Oct 5, 2012

Mets Hall of Fame Catcher: Jerry Grote- Part Two (1972-1977)

In 1972 Gil Hodges passed away with a shocking heart attack in Spring Training crushing the organization. The team named Yogi Berra manager & tried to get to work after a short players strike suspended play for two weeks.

For a brief time new manager Berra went with Duffy Dyer as the teams main catcher. The experiment didn't last too long as Dyer was a fine defensive catcher but not as good as Grote all around. It was later revealed Berra was covering up an injury Grote had & he needed surgery to remove bone chips.

On the year he came back & threw out 53% of would be base stealers, making 42 assists with just one error all year in 448 chances, good enough for a .998 fielding %. On a rainy Opening Day the Mets retired Hodges number & Grote caught Tom Seaver's 4-0 shutout over the Prates. On April 28th his 8th inning double scored Jim Fregosi & Eddie Kranepool tying up a game against the Cubs. The Mets won it in the 12th on Jim Beachump's pinch hit walk off single.

On May 19th at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Grote hit a solo HR off Dick Selma in the 5th inning. He then added three run shot off Chris Short in the 8th inning completing his big day. In June he went down for two weeks with an injury & he would struggle on the DL the rest of the year. In the final two months he only played in eight games. On the year he hit .210 with 3 HRs 21 RBIs & a .310 on base % in 64 games.

The 1973 season brought more injuries, in May he fractured his wrist after getting hit by a pitch. Before he went down he drove in the only run of a Jerry Koosman Carl Morton pitcher's duel, beating the Atlanta Braves 1-0. He missed two months from May through July 11th, only to return and have Pete Rose foul tip one off his finger, fracturing that. He missed time on & off in July as well. While he was on the DL the Mets pitching staff struggled without their main catcher.

He returned in August as the Mets were in last place but close in a four team race in the up & down NL East. He drove in runs in six straight games in early August leading the team to wins in four of them.

On August 8th his RBI single off the Dodgers Andy Messersmith was the only run of the game. On August 15th he hit a grand slam off the Padres Steve Arlin in San Diego in Tom Seavers 7-0 shutout, win #15 on the year. Upon his healthy return he drove in 14 runs in the month bringing his average up from .184 to .244. During the incredible September Miracle stretch run, they went 19-7 coming from last place to win the NL Eastern crown. Grote was a hero on many occasions.

Once the steady catcher regained control of the Mets' staff, the pitchers found confidence & started winning again. They threw eight shutouts once Grote returned, and Tug McGraw who earlier in the year couldn't find the strike zone, became the best reliever in baseball.

In the month Grote hit .300 with eight multi hit games and drove in 11 runs in the month. On September 16th he drove in the winning run with an 8th inning RBI single against the Chicago Cubs, bringing the Mets to 2.5 games out. On September 21st he drove in two runs with a first inning double off the Pirates Steve Blass. The Mets scored four runs in the inning went on to a 10-2 win capturing first place from the Bucs, as Seaver won #18.

The Mets went into Wrigley Field to a rainy Chicago needing to win to clinch the NL Eastern title. On September 30th they won the second game of a double header guaranteeing them of a tie for the Divisional title.

On October 1st Tom Seaver went out & beat the Cubs to clinch the East. Grote singled in the 4th inning scoring Cleon Jones & John Milner putting New York up 3-0. As Tug McGraw got Glen Beckert to ground out Grote congratulated his pitcher & team mates in an empty rainy Wrigley Field. It was onto the post season for the second time in four years.

In 86 games on the 1973 season he hit .256 with 10 doubles one HR and 32 RBIs. In 81 games at catcher he threw out 35% of would be base stealer, just around the league average with 34 assists.

Post Season: In the 1973 NLCS the Mets went up against the mighty heavily favored Cincinnati Reds. In Game #2 at Riverfront Stadium Grote called the pitches to Jon Matlack who pitched a two hit shutout against the Big Red Machine.

