It was just before a Cactus League game in Arizona. Four retired major leaguers had been imported to shake hands and sign autographs for fans who remembered them. At the end of a long table, one man sat alone. No visitors. No autographs. He brought is own chair. It was on wheels.
This was Mudcat Grant.
While I wasn’t there for an autograph or a handshake, I was shocked he was ignored, so I struck up a conversation. I told him I’d once been a baseball writer — “Don’t hold that against me” — in Montreal. His face lit up: “I was the starting pitcher in the first game.” With fondness, he remembered THE Opening Day, the Expos’ franchise opener in New York (they won 11-10), and the city (he was there less than two months). The fondness wasn’t about his pitching: Grant’s earned run average was 20.25 that day and he won only game before being traded to St. Louis.
“The people in Montreal were good to me,” he said.
Grant died last week, at 85. Had I known of his knee problems, I wouldn’t have been so surprised to see him in a wheelchair. He told me he lived in Los Angeles now and that he’d had a good life, a life kick-started by working in a Florida lumber mill at 13 to help his poverty-stricken single mom and five siblings. The flip side of that was singing and dancing as the headliner with “Mudcat and The Kittens” on stage and TV.
He launched his career in Fargo, with a 21-5 record for the Class C Twins, en route to 14 years with Cleveland, Minnesota, the Dodgers, Expos, St. Louis, Oakland and Pittsburgh. He won 26 more games than he lost and pitched 89 complete games. Today that would make him a multi-millionaire; then, his average salary was below $25,000.
He became a writer. His book — The Black Aces — sells today for as much as $60. It’s about the 13 Black 20-game winners…he was the first one in the American League. His 20-win season was 1965 with the Minnesota Twins. He won 23, including two in a World Series where he started three games in eight days. On two days’ rest, Grant pitched a complete game and smoked a three-run homer to force Game 7, the second AL pitcher ever to hit a World Series home run. It was his career moment.
That October afternoon, Mudcat Grant was more a Giant than a Twin. Years later, sitting in a wheelchair at a spring training game in Arizona, he was forgotten…yet happy.