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Lacoochee's Mudcat Grant on his 1960s anthem moment: 'Those were trying times'

Sam Mele, skipper of the American league champion Minnesota Twins, right, and hurler Jim "Mudcat" Grant on Oct. 5, 1965.
Sam Mele, skipper of the American league champion Minnesota Twins, right, and hurler Jim "Mudcat" Grant on Oct. 5, 1965.
Published Oct. 13, 2017

More than 50 years before Colin Kaepernick began taking a knee during the national anthem, Jim "Mudcat" Grant stood in a Cleveland bullpen with something on his mind.

The Lacoochee native was a right-handed pitcher for the Indians, and he wasn't happy about how African-Americans like himself were being treated. He couldn't eat at restaurants with his white teammates. He couldn't stay in the same hotels, either, in certain cities. His former roommate, Larry Doby, received death threats after becoming the first black player in the American League.

"There were difficult times," Grant said.

And on Sept. 16, 1960, he finally had enough.

The Indians were hosting Kansas City, and Grant sang the national anthem, as he always did — until the final two lines, about the land of the free and the home of the brave. Grant changed it to something like, "And this land is not so free, I can't even go to Mississippi."

Cleveland bullpen coach Ted Wilks overheard Grant's ad lib.

"Mr. Wilks was not very happy with me," Grant recalled this week from his home in California. "We had a yelling situation."

It ended with Grant storming to the clubhouse and out of the ballpark. Cleveland suspended him without pay for the final two weeks of the season.

"I was upset, because those were trying days," Grant said. "Those were trying times."

So are these.

MORE RELATED: Hometown of Lacoochee still in 'Mudcat' Grant's heart

NFL players, including Bucs receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, have protested perceived racial injustices and comments from Pres. Donald Trump by kneeling during the anthem, or by not taking the field until it was over. Vice President Mike Pence immediately left last week's Colts-49ers game after more than a dozen San Francisco players refused to stand during The Star-Spangled Banner.

"One thing's for sure," Grant said. "They are getting the attention, aren't they?"

Grant's action was covered and discussed at the time, but it never exploded like the NFL protests have; it's more of a footnote in the life of one of Pasco County's most famous athletes.

Grant spent parts of four more seasons in Cleveland after the incident before bouncing around the majors for the rest of his 14-year career. The two-time All-Star was the AL's first black pitcher to win 20 games (for the Twins in 1965), and there's a street named after him in his hometown. His legacy includes two nephews (Troy and Darren Hambrick) who played in the NFL.

Although Grant was punished for his action, the 82-year-old doesn't regret it.

"If you wanted attention to the fact that you were disappointed … you found a way to express yourself in that," Grant said. "Or you can just sit on the sidelines and not say nothing and go out and play, if that's what you want to do."

Grant didn't want to sit on the sidelines during the civil rights movement. Almost six decades later, he still doesn't. If he were still in the game, he said, he'd be kneeling alongside the other protesters.

"Of course," Grant said. "Why not?"

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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