In his poem, Life, which he recites to young audiences and, if there appears to be a demand for it, in his nightclub act, too, Mudcat Grant begins:
Life is like a game of baseball, and you play it every day.
It isn't just the breaks you get, but the kind of game you play.
The poem goes on from there, 56 lines in all. In it, Fear is pitching against you. Greed, Envy, Hatred and Defeat comprise the opposition infield. Carelessness, Waste, Selfishness and Jealousy are also starters on that team, with Discouragement and Falsehood forming a shallow but formidable bench. Luckily, God is calling balls and strikes and working the bases, too.
A lady from California once sued Mudcat for $50,000, contending that Mudcat had plagiarized Life from her. Mudcat got, among others, some Catholic nuns to declare that they heard him reciting his poem in Minnesota long before the lady in California had ever written her poem. The suit was dismissed.
Score one for the home team, which has Religion at first base, Brotherhood at third, Ambition and Work in the pasture. Truth and Faith are "your keystone men." Courage is the starting pitcher, Honor is in the bullpen and Love is in the dugout. It is interesting that along with such stalwart, lofty characters Mudcat has made a special point of inserting Humor in the lineup behind the plate. It is, he says, "important to the scheme." Mudcat keeps things very much in perspective, even about himself. For instance, the last time he was traded he said philosophically, "Baseball players are like streetcars: they just come and go."
But this time, having been traded to the Dodgers at the age of 32, dogged by an uncertain knee and a 5-6 record last year in Minnesota, Mudcat is just standing on the mound, looking out over his shoulder.
Your centerfielder is very fast,
though small and hard to see.
So watch him, son, when he gets the ball,
Mudcat is watching his centerfielder very closely.
It has been generalized often enough and conveniently that Mudcat Grant is a very complex man. Closer to the truth, he seems to be a very consistent man, complicated only by the various environmental strains of time and subculture that tug at him from all sides. Basically, he is a man saturated with the solid qualities of his upbringing: Southern rural, Negro Baptist. But then he is also touched by all the other experiences of his life: baseball, show biz, public relations, Northern middle-class suburbia. Mudcat is always ahead of things. Of course, this can be very tricky if you are a Negro. You might get your head blown off being ahead of your time.
"I was in the NAACP before it was Camp," he said in his most famous quote of 1965, when he was the best pitcher in the American League and everybody was paying close attention to whatever he said. Now he is deeply, even tenderly, involved with the life of a small Midwest town that has not one Negro in its population. Mudcat is always ahead.
"I was wearing the long socks or even the pretty long socks with garters while everyone else was still wearing those short socks," he says. "I mean I was wearing long socks nine, 10 years ago, and everybody laughed at me for it."