Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mudcat Grant champions the case for his teammates on the Golden Era Ballot

With a career that started under the watchful eye of Larry Doby during his 1958 rookie season with the Cleveland Indians, Jim “Mudcat” Grant was always surrounded by Hall of Fame talent. During his 14 major league seasons, Grant was teammates with 19 different Hall of Famers. On Monday, December 8th, he hopes to see that number increase in size.

Four of Grant’s former teammates — Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, and Maury Wills are up for consideration on the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Golden Era ballot. A 16-member panel of former players, executives and media members will decide on their collective fates for enshrinement at the Winter Meetings in San Diego.

When Grant broke in to the majors in 1958, always hustling for him in the outfield was Minnie Minoso. Even though Grant was already familiar with Minoso’s aggressive style of play, as they had faced each other previously in the Cuban Winter League, he couldn’t help but notice the variety of ways in which he contributed on the field.

Jim "Mudcat" Grant / N.Diunte
“I noticed one thing about Minnie,” Grant said in an interview at last month’s Firefighter’s Charitable Foundation Dinner in New York, “he was an all-around ballplayer. He knocked in a lot of runs as an outfielder and he stole a lot of bases. He could do anything. He wasn’t a big guy, but he went all out all the time. He was like Pete Rose; even on a short pop-up he would run like he was beating out a base hit. …. I think Minnie [Minoso] should be in, but he’s not going to make it. … He’s in my Hall of Fame if that counts.”

As he started to think about the Hall of Fame chances of his aforementioned teammates, he found fault with the entire process. He related the process to one of a popularity contest.

“When I talk about the Hall of Fame,” he said, “I don’t have a lot of respect for those people who vote for the Hall of Fame because they miss so many people that should be in the Hall of Fame. It seems like they called up one another and said, ‘Let’s put this guy in.’”

Grant stuck out over 1,200 batters in his major league career, but the amount of swings-and-misses on what should have been home runs that he’s seen from the Hall of Fame electorate has baffled him. He turned his attention to two other pitchers Lee Smith and Jim Kaat, the latter who is the leading returning vote getter from the 2012 Golden Era ballot.

“I know some guys that [have a Hall of Fame] vote and when they miss Lee Smith, when they miss Jim Kaat — who should be in the Hall of Fame … They’re so many pitchers in the Hall of Fame that have less victories than Jim Kaat. … How does this work now? You have to wonder why you are holding out on this guy and that guy who should be in the Hall of Fame.”

The further he thought about who the various committees have missed, he immediately turned to another teammate, Tony Oliva. Grant played alongside Oliva on the Minnesota Twins when they challenged the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1965 World Series. The Cuban-born Oliva was another slam dunk choice for Mudcat.

“He should be in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “There’s no answer to this even when you ask some of the guys that got votes; there’s no answer to it. You have to think about Vada Pinson, Al Oliver; there are so many people.”

With the newly formed committees from the Hall of Fame to assess players against those of their own eras, opportunities are being created to potentially right some of the wrongs made by the BBWAA and past Veterans Committees. Grant still feels like these groups have lost the chance to honor those deserving of the Hall.

“When you get to the Veterans Committee,” he said, “they miss out too because it seems like they compare who they’re voting for to themselves. If you’re in the Hall of Fame and you’ve got a chance to put the veterans in, you’re missing out on an opportunity. A Hall of Fame vote should be thought about for players who deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. You have to do a little research on these guys to see what they did.”



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