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Monday, August 2, 2021

Mudcat Grant, the American League’s first black 20-game winner, dies at age 85

“First, his musicians – up to seven of them – start playing dance music and jazz things, and then the kittens, some very sexy girls in extra cat gear, take over the stage to sing and dance and spin,” Frank Deford wrote in Sports Illustrated in 1968. “Then comes Mudcat. He sings – everything from show tunes to rock’n’roll – and tells jokes and dances. ”

“I made more money on music than on baseball,” Grant once said.

James Timothy Grant Jr. was born on August 13, 1935 in Lacoochee, Fla., a town about 40 miles north of Tampa. He grew up in a poor family in the midst of rigid separation.

His father, who worked in a lumber factory, died of lung disease when Jim was a child. His mother, Viola, took a job in a citrus cannery to support the family. At the age of 13, Grant played third base for a local semi-pro team, but also worked part-time in a mill.

Grant was a third baseman and pitcher and also played football and basketball at Moore Academy, a black school in Dade City, Fla., Then received an athletic scholarship to the historic Black Florida A&M. He mostly played third base in college, where he was also a reserve running back. He traveled for the second year to help his family financially and worked as a carpenter’s helper.

When a scout of the Indians who was impressed with his play in high school was told that Grant had dropped out of college, he recommended him to the Cleveland organization.

He was still a teenager when he was signed by the Indians for their farm system in 1954. Converted to full-time pitching, he advanced through the minors and made his major league debut in 1958. His best season with the Indians came in 1961 when he was 15-9 and voted for the All-Star team for the first time.

When Grant reached the major leagues, black players were often blocked by hotels and restaurants at training venues in the spring in the South and even in some major league cities.

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