Jim “Mudcat” Grant died on Friday, at age 85. His career trajectory matched almost perfectly my own coming-of-age to baseball fandom. Grant broke in with the Cleveland Indians in 1958; my own first direct baseball memory was my second-grade memory of the 1959 World Series–the Dodgers first Los Angeles championship, defeating the Go-Go White Sox of Nellie Fox and Jungle Jim Landis. His final season, at age 35, was my first year in college in 1971, that blessed year of Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Steve Blass, and a Pirates World Championship.
Grant threw over 200 innings for the Indians in 1958, his first year, and was a solid starter for the Indians and the Twins until 1966, amassing over 200 innings 7 times. What a different era that was for pitchers, with four-man rotations, lots of innings, and success measured in wins. Grant’s best season was undoubtedly 1965, when he threw 270 innings and led the American League with 21 wins and 6 shutouts. He led the Minnesota Twins to their first-ever pennant, and the first World Series for the franchise since the Washington Senators lost to the New York Giants in 1933. I learned in reading his obituary that he was the first black 20-game winner in the majors.
Grant had a stellar World Series. He beat Hall-of-Famer Don Drysdale in Game 1 with a complete-game 8-2 gem. Drysdale returned the favor, besting Grant in Game 4 to even the Series at 2-2. But after the Dodgers had reeled off three straight wins to take a 3-2 Series lead, Grant, pitching on two-days’ rest, turned in the most memorable game of his career. He bested the Dodgers’ Claude Osteen for a complete-game 5-1 6-hitter. As they said in those days, “he helped himself” with a 3-run home run in the sixth inning to break the game open. Alas, for the Twins, the Series belonged to Sandy Koufax, in his prime as the greatest lefthander in major league history, who, after losing game 2, pitched shutouts in Game 5 and Game 7 to win the Series for the Dodgers and collect the Series MVP trophy.
1965 was his only World Series, though he came close in 1971, his final season. In September 1970, he was picked up by the Pittsburgh Pirates, closing in on their first post-season since 1960. The Pirates lost to the Reds in the play-offs, but Grant returned in 1971 and pitched in 42 games for the Pirates in their World Championship season. Grant didn’t make it to the World Series, however, being sold to the Oakland A’s in August, who were beginning their own dynasty and looking for bullpen help as they closed in on their first division championship. They lost to the Orioles in the play-offs, who in turn would lose to the Pirates in the World Series, but Grant appeared in one game in the post-season, tossing 2 scoreless innings. It was the final game of a notable career.