First African American pitcher to win 20 games in major league also pitched for FM Twins
Jim Grant, nicknamed “ Mudcat”, was the first African American pitcher to win 20 games in MLB’s American League. He also was the first African American to win a World Series game, which he did in 1965 when he was with the Minnesota Twins.
Before he got to the majors, Mudcat played with minor league teams. One of them was the old Fargo-Moorhead Twins.
Here’s a note from Jerry Mehlisch, Fargo, who played with Mudcat and the F-M Twins in 1954 prior to Jerry’s retirement due to injuries.
Jerry tells how Jim got the “Mudcat” nickname.
It goes back, he says, to when Jim was invited to the Cleveland Indians’ minor league spring training camp at Daytona Beach, Fla., as a prospect, as he had not signed a contract.
“During this time, the South was extremely segregated,” Jerry writes.
ARCHIVE: Read more of Bob Lind's Neighbors columns
“One day as Jim was walking through the clubhouse, one of the good old boys yelled out that he looked like a Mississippi mudcat (which is an ugly bottom-feeding catfish), and the name stuck.
“Later the unsigned players were summoned to a meeting to determine who would be offered contracts.
“They called ‘Mudcat Grant’ to be offered one of those contracts. But Jim didn’t respond.
“The next day, Red Ruffing, of the Indians’ staff, passed Jim and asked why he didn’t respond. “ Jim exclaimed that they didn’t call his name.
“Red explained, ‘We called Mudcat Grant,’ and Jim said, ‘That’s not my name.’
“Red replied, ‘Well, it is now.’ And it stuck!.”
Rookie of the Year
“When I was playing with Mudcat in 1954,” Jerry writes, “he would show up at the ballpark every game and ask, ‘Where do you want me to play today?’ The manager would say, ‘Mudcat, you are a pitcher!’
“His love of the game was evident even then.
“He was awarded the Rookie of the Year honor by the Northern League in 1954. But during one of his visits to the Roger Maris golf tournament in Fargo, he told me he had never received the award.
“I contacted the RedHawks and they hosted an award ceremony for him.
“He threw out the first pitch and I, as his catcher, caught for him. Memories for all!
A big fan
“Mudcat had several highlights in his career,” Jerry says. “For example, in 1961, when he was playing with Cleveland in Detroit, he received a phone call. The voice on the other end said, ‘Mudcat, the president would like to meet you.’
“Mudcat said, ‘Oh, sure,’ and hung up, thinking one of his teammates was playing a trick on him.
“Later the phone rang again and the same voice made the same request, and Mudcat said not to call him again.
“Soon there was a knock on the hotel door. When he looked through the peephole, he saw three FBI/CIA agents in black suits and thin black ties outside his room.
“It turns out President Kennedy was staying in the same hotel and was a fan of Mudcat’s.
“They met and mainly talked baseball.
“Later they were to meet again in Washington, where many wonderful things were done by the president for the citizens of Lacoochee, Fla, Mudcat’s hometown, through federal assistance programs, which included a park, school, housing and running water. The street between the park and the school is named Mudcat Grant Boulevard.”
Jerry says Mudcat and his wife Trudy currently live in Los Angeles, where Mudcat has written a book titled “The Black Aces” about baseball’s African American pitchers who won 20 games. He also raises funds for innumerable charities and is an accomplished musician who has a musical group called Mudcat and the Kittens.
He’d pitched in the majors from 1958 through 1971, amassing a record of 145 wins and 119 losses.
That’s the man who once pitched for the Fargo-Moorhead Twins.
If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107, fax it to 701-241-5487 or email email@example.com.