Jim (Mudcat) Grant spent four years with the Twins and took part in one of the most memorable seasons in franchise history in 1965. That year, he both made the All-Star Game at Met Stadium and also pitched in the World Series against the Dodgers.
“Those are memories you’re never going to forget,” said Grant, 78, who probably signed more autographs than anyone at the All-Star FanFest this past week. “I have 34 great grandbabies. They all know about 1965 and being in the World Series and being an All-Star. Thanks to technology I can show them, every Christmas we have a good time. They say, ‘Papa, that’s you!’ I say, ‘That’s right, that’s Papa out there on that field!’ ”
Grant pitched the second and third innings of the 1965 All-Star Game. He said the most memorable part of the game was when he gave up a two-run homer, but not for the reasons one would expect.
“I tried to pitch Willie Stargell in, but I got the ball away from him and he hits the ball into left-center field and we had this big band in center field with these tubas,” Grant recalled. “The ball went right in one of the tubas and it made this awful noise, it went ‘whaaap’ like that. That’s what I remember about the All-Star Game, but it was great playing in it.”
The ’65 All-Star Game was one of the most famous in baseball history because of the unbelievable amount of talent between the two teams.
“Some of the guys that were in that All-Star Game in 1965, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Maury Wills was in there, Sandy Koufax was in there, there were 18 Hall of Famers that were on the field that day, both American and National League that was in that game that year,” said Grant, who also took part in the 1963 All-Star Game when he was with the Indians.
And what does Grant think of the All-Star Game now compared to when he took part in it in the 1960s?
“This has gotten so big, and in 1965 it was a nice All-Star [Game], but it was sort of mellow and small-time,” he said. “But this is what you call big-time, and how better can you get other than the fact that it’s in Minneapolis?”
Grant was asked for his feelings on making the All-Star Game the deciding factor between which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series, something that has been in effect since 2003.
“They say that the players play better, but if I remember, in all of the years that I was in baseball, if you made the All-Star Game the players played really well,” he said. “I understand what they were trying to do with the home field and stuff like that, but if you were an All-Star, the guys showed you they were All-Stars every time they were on the All-Star team. But it’s understandable that change is sometimes made, and not always for the better, but change is always made.”
Trade for the best
In June 1964, Grant was traded from Cleveland to the Twins for George Banks and Lee Stange. In his first six seasons with the Indians he posted a 64-59 record with a 3.99 ERA, but in ’64 he was struggling at 3-4 with a 5.95 ERA when he was traded. Everything changed for Grant after that.
He posted an 11-9 record and 2.82 ERA over 166 innings the rest of 1964. In 1965, he only got better, going 21-7 with a 3.30 ERA and leading the American League in victories. He went 2-1 with a 2.74 ERA in the World Series.
“The trade was the best break for me. Even though I was satisfied with being a Cleveland Indian, it wasn’t until I really got here and played for the Twins that I was considered a superstar,” said Grant, who was sixth in AL MVP voting in 1965. “After becoming the first African-American to win 20 games in the American League, and also being on the field with Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, [Zoilo] Versalles and so forth and so on.
“I hit a home run in the World Series that year, a three-run home run in the World Series that year, and I never will forget that. My mother was in the stands. It was a tough Series to lose, and of course that was the great [Game 7] that Sandy Koufax pitched. Jim Kaat matched him from game-to-game, pitch-to-pitch, but Lou Johnson hit a home run off of Kaat and we got beat [2-0]. It was tough, but being in the World Series beats all of that. We lost and we didn’t get back to it, but it was a great Series.”
Incentive not needed
Joe Mauer, like Grant, said that while he understands baseball’s decision to add the incentive of home-field advantage to the World Series from the All-Star Game outcome, he doesn’t think it was necessary.
“I think they put that in place to try to make the game more exciting and make more incentive for the players, but I think any time you put on the uniform as a player you’re going to go out there and do your best and play the game hard,” said Mauer, the All-Star Game ambassador. “This is an opportunity for those guys to go out and show them why they’re selected to that game.
“They might get to see a player you don’t normally get to see, a Mariner or an Angel where you might not get to see them on an everyday basis, and he might do something in the game that is pretty special and you might follow that player. It’s a pretty great event and it will be exciting.”
• Frank Viola III, the son of Twins great Frank Viola and his wife, Kathy, who are both in town for the All-Star Game, is pitching in the Toronto Blue Jays farm system and was recently promoted to high Class A Dunedin after posting a 3.86 ERA in 23⅓ innings at Class A Lansing. Viola’s daughter Brittany was a diver in the 2012 London Olympics, and his other daughter, Kaley, recently took an assistant volleyball coaching job at Davidson. As for the elder Viola, he was supposed to miss the season as pitching coach of Class AAA Las Vegas after undergoing open-heart surgery during spring training, but the 1987 World Series MVP and 1988 AL Cy Young Award winner with the Twins felt good enough to return to the Mets’ top affiliate at the end of May.
• One reason coach Flip Saunders looks for an improved Wolves team next season is that Saunders expects veteran forward Chase Budinger, who missed much of last season because of various injuries, to be 100 percent healthy.
• Former Vikings wide receiver Sidney Rice was released by the Seahawks in February and then re-signed with the Super Bowl champions, even though he caught only 15 passes for 231 yards and three scores last season and tore a knee ligament Oct. 28.
• Kris Humphries, the former Gophers and Hopkins star, reportedly agreed to a three-year deal for $13 million to play for coach Randy Wittman’s up-and-coming Washington Wizards squad next season. Humphries is coming off a two-year, $24 million contract with the Celtics. He has career earnings of $48.9 million.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40, 8:40 and 9:20 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org