Last month, the Baseball Reliquary’s Terry Cannon asked me to contribute an essay on my favorite baseball card to a new exhibit called “Cardboard Fetish.” Honored by the request, I submitted two entries, both from my inaugural 1972 Topps set: Dave Cash and Jim “Mudcat” Grant. Terry selected my essay on the Cash card, the first card in my collection.
The baseball card exhibit, currently on display at the Pasadena, Calif., Public Library, will run through July 31.
Not to leave Mudcat out of the spotlight entirely, here is my entry on Mr. Grant.
I started collecting baseball cards in the spring of 1972; this Jim “Mudcat” Grant Topps card was one of the first I picked up at my local Gillard’s Stationary Store in Bronxville, N.Y. Even though I didn’t know anything about Grant as a player (he could have been the batting coach for all I knew, and I certainly didn’t know about the “Mudcat” moniker), I loved that card almost immediately—partly because of the green and white Oakland uniform and partly because of those funky, oh-so-1970s, mutton-chop sideburns. Simply put, Mudcat owned the biggest and best-groomed sideburns in the big leagues.
Little did I realize that this would be the last Topps card issued for Grant as an active player. I had no idea that Grant already had been released by the A’s during the winter. I never thought that would have happened, considering the fairly impressive statistics on the back of Grant’s card.
After a midseason trade to the A’s, Grant had finished out the 1971 season in the Bay Area. Grant had pitched effectively in middle relief for manager Dick Williams, posting an earned run average of 1.98 in 15 appearances. Although Mudcat appeared to have plenty of life left in his 36-year-old arm, the A’s released him after the season, primarily because Charlie Finley didn’t want to foot the bill on the right-hander’s expensive contract. As a seven-year-old baseball fan, I didn’t understand how money could alter a front office’s opinion of a player. Either a guy could play or he couldn’t. Hey, at seven years old, I was pretty naïve.
In what remains a mystery to me to this day, no other major league team would give Mudcat a spot on its 25-man roster. Several teams seemed needy of relief help (including the Boston Red Sox, California Angels, Kansas City Royals and Chicago Cubs) but only one team—the non-contending Cleveland Indians—gave him as much as a non-roster spring training invite. Settling for what amounted to a glorified tryout, Grant failed to make the Indians’ staff in the spring and received a not-so-generous offer of a demotion to Triple-A Portland. Grant decided to continue his career by pitching briefly in the minor leagues, all the while hoping that a major league team would come calling. When no one showed interest, Mudcat grew discouraged, prompting what seemed like an unfair and premature retirement. Mudcat thus ended his career with a record of 145 wins, 119 losses, a respectable ERA of 3.63, and 53 saves.
Instead of leaving the game completely, the outgoing Grant opted for a job as a broadcaster with the Indians. During a seven-year tenure with Cleveland, Grant doubled as the team’s community director and delivered about 200 speeches per year. After a short broadcasting stint with the A’s, Grant removed himself temporarily from baseball circles, becoming a special marketing director for Anheuser-Busch in the Cleveland area. He also worked for the speakers’ bureau of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Grant returned to the national pastime in 1984, when he was chosen as an assistant venue director for baseball at the Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
About a month after the Olympics ended, Grant ran into former playing great Hank Aaron, who was serving as the Atlanta Braves’ director of player personnel. Aaron offered Grant a position as pitching coach in Atlanta’s minor league system. Grant quickly accepted. Six years later, Grant began operating a nationwide program called “Slug-Out Illiteracy, Slug-Out Drugs” in Los Angeles, where he encouraged former players to put forth an anti-drug message during baseball instructional clinics. And as part of his efforts to help former players who have hit hard times, Grant has faithfully served as a board member of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association.
Based on such achievements listed on his resume, Grant is clearly a good guy. I certainly wasn’t disappointed when I met Mudcat for the first time in February of 2004, when he came to the Hall of Fame to participate in a special program for Black History Month. The opportunity to interview Mudcat—not to mention the chance to hear him spin stories for two hours at dinner—made that 1972 baseball card just a bit more treasured.