In "Before the Glory: 20 Baseball Heroes Talk About Growing Up and Turning Hard Times into Home Runs," one player profiled by authors Billy Staples and Rich Herschlag is Jim "Mudcat" Grant.
Grant spent three and a half seasons with the Minnesota Twins. One of his career accomplishments is pitching in the 1965 World Series, winning two of the three games he started.
"A lot of kids ask me if I ever thought about quitting (on my path to baseball). That enlightened me because nowadays kids have the privilege to quit," Grant said during a phone interview.
"We didn't have the privilege to quit back then. If kids today face something of difficulty, they do have that privilege. When I tell kids my stories, I know they now have motivation to overcome whatever they might face.
"The average book written about today's athletes are pretty much adult in context. With this book, 'Before the Glory,' kids can read and look at their own childhood by reading the childhood of these ballplayers."
Growing up without a father
Born in 1935, Grant grew up in central Florida. His father died when he was young but his mother kept the image of Grant's father alive in his mind.
"Regardless of who is raising who, parenting is a two-way street. There is teaching that comes from the mom and teaching that comes from the dad," Grant said. "My mom taught me many things, but she couldn't teach me how to be a man. It was my father's image that taught me to be a man."
Grant thinks that the lack of a father figure or even a positive image of a fatherly figure has hurt inner city youth.
"If a single mother kept the image of the father, of an uncle or some male image, it would make it easier for a single mother to raise her children," Grant said.
Staples, who teaches in the inner city, added this observation, "Not having a father is one of the toughest things for a little boy to deal with. Many have behavior issues. One of the lines that will drive a 13-year-old boy crazy is that 'You'll be just like your father.'
"Mudcat's mother decided to use the limited presence Mudcat's father was in his life in a positive way."
Segregation as a child
Growing up black in the South meant an everyday struggle for African-Americans like Grant. It began with inequities in education. His all-black school received hand-me-down books.
"White kids would tear out the pages of the book. If we got 25 books and we assembled them, we could make four books," Grant said. "And if we got one piece of chalk or crayon that was long, we would fight over it!"
Yet his teachers would not allow the students' education to suffer. In music class he would learn everything from the classical talent of Johann Strauss to the blues of John Lee Hooker.
But as Grant explains in the book, "When you were living as a black person sixty or so years ago, if you tried to think about the worst thing that could happen to you, it could happen that day."
Grant recalls how up until later in his life he was uncomfortable hearing the sound of African drums.
"When the Ku Klux Klan came toward someone's city, there was drumming to warn the community what was coming your way," Grant said.
Grant remembers a specific instance of being in a different town and ended up being kicked and arrested by a white policeman because he didn't say "Yes sir" to him.
He was put in jail on a bogus charge of being drunk. However he was able to get out when his hometown policeman, who was white, but knew Grant, showed up and refuted those allegations.
"When we got home, Mom and I prayed for the policeman that kicked me," Grant said.
Grant and his family did not believe in hatred, because of the inherent weakness in it. Instead they felt sorry for those that were racist.
In the book Grant recalls how he was given the nickname "Mudcat."
Grant was called James by his mother and family. It wasn't until he tried out for the Cleveland Indians during spring training of 1954 that he would be given his nickname.
As he walked by some players, someone said Grant looked like he was from Mississippi. Another played chimed in, "He's a Mississippi Mudcat."
Grant didn't pay much attention to it. However during roll call for players to break out to different practice fields, he heard coaches calling out for "Mudcat Grant." Grant didn't respond, waiting for "James Grant" to be called. It never came.
He roamed the field that first day. The second day a call for "Mudcat Grant" was announced during roll call. It was to be another day of wandering around for Grant, thinking there was a second Grant being given a shot at trying out for the team.
On the third day Grant approached Charles "Red" Ruffing, a former baseball great who was at the camp.
Ruffing explained that Grant's name had been called the previous days but all Grant did was walk around and not participate in any drills. Grant said that his name had never been called.
Ruffing pointed out that "Mudcat Grant" had been called. Grant replied that wasn't his name.
Ruffing retorted, "It is now."
In part three of the "Before the Glory" book review, Trevor Williams talks to Mudcat Grant about befriending Duke Ellington, the 1965 World Series and his memory of visiting Brainerd.
TREVOR WILLIAMS, sports copy editor, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5866.
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