Jim Mudcat Grant Dies: First Black AL 20-Game Winning Pitcher And Early National Anthem Protester Was 85

Jim “Mudcat” Grant, who led the 1965 Minnesota Twins to the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, has died at the age of 85.

The Twins announced his death on Twitter but did not provide details. Grant pitched in the majors for the Twins, Cleveland Indians, Oakland A’s, Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Montreal Expos and St. Louis Cardinals. He retired in 1971 with a record of 145-119 and 54 saves.

Grant went 21-7 in 1965 for Minnesota, leading a powerhouse Twins team that featured pitchers Jim Kaat, Jim Perry and Camilo Pascual, and sluggers like Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Bob Allison and shortstop Zoilo Versalles, the league’s most valuable player. Grant was named AL Pitcher of the Year after the season.

In the 1965 series, Grant is remembered for a three-run home run in the sixth game that led the Twins to a 5-1 victory. It was the only homer he hit that season, and forced the series to a decisive seventh game, which the Twins lost.

That year, he also became the first Black pitcher in American League history to win 20 games in a single season.

“Though he spent just four years of his 14-year career with the Twins, Mudcat remained a beloved member of our organization well into his retirement and was a frequent visitor with fans and staff alike at Twinsfest,” the Twins said in a statement. “We send our condolences to the entire Grant family, as well as the other organizations impacted by his 60-plus years in and around the baseball world.”

Grant is also remembered for an earlier incident, years before Colin Kaepernick would take a knee for the National Anthem. In 1960, Grant was in the bullpen and altered the words to the Star-Spangled Banner, singing, “This land ain’t so free/I can’t go to Mississippi.”

Pitching coach Ted Wilks took exception to his improvisation, and reportedly used a racial epithet. The ensuing dust-up saw Grant leave the bullpen and exit the stadium. He was suspended for the remainder of the season for his actions.

Grant was born in Lacoochee, Florida and began his career when he signed to play with Cleveland at the age of 18 in 1958. He said later that he acquired his nickname when trying out for the Indians.

A mudcat was the name commonly used to describe large catfish found in muddy streams.

“In those days, they thought all Black folk was from Mississippi,” he once told the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. “They started calling me Mississippi Mudcat. I said, ‘I’m not from Mississippi,’ and they said, ‘You’re still a Mississippi Mudcat.’ And it’s been very good to me.”

Later in his life, Grant worked as an activist and advocate for Black participation in baseball. He had a music career and published the book The Black Aces, which told about the lives of the first Black 20-game winners in baseball history.

Grant also was a TV analyst for Indians games in the 1970s. He was also an activist supporting groups fighting childhood illiteracy and drug use.

Information on survivors was not immediately available.

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