Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Beat Mudcat" pin's origins found

An enigmatic celluloid button that has been known baseball memorabilia collectors for more than 50 years reads simply BEAT / MUDCAT.  

While the hobby has long known that it referred to long-time major league pitcher Jim "Mudcat" Grant, the pin's origins had become lost to hobby history.

Some had speculated that the pin may have had its origins in the 1965 World Series, when Grant was the starting (and losing) pitcher for the Minnesota Twins  on Oct. 10, in Game 4 at the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Recently, I stumbled across the story of that pin while reading microfilms of back issues of The Sporting News for 1960.

Ever since his major league debut with the Cleveland Indians in 1958, Grant had had what used to be called (probably politically incorrectly) the "Indian sign" on the Washington Senators. Between May 22, 1958, and June 21, 1960, Grant had run up 13 straight wins over the Senators, without a losing decision. Inexplicably, he was 12-20 against the rest of the American League in that period.

Thus, when the Indians visited Griffith Stadium on July 2, 1960, the Senators handed out 2,000 "BEAT MUDCAT" pins and 2,000 rabbit's feet. Also designed to rev up the crowd of 11,331 and break the jinx, a local Boy Scout troop did a live pre-game snake dance on the pitcher's mound

It didn't work.

When Grant walked onto the field he was wearing one of the pins on each shoulder. He had put a piece of tape over the "BEAT" and written "WIN".

And win he did. Though the umpires made him remove the pins before the game began, Grant threw a four-hitter to beat the Senators 12-2 for his 14th straight win.

The streak was snapped in Grant's very next start against Washington. On July 17 he lost 3-2.

Grant pitched for seven big league teams between 1958-1971, with a career record of 145-119 on a 3.63 ERA.

While Mudcat was all smiles on his 1960 Topps card, and indeed on most of his baseball cards, and was by most accounts an affable soul, he could display an intolerance for racial intolerance. His willingness to stand up to baseball bigotry had serious consequences for Grant at the end of the 1960 season.

I'll give you the details in my next blog posting.

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