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Frank Deford
April 08, 1968
Mudcat Grant, the man from Lacoochee, is all smiles now as he moves his act from Minnesota to Los Angeles and prepares for a big year pitching for the Dodgers and hoofing with the Kittens
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April 08, 1968

Coochee Coos Another Tune

Mudcat Grant, the man from Lacoochee, is all smiles now as he moves his act from Minnesota to Los Angeles and prepares for a big year pitching for the Dodgers and hoofing with the Kittens

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"O.K.," Mr. Newton agrees.

"I had him thinking anyway," Mudcat says, smiling with satisfaction. He smiles so easily, it is difficult to conceive of anger ever sitting on his brow. Indeed, it does take much to rile him, but that can happen, and sometimes does spectacularly. Grant, who has been in the majors for 10 years, is two weeks short of qualifying for a pension. He was suspended for that long several years ago after he stormed out of a bullpen during a heated dispute with a white coach, Ted Wilks, over the legitimacy of the last few words in the national anthem.

"Still," he says, "I never hated any man, never, ever hated any man—till last year. Then I got to hating just about everybody. I thought every white man was a...," and he rattles off several earthy words. "My mind was so perverted. I was crawling with hate."

He will give an account of the saga, but he would rather, he indicates, talk of his redemption, and he introduces this subject, as he sometimes will, with the diction of an announcer.

"I was so disappointed in myself," he says, "but I could not help myself. The people who did help me were my wife Tiny and Gabe Paul, the president of the Indians, who spoke to me citizen to citizen, and Don Newcombe and all of the people of the little town of Cherokee, Iowa, which I will discuss in detail later."

Mudcat, who has a variety of dialects, moves through most of them in the course of any conversation. There is, above all, historic Southern, which flows gently into the tinted jargon of musicians. But it can be changed suddenly, as when Mudcat begins to sound like a sports announcer. He will, for instance, often refer to himself as, "the pitcher of record," an infamous clich� that has never been fit for human tongue on or off the air. He also moves into the vernacular of what he calls "the show-biz world," as when he is talking about the appearances of Mudcat and the Kittens on Johnny Carson's show and other big-time national variety productions. When cataloging these appearances. Grant invariably identifies himself with those who also happened to be on the bill, with the chichi expression "worked with," as in, "On that show I worked with Leslie Uggams and George Jessel"; or, "Oh, yeah, that time I worked with Nancy Wilson and Barbara McNair."

Grant's move into entertainment, along with his potential for becoming an announcer or club official, makes him something of an original. Few other Negro baseball players—Jackie Robinson and Maury Wills are the most prominent exceptions—have ever managed, as white players routinely do, to use a playing career as a springboard to later success within or outside of the game. Negro baseball players generally have had to content themselves with settling for neighborhood celebrity status as liquor-store proprietors. Nor do many of the present group of Negro superstars give evidence of becoming long-term "personalities" in the world at large once their numbers have been ceremonially retired. Of his contemporaries, Grant seems the one most likely to attain that lustrous, lasting stature.

The path James Timothy Grant Jr. has followed upward, geographically as well as financially, has gone from the discrimination and abject poverty of the rural South to a handsome income and a comfortable residence in the North in Cleveland's suburban Shaker Heights. He may be said to be a prototype of the successful Negro of his generation. The Grant family now numbers two children—James Timothy III, who is almost 4, and Joy Jima, just turned one. They and Mrs. Grant will go out to Los Angeles for the balance of the summer once Mudcat is settled. Mrs. Grant is named Lucille, but everyone calls her Tiny, just as no one who knows him calls her husband Jim.

He is Mud most of the time, sometimes James, and occasionally, among old baseball friends, Coochee, for he was born in 1935 in Lacoochee, Fla., a town of 1,700 located inland about 40 miles north of Tampa. There were three sisters before him, and he was a twin to a sister, Johnnie. A brother Julius followed two years later, but James Grant Sr. died before his second son was born. Mrs. Grant, Viola, who is now 58, worked as a domestic and at Lacoochee's citrus canning factory, which is known in the vernacular as the "juice plant."

The Grants' frame house lacked hot water, electric lights and toilets, and young James Jr. often had to study by kerosene lamp or, classically, from the light thrown off by the fire. "I remember the one morning very clearly," he says, "I was about 12 or 13, I guess. It was a big breakfast. Sometimes we were hungry, but we didn't know about it so it didn't matter. We ate possum. We ate coon. The whole bit. A lot of times we just had biscuits with syrup for breakfast. But this morning was a big breakfast. The biscuits were already done, I remember, and Mother was over the stove. We were just kids. We didn't know, we didn't realize how hard Mother was working. There were eggs she was cooking and sausage, and just all of a sudden she collapsed.

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