Oct 5, 2012

Mets Hall Of Fame Catcher: Jerry Grote- Part One (1966-1971)

Gerald Wayne Grote was born October 6, 1942 in San Antonio, Texas. The five foot ten right hand hitting catcher was drafted from Trinity University in 1962 by the Houston Colt 45’s and made his debut for them in September of 1963.

In 1964 he caught 100 games but hit under .200 and was sent to the minors then dealt to the New York Mets for Tom Parsons in a deal that wasn’t too talked about at the time.

I was glad to come over to the Mets from Houston," Grote said. "I knew that team would never win. They had too many old players, and they had no defense. It was different with the Mets. You could see the young talent." Even in his first two seasons Grote had a hard time adjusting.

Grote made his Mets debut on Opening Day 1966 catching Jack Fisher behind the plate, going 0-2. He didn't hit much starting off the season batting .215 through May. On June 12th he had a walk off RBI base hit against the Cincinnati Reds giving the Mets a 3-2 win.

In July he hit a HR driving in two runs in a 9-6 win over the Phillies & then later in the month Grote hit a three run HR off Ron Herbel as the Mets romped the San Francisco Giants 14-3. In August he drove in eleven runs but slumped in September to finish off batting .237. with 3 HRs 12 doubles &31 RBIs.

In 1967 he hit a two run HR on Opening Day off the Pirates Bob Veale but the Mets still lost 6-3. It was the last year that someone besides Tom Seaver would pitch on Opening Day for the next decade. From there his hitting went nowhere but downhill, he fell below the .200 mark by May & remained there all season. He .hit a dismal .181 and blamed everybody else for his troubles. Grote still had a bad attitude & played with a chip on his shoulder. Mets Manager Wes Westrum said, "If he ever learns to control himself, he might become the best catcher in baseball."

In a late July game in Los Angeles Grote came into bat as a pinch hitter & remained in the game to catch. In a fit of rage he shouted at the home plate umpire from his position arguing the calls. When he got to the dug out he continued to shout & then tossed a towel on to the field. He was ejected from the game & the Mets had to use an outfielder (Tommie Reynolds) at catcher. They went on to lose the game in extra innings. Manager Westrum fined Grote $100 & Genral Manager gave him a good chewing out as well.

By 1968 Gil Hodges took over as Mets manager & the attitude around the Mets slowly started to change, so did Grote's personality. Hodges taught Groter hot to shorten uo his swing & his hitting improved. Coach Ygi Berra worked with him on his catching skills & things began to come together for Grote as an all round catcher. Grote began to get his attitude straight and became a fierce competitor working hard to be the best catcher he could be. He turned himself into one of the finest of his era.

Quotes: Johnny Bench once said “If Jerry Grote was on my team, I’d be playing third base.”

Joe Torre said: "Grote is catcher who hits, Bench & Ted Simmons are hitters who catch".

Grote was the Mets regular catcher for a dozen years, behind the plate in over 100 games nine different seasons, catching some of the best pitchers of his era. In 1348 games he would only make 78 errors behind the plate, and his rifle arm was so accurate many base runners wouldn’t even try to steal. Lou Brock said Grote was the toughest catcher in the league to run on. His defense was so good it earned him a spot on the 1968 & 1974 All Star Games.

In 1968 he started out with a seven game April streak which had him batting over .300 into early May. He continued to hit well flirting around or over the .300 level until late as the end of July. On June 12ththe Mets were down 1-0 to the Dodgers Don Drysdale in a game at Los Angeles. The Mets rallied tying the game, and Jack Billingham replaced Drysdale. Grote followed up with a single to score J.C. Martin with the winning run. That year he made his first All Star team getting the starting catchers position batting 9th. He caught Don Drysdale in the amazing 1-0 N.L. win at the Houston Astrodome. Tom Seaver also represented the Mets that night pitching two scoreless innings.

On July 12th he helped rookie sensation Jerry Koosman win his 12th game of the year by hitting a two run HR & then driving in another run against the Chicago Cubs, leading to a 4-0 shutout. On August 2nd back in Los Angeles on another road trip, the Mets rallied as Ron Swoboda singled off Don Sutton in the top of the 8th inning to tie the game.

Grote followed with an RBI single in what turned out to be the winning run. On September 20th he had another key base hit, with an RBI single scoring Cleon Jonnes breaking a 2-2 tie in Philadelphia. Tom Seaver held down the Phillies in the bottom of the 9th to preserve the 3-2 win.

The Mets showed promise on the year & their future looked as bright as ever with a young talented pitching staff with the likes of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman & Nolan Ryan.

In 1968 Grote improved to bat .282 with a career high 114 hits 3 HRs 18 doubles 31 RBIs & more importantly a .357 on base % best on the team. Behind the plate he caught 124 games, posted a .994 fielding % (third best in the NL) & threw out 43% of base runners trying to steal.

In 1969 he saw how good his pitching staff was & predicted good things for the Mets as early as Sring Training. He noted that they were a young club, who has now played together as a team for a few years. There was more pride thanks to Gil Hodges & they were armed with one of the league's best pitching staffs. Behind the plate he made the staff better. He also threw out 56% of base runners trying to steal (second in the NL) nailing 40 base runners overall (4th in the NL).

On an exciting Opening Day at Shea, where the Mets hosted the expansion Montreal Expos, the first team to play outside the United States Grote had two hits driving in a run. The Mets lost that game in a 11-10 classic. The next day Grote had two more hits & drove in a pair of runs with a first inning single & a third inning double.

