There was no high school in Lacoochie, Florida, a lumber town of about
1,000 people straight west of Orlando. So Jim Grant rode the school bus
seven miles to Moore Academy High School in Dade City.
His father died when Grant was two, the family was poor and Jim liked
sports, which meant staying long after the school bus left with no car to take
him home. So he hitched rides back home, or walked.
He grew up to be 6-foot-1, 190-pounds of what was said to be all muscle, and
he could play basketball, football and baseball. That interested college
football programs and baseball scouts. It was his smile and buoyant personality
that attracted fans.
He had a sense of humor about himself, and his pitching, long after his
professional debut in Fargo, North Dakota in 1954.
Before the 1964 season, which began in Cleveland and ended in Minnesota,
Grant claimed he "still pitched like a converted infielder." So when
Satchell Paige showed Grant some of his odder pitches, Grant began to
experiment with his own odd deliveries and came up with the "kickapoo
pitch," the "hop and jumper" and the "cloud ball,"
which he noted "gets a little wet from the air."
That would be a spitball.
Grant never denied he threw a spitball, and was frank about plenty of other
Can't defy age
"You lose something every year you throw," Grant insisted.
"If a pitcher says he is just as strong as last year, he is just a
Grant said every year he ran a little slower, "so there's no reason to
expect I can throw as fast."
Heavily influenced by Viola Grant, his mother, his vibrant
personality led him to launch a nightclub act. It wasn't a gimmick that played
on his role as an athlete -- he really could sing, dance and entertain.
Years after his mother died, he maintained she taught him his only
philosophy of life: Live simple. Live prayerful. And never ask more from a
person than you would expect from yourself.
And how did he get that nickname?
The stories from his own tongue have changed from time to time, but they all
involve a minor-league teammate. One story is someone called him Mudcat during
tryout camp in Daytona Beach, Florida. Another has a Fargo first baseman named
LeRoy Irby concocting the name.
You don't have to bother to check. Irby and Grant were indeed teammates in
Fargo in 1954. And Fargo is where Julious "Swampfire" Grant,
Mudcat's brother, supposedly got his nickname.