Mudcat Grant reflects on career, Black Aces

Mudcat Grant reflects on career, Black Aces

MINNEAPOLIS -- When Jim "Mudcat" Grant accepted his Kirby Puckett Alumni Community Service Award at the annual Diamond Awards at Target Field on Jan. 26, he recalled his earliest memory of joining the Twins.

Grant established himself as a quality starting pitcher during seven seasons with the Indians, including an All-Star Game selection in 1963, but when he came to Cleveland Stadium on June 16, 1964, to open a three-game series against the Twins, he was told to go to the visitors' clubhouse. Grant found out he had been traded to Minnesota, and Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew was the first to introduce himself to his newest teammate.

Grant said he immediately felt wanted, and went 11-9 with a 2.82 ERA the rest of the way with the Twins that season, which set him up for his career year a season later.

"The first guy that shook my hand was Harmon Killebrew," Grant remembered with a smile. "We had hitters. They could knock in runs."

While the offense certainly did its job in 1965, leading the American League in runs scored, it was Grant who established himself as an ace, going 21-7 with a 3.30 ERA in 41 appearances, including 39 starts. He was an All-Star for the second time in three years and finished sixth in the balloting for the AL MVP Award.

More importantly, though, he became the first African-American pitcher in the AL to win 20 games, which later shaped his efforts to have black pitchers recognized as part of his Black Aces campaign.

"It was definitely special for me," Grant said at a recent TwinsFest. "I didn't know there was never an African-American pitcher who won 20 games in the American League. As the season progressed, I started getting all kinds of mail, and even Howard Cosell called me a couple times when I got to 18 wins. So, it was really special."

As Grant got older, he understood the significance of the milestone, and it became his mission to celebrate the accomplishments of the Black Aces (http://www.theblackaces.com/), African-American pitchers who won at least 20 games. Grant's book, "The Black Aces: Baseball's Only African-American Twenty-Game Winners", came out in 2007, and since then CC Sabathia and David Price have joined the exclusive club.

The members are Vida Blue (1971, '73, '75), Al Downing ('71), Bob Gibson ('65, '66, '68-70), Dwight Gooden ('85), Grant ('65), Ferguson Jenkins ('67-72, '74), Sam Jones ('59), Don Newcombe ('51, '55, '56), Mike Norris ('80), J.R. Richard ('76), Dave Stewart ('87-90), Earl Wilson ('67), Dontrelle Willis (2005), Sabathia ('10) and Price ('12).

"It was a lot of fun doing that book and doing all that research," Grant said. "I found out so many things that happened and how African-Americans contributed to Major League Baseball. I think it's just a wonderful thing."

Grant, 81, remains active in the community, as is evidenced by the award he received at the Diamond Awards. He traveled to Minnesota from his home in Southern California last week for the award ceremony and TwinsFest. He said his goal remains to spread awareness about African-American baseball players, especially with the recent decline of black players in the Major Leagues.

"By highlighting this history maybe we can make an impression on African-American youngsters to play this game," Grant said. "We are losing African-Americans in Major League Baseball to other sports. The opportunity was there all the way back when Jackie Robinson played with the Dodgers, and it's still there, so veteran African-American players need to tell our young black athletes to play the game of baseball. It's a wonderful sport."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.