league record was 145-119 with a 3.63 ERA. He worked as a broadcaster following his retirement, and published "The Black Aces," a book about the first Black 20-game winners in major league history, in 2006. He returned to Minnesota for Twins events, including a recent TwinsFest.

A native of Lacoochee, Fla., Grant was a three-sport star in Dade City, Fla., and was signed by Cleveland as an 18-year-old in 1954. He got his catfish-inspired nickname when a minor league teammate thought he was from Mississippi, according to his sabr.org biography.

Kaat, whose 15 years with the Twins included Grant's four, recalled Grant's attitude about race.

"He came up through the tough times; Lacoochee, a little town in Florida … during segregation," Kaat said. "When Mudcat came to the Twins in 1964, we weren't far removed from the team bus stopping at other hotels to pick up Earl [Battey], Lennie Green and those guys.

"Mudcat was a spirited backer of the idea that everyone got treated like they should be treated. That everyone was equal, Black or white."

"For me," said former teammate Tony Oliva, "he is numero uno as a teammate, because he was so important for me as a young player. He was for everybody on the team to be the same. He was a spokesman."

Grant made his professional debut with the Fargo-Moorhead Twins of the Class C Northern League. He went 21-5 with a 3.40 ERA to earn the league's Rookie Pitcher of the Year award.

In four minor league seasons, he compiled a 70-28 record before joining Cleveland in 1958.

He went 6-3 in 57 appearances with Pittsburgh and Oakland in 1971, his final major league season. He spent the 1972 season pitching for the Class AAA Iowa Oaks, then retired and joined the Cleveland Indians television broadcasting team. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Whittier College.

Grant also was known for his singing skills in offseason gigs — his lounge act was called "Mudcat and the Kittens."

"He pitched with a rhythm on the mound," Kaat said. "There was a count to his pitching. He had that in life, of course … with Mudcat and the Kittens.

"He was really a good teammate. He walked into the clubhouse upbeat every day."

Oliva recalled the contributions Grant and Oliva's son Ric, a musician, made during a memorial service for former teammate Harmon Killebrew at Target Field in 2011. "Mudcat sang 'What a Wonderful World' and he had our son, Ric, with him on a guitar," Oliva said. "That was an amazing moment for our family."

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