On April 20th he had a big three hit day while driving in four runs against the reigning NL champion Cardinals in St. Louis. On June 1st he tripled against the San Francisco Giants, tying up the game early on 2-2. The Mets went on to win it with a walk off bases loaded walk to Ron Swoboda.

The next day Grote drove in one of the two Mets runs in a Jerry Koosman 2-1 win over the Dodgers Claude Osteen. In the first ten games of June he drove in five runs all contributing to Mets wins. On June 30th he began another Met win with a three run 1st inning Hr off the Cards Ray Washburn. On July 9th Grote had one of his career highlights, catching Tom Seaver's one hitter against the First place Chicago Cubs, now known as the "imperfect game". That night Grote scored in the second inning on a Tom Seaver single, after reaching on an error.

In an early August home stand against the ATlanta Braves, whom the Mets would face in the first ever NLCS later in the year, Grote had a big series. In the first game he hit an early go ahead HR off Phil Niekro. Then two days later he broke a 5-5 tie with a walk off HR against pitcher Claude Raymond. The crowd was ecstatic as the Mets were now true contenders & just 6.5 games behind those Cubs.

On August 16th Grote's pinch hit 7th inning single off the San Diego Padres Dave Roberts proved to be the game winning run. In San Francisco on August 30th, he delivered with a 6th inning single off the Giants Gaylord Perry. The hit broke a 1-1 ties, the Mets went on to the win with a Don Clendennon 10th inning HR. The next day he drove in two more runs in Tom Seavers 19th victory of the year, an 8-0 shutout. In the final two weeks of the month Grote played in eight games driving in seven runs.

In September he hit HRs in back to back games against the Phillies both Mets wins, as their magic number got closer to becoming a reality. On September 24th the Mets clinched the NL Eastern Division Title, Grote caught Gary Genty's shut out & added two hits of his own. On the year he hit .252 with 6 HRs 12 doubles 40 RBIs & a 313 on base %.

Post Season: Grote caught every inning of all eight post season games in the 1969. In Game #1 of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves, he drove in the historic first run in Mets post season history with a single off Phil Niekro scoring Art Shasky.

In Game #2 he went 0-5 but walked in the 3rd inning & scored a run on Buddy Harrelson's double. He was behind the plate on his 27th birthday when the Mets won their first pennant on October 6th at Shea Stadium. Grote drew a walk in the 6th inning & scored on Tommie Agee's base hit.

He was there to congratulate pitcher Nolan Ryan after the battery had completed the victory & advancing to the World Series. In the NLCS he batted .167 (2-12) with a double, a walk & an RBI.

In the 1969 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles he had just four hits, but two of them were key moments. In the ninth inning of Game #2 at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Grote singled advancing Ed Charles to scoring position, where he would score the winning run on Al Weis’ single.

When the series moved to Shea Stadium, Grote showed the Orioles how tough he was & that he meant business. When Mark Belanger was almost caught off the base attempting to get back on first, Grote had backed up the play, got the ball & shoved Belanager off the bag. The ump ruled him safe but Grote was fired up.

In Game #4 at Shea, Grote opened up the 10th inning with a double, of reliever Dick Hall. Rod Gaspar came in to pinch run for him and eventually score the winning run on J.C. Martins bunt which resulted in an error on the pitcher. In Game #5 Jerry Koosman completed a complete game win & leaped into Grote’s arms in celebration after the final out of the Series was made. The Amazing Mets had done it & will forever be remembered as 1969 World Champions. Over the next two seasons Grote caught in 125 games behind the plate both years.

In April 1970 he set a record for put outs by a catcher with twenty that month. That year he led the league in put outs (855) throwing out 39% of would be base stealers, 26 runners overall (fifth in the NL) Posting a .990 fielding % (3rd best in the league). At the plate he didn't get over the.200 mark until the end of June.

In July he hit safely in 13 of 17 games raising his average almost seventy points. In September with the Mets still in the pennant race Grote had a two RBi day at Wrigley Field helping the Mets to a 5-3 win. In his next game at Shea he drove in two more runs with a tie breaking 8th inning base hit off relief ace Mike Marshall. It led to a 5-4 win against the Montreal Expos in the first game of a double header sweep.

Grote played in both ends of the twin bill & gathered up two more hits in the night cap. He finished up 1970 with a .255 average hitting just two HRs with 14 doubles 34 RBIs & a .313 on base %.

In 1971 Grote had an Opening Day RBI in Tom Seaver's 4-2 win over the Montreal Expos. On April 11th he drove in the only run of the game with a walk off HR against Wayne Granger & the Cincinnati Reds. On April 23rd his good hitting continued as he drove in two runs in a 7-6 win in Chicago against the Cubs. He finished the month batting .316.

In May an eight game hit streak with five multi hot games brought him to a .367 batting average. On June 19th his 8th inning single off the Pirates Bob Moose seemed harmless as the Mets went ahead 4-0. It proved to be the winning run as Willie Stargell & Al Oliver drove in three 9th inning runs.

In July he was still battling over .300 but started to drop off throughout August. On June 30th he hit one of his two HRs in a 3-0 win over the Phillies. On August 7th he had three hits with an RBI in the Mets 20-6 blowout of the Braves in Atlanta.

For the season he hit a career high 25 doubles leading the club. He batted .270 with 2 HRs 35 RBIs & a .339 on base %. Behind the plate he led the league in put outs again, posted a .990 fielding % (3rd in the NL) & allowed 51 stolen bases (5th most in the NL).

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