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Pasco Tribune

Victory for Mudcat

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 10:47 AM

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DADE CITY -

It was 1965, just a year after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, when James "Mudcat" Grant of Pasco County stood on the pitching mound in the opening game of the World Series and gave the Minnesota Twins an 8-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers would rebound and win the series four games to three, but for a time, the eyes of the nation were on the young black man from Lacoochee, who also pitched the Twins to a win and hit a home run in game six.

"In a sense, he was the premier civil rights leader in the country at that moment," said Imani Asukile, president of the African American Heritage Society of East Pasco County.

Grant, 77, will be honored at a banquet Feb. 2 as the recipient of the society's 2013 Carter G. Woodson Award, which is presented each year to a person who has made a significant contribution to the preservation of African American life and history in Pasco County.

The award is named for the founder of African American History Month.

Asukile said that, with his World Series appearance, Grant was building on the legacy of black athletes that was begun by such luminaries as Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens.

"He went out and he performed, and he performed very, very well," Asukile said.

The stellar baseball career isn't the reason Grant was chosen for the Carter G. Woodson Award, though.

Instead, Asukile said, Grant is being honored because of his 2007 book, "Black Aces: Baseball's Only African-American Twenty-Game Winners," which the former pitcher co-authored with Tom Sabellico and Pat O'Brien.

The book tells the story of the 13 black Major League Baseball pitchers who accumulated at least 20 winning games in a season — Grant being one of those athletes.

Grant weaves in personal details about coming of age in a segregated Pasco County. Asukile said Grant is a "walking repository of information" about the era.

"That's why we are honoring him," Asukile said. "He was able to put his story on paper."

Grant was born Aug. 13, 1935, in Lacoochee and attended high school at Moore Academy in Dade City, an all-black school that evolved into today's Moore-Mickens Education Center.

He signed with the Cleveland Indians as a minor leaguer in 1954, seven years after Robinson broke professional baseball's color barrier. He made his Major League pitching debut in 1958.

Grant played for several teams during a 14-season career that ended in 1971. His best season was that World Series year of 1965, when he pitched 28 games for Minnesota, winning 21 of them.

He was the first black to win 20 games in the American League and the first black to win a World Series game for an American League team.

Grant's baseball fame gave him entre into a world far removed from his early life in Lacoochee and at one point led to a meeting with President John F. Kennedy, who sought him out in 1961 during a Cleveland Indians road trip to Detroit.

"His career spanned the Civil Rights movement, from the time of Rosa Parks to Little Rock in 1957 and the legislation in the 1960s," Asukile said.

He never forgot his roots, though.

"I am Lacoochee," Grant said in a 2005 interview with The Tampa Tribune. "No matter where I go, I take Lacoochee with me. It means everything to me."


rblair@tampatrib.com (813) 371-1853 Twitter: @RBlairTBO

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