Now Mudcat is thinking about getting two violins into his off-season act, Mudcat and the Kittens, to play rock 'n' roll. Violins for rock 'n' roll? This is something very new. Also, he is looking forward to pitching in Los Angeles this summer, because he knows that very big things can happen to him if he gets exposure in a big town like L.A.
"If I have the talent to do all the things people are always telling me I have the talent to do, Los Angeles has got to be the right place for me," he says. "I was going down with the Kittens to open in San Juan a few weeks ago, but the Dodgers asked me to wrap up the act and start working out early. Fine, fine. Early practice could be a blessing in disguise. A blessing in disguise. I win just a few games for the
Dodgers, and I have to be worth even more with the Kittens in San Juan. A blessing in disguise."
Some people in baseball think Mudcat could have carried his name on anyway, even if he had spent his whole playing career in smaller places like Cleveland and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Somewhere, goes the thought, Grant may end up becoming the first Negro play-by-play announcer or one of the first Negro managers. Beyond that, who knows? Sidney Poitier can't play all the parts.
For Mudcat, ending up in Los Angeles is only a special bonus. Throwing his arms wide, he says he would have been delighted to have played with an expansion team in Meridian, Miss, if that meant escaping Minnesota. Life with the Twins grew progressively sour after his 21-7 1965 season, when Grant finished up with two World Series victories over the Dodgers—one of them clinched with his own monstrous home run. Last year the Twins, rife with racial antagonism and curious personality conflicts that superseded even usual simple discrimination, served as nothing but a jailhouse for Grant. He did not get along with the new manager, Cal Ermer, or the pitching coach, Early Wynn. For that matter, he grated on many of the same teammates with whom he had rollicked in victory two years before.
Shortstop Zoilo Versalles, the '65 MVP, whose descent into mediocrity and dissension parallels Grant's, and who was, with him, dispatched to the Dodgers over the winter, at least managed to direct most of his discontent toward Ermer. Grant sprayed his about almost indiscriminately so that, in the end, he was left with no one else to dislike except himself. To his credit, and even to his salvation, he did not spare himself when that option was left.
Grant does not like to consider that he must make a comeback. The word seems to rattle him. But he acknowledges the facts. The Dodgers have viewed him from the first as no more than an extra starter and as the long relief man, a position that has traditionally been accepted as the first way station on the trip to unconditional release—"so that you can make a deal on your own." Grant's legs have hobbled and disturbed him for two painful seasons, and he started only two games after Ermer became manager. Grant is really not so much coming back from a bad season as he is from a de facto retirement.
To effect a return he has been training diligently on the field and with weights to strengthen his legs. "I'll tell you," says Manager Walter Alston, "he's been working his tail off for us."
Unlike many hard throwers, Grant, who has a good changeup, does not have to go through a pitching change-of-life and pick up a new pitch. "A pitcher has to face it," he says. "Almost from the very first, you lose something every year you throw. If a pitcher says he is just as strong as last year, he is just a liar, baby. I know I can't run as fast as I did 10 years ago, so there's no reason to expect I can throw as fast. From the time you get in this game you got to say, 'Every year I lose something here [he taps his bicep], I can make up for it here [finger to the head].' "
Johnny Sain, now the pitching coach at Detroit but Grant's mentor in his greatest season, offers his own example as a study in optimism. "Really, when you've had some success and then fallen back, it's hard to get going again in the same environment," Sain says. "When you've been on top with one club, it's hard to go to the bullpen and work your way back. The people you've been around just won't let you. When I went from the Braves to the Yankees it was a fresh start. I told 'em I'd relieve, start, do anything they wanted. It was a fine break for me, the same way it can be for Mudcat, because a pitcher has a little more advantage than a hitter in moving to another league. If he's a pitcher with a lot of craft, a lot of little extras, they'll have to see him several times before they get a line on him."
Grant is pleased with the comparison. "Fortunately," he says, "I don't have to depend on any one pitch each time. I have a very good fastball, a very good curve, a very good sinker and a very good razzafratz." Some people listening in thought, as Mudcat grinned sheepishly, that he said spitter instead of razzafratz. Whatever, Grant has always been able to adjust.