Jim 'Mudcat' Grant, the first Black pitcher in American League history to win 20 games, has died at the age of 85. The Minnesota Twins, for whom Grant pitched for four of his 14 major league seasons, announced his passing on Saturday.
Across those 14 seasons, Grant went 145-119 with an ERA of 3.63 in 293 starts and 278 relief appearances. Along the way, Grant made two All-Star teams and in 1965 with Minnesota authored that history-making 21-win season. That same year, he also finished sixth in the AL MVP balloting. As well, Grant had strong numbers across two postseasons, with the Twins in 1965 and with the Oakland A's in 1971, the final year of his MLB career.
Grant was born in 1935 in Lacoochee, Florida. He went on to become a two-sport athlete in baseball and football, at Florida A&M, but he was unable to graduate because of financial reasons. Not long after Grant was forced to drop out of college, the Cleveland Indians signed him. By 1958, he'd made the majors for good. In addition to playing for Cleveland and the Twins, Grant also spent time in the bigs with the Dodgers, Expos, A's, Cardinals, and Pirates.
Grant, like so many Black players of his generation, was forced to overcome discrimination and acts of racial bias. Grants' SABR bio written by Joseph Wancho details once such incident in 1960:
On September 16 the Indians were at home getting ready to play the Kansas City Athletics. Before the game, as the National Anthem was being played, Grant got into an argument with bullpen coach (and Texas resident) Ted Wilks. "I was standing in the bullpen, singing along with the National Anthem as I always do," Mudcat said. "When it got to that part 'home of the brave and land of the free' I sang something like 'this land is not so free. I can't even go to Mississippi.' It was something like that and I sang it in fun. Wilks heard me and called me a (racial) name. I got so mad I couldn't hold myself back. I told him that Texas is worse than Russia. Then I walked straight into the clubhouse."
Grant dressed and left the park without telling manager Jimmy Dykes, who had no idea what had happened. Dykes suspended Grant for the rest of the season without pay, which Grant accepted. "Jim called me after the game and told me he had made a big mistake," said Dykes. "I said, 'Yes you did and there's nothing I can do about it now. The suspension sticks.'" Wilks apologized for his remarks, which Grant refused to acknowledge. "I'm sick of hearing remarks about colored people. I don't have to stand there and take it," said Grant. Wilks left the organization after the season.
Following his playing career, Grant worked as a TV analyst for Cleveland and a broadcaster for the A's. He also served as a pitching instructor in the minors. Later, Grant worked to promote baseball within the Black community in response to declining participation.