Mudcat Grant, American League’s First Black 20-Game Winner, Dies at 85

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“First his musicians — up to seven of them — begin, playing dance music and jazzier stuff, and then the Kittens, some very sexy girls in spare feline outfits, take over the stage to sing and dance and purr,” Frank Deford wrote in Sports Illustrated in 1968. “Then Mudcat comes on. He sings — everything from show tunes to rock ‘n’ roll — and tells jokes and dances.”

“I made way more money in music than I did in baseball,” Grant once said.

James Timothy Grant Jr. was born on Aug. 13, 1935, in Lacoochee, Fla., a town some 40 miles north of Tampa. He grew up in a poor family amid rigid segregation.

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His father, who worked in a lumber mill, died of lung disease when Jim was a child. His mother, Viola, took a job in a citrus canning plant to provide for the family. At age 13 or so, Grant played third base for a local semipro 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 historically Black Florida A&M. He played mostly third base in college, where he was also a reserve running back. He left in his sophomore year to help his family financially, working as a carpenter’s helper.

When a scout for the Indians who had been impressed by his play in high school learned that Grant had dropped out of college, he recommended him to the Cleveland organization.

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He was still a teenager when he was signed by the Indians for their farm system in 1954. Converted to pitching full time, 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 to the All-Star team for the first time.

When Grant reached the major leagues, Black players were often barred by hotels and restaurants at spring training sites in the South and even in some major-league cities.

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