02/15/12 11:37 AM EST
Mudcat among earliest of all 'Black Aces'
By Rhett Bollinger / MLB.com
Grant didn't know it at the time, but he was on the verge of becoming the first African-American pitcher to win 20 games in the American League.
It had been done by two pitchers in the National League -- Don Newcombe (1951, '55-56) and Sam Jones ('59) -- but Grant was the first black pitcher in the AL to accomplish the feat when he won his 20th game with a one-hit shutout against the Washington Senators in the first game of a double header on Sept. 25.
Grant ended up leading the league with 21 victories and six shutouts, along with a 3.30 ERA, but finished behind Dodgers ace and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax in the Cy Young Award balloting. Grant also shined in Minnesota's World Series loss to the Dodgers in seven games, winning twice to become the first black pitcher to earn a victory for an AL club in a Fall Classic.
"It was definitely special for me," said Grant, who played with the Twins from 1964-67. "I didn't know there was never an African-American pitcher who won 20 games in the American League. As the season progressed, I started getting all kinds of mail, and even Howard Cosell called me a couple times when I got to 18 wins. So, it was really special."
So while Grant didn't know much about African-American history in baseball at that time, the 77-year-old has made it his mission in his post-playing days to help educate others about that rich history.
It started with a project titled "The Black Aces," which took an extensive look at all of the African-American pitchers who won 20 games in a season.
Grant turned the idea into a book of the same name that was published in 2006, detailing the 13 black pitchers who at that time were former 20-game winners.
At the date of publication, the list included Vida Blue (1971, '73, '75), Al Downing ('71), Bob Gibson ('65, '66, '68-70), Dwight Gooden ('85), Grant ('65), Ferguson Jenkins ('67-72, '74), Jones ('59), Newcombe ('51, '55, '56), Mike Norris ('80), J.R. Richard ('76), Dave Stewart ('87-90), Earl Wilson ('67) and Dontrelle Willis (2005), with CC Sabathia becoming the latest to join the club two years ago.
"It was a lot of fun doing that book and doing all that research," Grant said. "I found out so many things that happened and how African-Americans contributed to Major League Baseball. I think it's just a wonderful thing."
But Grant is also troubled by the lack of awareness among casual fans about the roles of African-Americans in baseball history. He believes many early pioneers are often overlooked, even though baseball has done a great job promoting Jackie Robinson's heroic feat of breaking the color barrier with the Dodgers in 1947.
"African-American history in baseball is still disappearing," Grant said. "We know about Jackie Robinson -- but the Larry Dobys, the Luke Easters, the Minnie Minosos and all those people are being forgotten. So, I want to reincarnate our history about what actually happened in baseball with African-Americans other than Jackie Robinson. So, I started with the pitchers with the creation of 'The Black Aces.'"
Grant, who retired in 1971 after winning 145 games and being named an All-Star twice in a 14-year career, says that February is his busiest month.
He makes many appearances during Black History Month -- along with several other "Black Aces" -- especially at schools, to help teach younger baseball fans about the history of African-Americans in baseball.
And by teaching those youngsters about that history, he hopes he can convince athletes to play the game of baseball and hopefully add to the legacy of African-Americans in the Majors.
"By highlighting this history maybe we can make an impression on African-American youngsters to play this game," Grant said. "We are losing African-Americans in Major League Baseball to other sports. The opportunity was there all the way back when Jackie Robinson played with the Dodgers, and it's still there, so veteran African-American players need to tell our young black athletes to play the game of baseball. It's a wonderful sport."