Grant a walking history lesson
Pioneering pitcher passing legacy to next generation
MINNEAPOLIS -- In addition to being a former Major League pitcher, Jim "Mudcat" Grant is a community activist, a public speaker, an accomplished blues singer and a walking history lesson about African-Americans in baseball.To anyone who listens, Grant will talk about the game and the experiences that he, his peers and pioneers went through to play baseball. There is certainly plenty for him to discuss. Grant was the first African-American pitcher in the American League to win 20 games and the first to earn a World Series victory, achieving both feats for the Twins in 1965. "At the time you knew it was important, but you didn't know how important it really was and really is," said Grant, who played from 1958 to 1971 with seven Major League teams -- including Minnesota from 1964 to 1967. "It's huge with me to be the first African-American to win 20 games in the American League."
That achievement has made him a member of "The 12 Black Aces," named for the dozen African-American pitchers to win 20 games. That fraternity also includes such names as Don Newcombe, Bob Gibson, Ferguson Jenkins and Dwight Gooden."Prizes? We have all of them," said Grant. "We have Cy Young winners. We have Pitchers of the Year. We have World Series records. Not enough people know that. Our accomplishments are huge." Grant would love to see new "Aces" added to the elite list, but at this point he'd be pleased just to see more black starting pitchers in today's game. "The '12 Black Aces' are very important," he said. "We've only had 12 African-Americans win 20 games in the history of baseball. It's amazing. Now we only have about three or four black starting pitchers in the Major Leagues. There is a dwindling of everyday black players in baseball. I am sure if a lot of our young black people knew this, they would really play the game. They would not let it dwindle the way it has gone today. Jackie Robinson would be very disappointed. Larry Doby would be very disappointed." Grant, too, is disappointed, because early African-American players endured so much bigotry and hardship both on and off the field. At one time or another, players in the Majors and minors had to use separate water fountains and stay in segregated hotels, and were denied seats in taxis and movie theaters. But, he said, no bitterness remains from those hurtful times. "We don't hold a grudge," he said. "We had the capacity to overcome all these indignities and insults to become terrific ballplayers. A lot of us are Hall of Famers. A lot of us are All-Stars. It is the system that portrayed us to be less of a people, not us, the ballplayers. We didn't let it stick." Grant is in the process of creating a "12 Black Aces" traveling museum, with a book about the group also on the way. He is working with current Twins star Torii Hunter and other players on ways to pass the legacy to the next generations by going into the community and talking about the game, staging clinics and signing autographs. "We seem to have a tendency, I know in baseball, to forget the historical part of the game," said Grant, who had a 145-119 career record. "We have a celebration of Jackie Robinson, but a lot of the young people don't know what it really is or what it really meant back in those days. They don't know who Larry Doby is, and he signed right after Jackie Robinson." Grant recently appeared with current and former players at TwinsFest inside the Metrodome. Again he was walking history -- wearing a shirt and hat from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, another group with which he's heavily involved.
Grant, who turns 70 this August, walks with the aid of a cane but remains very active. Based in Los Angeles, he travels the country for baseball clinics, but also talks about such societal issues as child abuse and education."I'll be doing this until I die," he said. "I motivate my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to do the same thing -- feel the pulse of your community and see what you can do to alleviate some of the problems that have been tagging us for a long time. Help within a community."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.