Jim “Mudcat” Grant is a Lacoochee native son who blazed a trail as the first African-American to pitch a 20-game winning season in the American League.
His 1965 win/loss record for the Minnesota Twins was 21-7.
Grant, now age 82, lives in California.
He won two World Series games, also in 1965, pitching for the Twins against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
During one of those wins, he powered a three-run homer over the fence. He was named The Sporting News American League Pitcher of the Year.
Grant’s career began in 1958 with the Cleveland Indians, about a decade after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball. He pitched his last game in 1971, pitching for the Oakland Athletics and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Mudcat is a name given to Grant by another ballplayer who reportedly thought he was from Mississippi, and Mudcat fit.
Grant’s star quality as an athlete is now on view at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village, in Dade City.
His career is part of the Smithsonian Museum’s traveling exhibit, “Hometown Teams: How Sports Shaped America,” which runs through April 28.
Baseball, and Grant’s achievements, are just one of the highlights of the exhibit, which covers every sport imaginable.
There are interactive videos and trivia on baseball, football, bowling, soccer, cheerleading, roller blading, basketball, surfing and much more.
“There are all different sports,” said Stephanie Black, the museum’s executive director. “Everybody can come in here and see something different.”
The interactive nature of the exhibit is meant to get conversations going about the impact of sports in American culture.
Items on display include a Wheaties box with soccer star Brandi Chastain; videos with marching bands and mascots; a mock-up of bleachers with seat cushions that reveal answers to baseball trivia; photographs; trophies; sports magazines; and, audio of athletes and fans talking about their favorite memories.
A lecture series is planned, too
On April 14 at 2 p.m., University of Florida history professor Steve Noll will be the featured speaker. Anyone wearing a sports team’s jersey or T-shirt will get a 25 percent discount on the museum’s fee.
Other lectures are tentative, but information can be found at PioneerFloridaMuseum.org.
It’s a true traveling exhibit.
Once “Hometown Teams” leaves Dade City, it heads to the Dunedin Historic Museum, among other stops in Florida.
This is only the second Smithsonian exhibit for the Florida Pioneer Museum. The first was last year when the museum featured “The Way We Worked,” a look at the working life of Americans from the mid-19th century to the late 20th century.
The exhibits are part of the Museum on Main Street series, sponsored by the Smithsonian in partnership with state and local organizations.
The Florida Humanities Council selected the Pioneer museum to host Hometown Teams, and awarded a $5,000 grant. A portion of the grant will help sponsor a Dade City Little League team.
Host sites are encouraged to reach out locally for athletes who can be featured in the exhibit.
It was special to see Mudcat play
Most of the memorabilia from Grant’s career came from family members who still live in the area.
“We were fortunate that they were able to be so involved,” Black said.
A few items also are from the collection of artifacts on loan to the museum from alumni of Moore Academy, and the later schools bearing the names of Moore-Mickens.
“We’ve had a tremendous response from the community,” Black said. “Everybody is so excited about this.”
Grant’s twin sister, Johnnie Mae Lopey, remembers her first time watching her brother pitch professionally in Cleveland. She went there with their mother, Viola Grant.
A scoreboard announcement splashed her name onto the screen as Grant’s twin sister.
“That was special to see him play,” she recalled.
Through the years, Grant has left memorabilia with her, including a life-size cutout, which is part of the exhibit.
His nephew, Jamie Lopey, described Grant as a “family guy” who always encourages youth to play sports, especially baseball.
Grant is co-author of “The Black Aces,” a book that chronicles 15 black pitchers who had 20-game winning seasons in the majors. He also includes some who played in the Negro League.
Johnnie Mae Lopey said her brother had challenges even a decade after Robinson began playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
On one trip through Georgia, team members stopped for lunch, and Grant was told to go to the back door.
“His teammates said if he has to go to the back door, we’ll all go to the back door,” she said.
Grant has been back to Lacoochee on several occasions. Mudcat Grant Boulevard, near the entrance to Stanley Park, is named for him.
Local businessman Jesse Stanley, for whom the park is named, was an early booster of Grant when he played baseball at mini-camps, and was signed by the Cleveland Indians.
Johnnie Mae Lopey said her brother never let being from a small town hold him back. And, she said, that’s his message to youngsters still.
“Keep on practicing and try to be somebody,” she said.
What: Smithsonian Exhibit, “Hometown Teams: How Sports Shaped America”
Where: Pioneer Florida Museum, 15622 Pioneer Museum Road, Dade City
When: Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Exhibit ends April 28.
Cost: $10, adults; $8, seniors; $5, students including college students with valid school identification. No charge for children under age 5, and for active duty military with identification (with immediate family).
Info: (352) 567-0262 or PioneerFloridaMuseum.org
Published April 4, 2018