Mudcat Grant dies at age 85 Cherokee, CABA Tourney dear to his heart

Monday, June 21, 2021

Jim "Mudcat'' Grant, a forever friend to Cherokee and the first Black 20-game winner in the American League and a key part of the Minnesota Twins’ first World Series team in 1965, has died. He was 85.

After forging fast friendships with several Cherokeans, including the Larry French and Don Royer families while appearing with his band at Speelmon’s Steak House & Lounge in the 1970s, Mudcat visited Cherokee often.

Most notable was when Aurelia and Cherokee hosted the annual CABA 10-and-Under World Series for 17 years in which Grant was a frequent guest speaker who stayed all week long to speak at the banquet, attend the tournament ball games and interact and take photos with the kids. In between times, as a rabid golfer, he played many rounds of golf in Cherokee with his many friends, including the Frenches and Royers and Daily Times Editor Paul Struck.

As a member of the CABA Executive Board, Struck called upon Grant’s local friendships to invite “Mud” to a CABA Tournament and when we mentioned kids and baseball, he said “I’ll be there.” Our cost was just his air fare from Los Angeles as he paid his own way otherwise and stayed with friends - usually the French family - the many times he returned for CABA. Baseball, golf, sing a few songs, and cocktails, and Mudcat was as happy as he made all of us.

Mud was particularly pleased to appear pictured with every CABA team in one, single panoramic photo each year. As the rare panoramic camera (Storm Lake’s Buntrock-Salie Studios) would slowly pan one side to the other of as many as 16 teams lined up in a half-moon format, Mud would time it and run from team to team so it appeared there were 16 Mudcats in one photo! A playful, fun-loving man, Grant took as great of pride in the local baseball tourney as did the CABA Board, volunteers, players, coaches, parents and fans.

His last time speaking at CABA, Grant took the time to summon former Twins teammate pitcher Jim Perry in Sioux Falls and former Miracle Met Donn Clendenon in nearby Canton, S.D. to attend and speak with him at the CABA Banquet.

Grant’s last appearance in Cherokee eight years ago featured a golf match in Cherokee with Don Royer, Hank Hayes, Dennis Nelson, and Jim Clabaugh. “We have five guys in our foursome!” joked Mudcat.

Grant spent less than four full seasons of his 14-year major league career with the Twins, but they were by far his best. After being acquired in a trade with Cleveland on June 15, 1964, for George Banks and Lee Stange, Grant led the American League with 21 wins in 1965.

Grant's career-best season helped the Twins post a 102-60 record for a spot in the World Series. He also led the league with six shutouts in 1965. He started three times in that World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and won twice - including a 5-1, complete-game victory in Game 6, during which he also hit a three-run homer. Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers won Game 7.

Grant went 50-35 with a 3.35 ERA in 129 appearances, including 111 starts, with the Twins. He was traded to the Dodgers after the 1967 season and also wound up pitching for Montreal, St. Louis, Oakland and Pittsburgh.

Grant was long known by his unique nickname, though there are varying stories about its origination. He related to his Cherokee friends that he fished in rivers as a lad to feed the family and he sometimes grew impatient after no bites and went “noodling” in the muddy banks and bare-handed catfish, hence the name Mudcat.

The native of Lacoochee, Florida, where he grew up poor in a small, segregated town north of Tampa, signed with Cleveland at age 18 and made his major league debut for the Indians in 1958.

He finished his 14-year career with a 145-119 record and a 3.63 ERA over 571 appearances, including 293 starts. After retiring from the mound, Grant worked in Cleveland's community relations department and as a broadcaster while becoming an activist and advocate for Black participation in the sports.

He co-wrote a book published in 2006, "The Black Aces,'' which chronicled the lives of his fellow Black 20-game winners like Bob Gibson and Ferguson Jenkins. In 2007, President George W. Bush honored Grant and "The Black Aces'' at a White House ceremony for Black history month.

Grant was an accomplished musician, too, with a talent for singing the blues. He sang a cover of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World'' at the 2011 memorial service for his former Twins teammate, Harmon Killebrew.

His “Mudcat & The Kittens” memorable appearances in Cherokee at Speelmon’s packed the house, leading to more Cherokeans meeting and embracing this kind man with the easy smile and wicked fastball.

"Will never forget his smile, his voice or the way he could light up a room,'' Twins president Dave St. Peter said on Twitter.

Neither will Cherokee.

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