In the 9th inning the Mets entered up 1-0. Cleon Jones singled to score Felix Millan, setting up Grote who then singled off Pedro Borbon driving in Jones & Rusty Staub. The Mets went on to win it 5-0 & headed back to New York tied at one game each.

The Mets Game#3 win was highlighted by the Bud Harrelson Pete Rose bench clearing brawl, of course Grote was right in the middle of things. In the game he got a hit & drew a walk as well.

In Game #4 he got one of the Mets three hits, in the 2-1 loss. In Game #5 he singled again & ran for his life as Tug McGraw got Dan Driessan to ground out to first base. The fans stormed the field & the team celebrated with champagne flying in the ecstatic club house. Overall he hit .211 (4-19) with two RBIs & two runs scored.

In the 1973 World Series against the Oakland A's, Grote set three different defensive World Series fielding records.

In Game #2 he caught every inning of the 12 inning marathon which was the longest game in series history up t that time. In fact Grote caught every inning of the World Series & the post season that year, as he did in 1969.

He had two hits in the game, and scored a run after a first baseman Gene Tenace threw wildly to home plate trying to nail Grote after a Jim Beachump ground ball. There was a lot of excitement in New York as the tied Series returned to Shea on a cool fall evening.

In Game #3 the two best pitchers in each league went at it as Tom Seaver faced off Jim Catfish Hunter. Hunter was shaky in the 1st allowing two runs, he settled down to pitch six innings. Seaver pitched eight innings striking out 12 A's hitters, leaving in a 2-2 tie. 

In the top of the 10th inning, relief pitcher Harry Parker’s third strike got away from the catcher Jerry Grote. It was ruled a passed ball as Oakland’s Ted Kubiak reached first base. He would advance & eventually would score the winning run on Bert Campaneris' base hit. After the game Grote told the press “the ball was scuffed and had been sailing" he admitted to being a little tired after catching all ten innings, & he couldn’t react quick enough.

In Game #4 he came back with a big 3-4 night at the plate. The Game was highlighted by Rusty Staub's big five RBI night in Jon Matlack's 6-1 win. Game #5 was another classic pitcher's duel as Jerry Koosman shut out Vida Blue 2-0 putting the Mets ahead three games to two heading back west to Oakland. In the 6th inning Grote singled & then scored one of the two Mets runs on Don Hahn's RBI triple.

In Game #6 Grote went 1-4 with one of the six Mets hits and had another hit in the final Game #7 loss. In the Series he went 8-30 (.267) with two runs scored.        

In 1974 he stared out the year with a two run HR in the second game of the season in Philadelphia. In the home opener on April 10th as the Mets raised the NL Pennant flag, Grote had two RBIs leading Koosman to a 3-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.

On April 30th he drove in two runs helping the Mets to an 807 win in L.A. over the Dodgers. He hit better in May, on May 13th he hit a two run 8th inning HR off the Cards Bob Gibson leading to a 5-3 Mets win. He had three multi RBI games that month & raised his average sixty points hitting safely in 15 of 20 games.

By the All Star break he was batting .278 and his manager Yogi Berra named him to the All Star team. Many of the fans in Pittsburgh where the game was held, were upset at Berra that he chose Grote over the new Pirates star Dave Parker. Grote came in to catch Mike Marshall in the 9th inning of the NL's 7-2 win.

His second half was cut short as he missed all of Septemebr when a foul ball hit off his hand in late August. On August 13th he hit a two run HR off Al Downing of the Dodgers leading the Mets & Jon Matlack to a 3-0 shut out at Shea Stadium. Overall Grote still caught 94 games throwing out 35% of would be base stealers, posting a .988 fielding %. At the plate he batted .257 with 5 HRs 8 doubles 36 RBIs & a .326 on base %.

His best year for batting would be the 1975 season, when he would hit a career high .295 (third best on the club, second best among every day players) tying a career best 114 hits. He would also match his career best on base % (.357%) with 2 HRs 14 doubles 39 RBIs and 30 runs scored.

The '75 Mets would finish thrd with an 82-80 record. Grote would anchor a staff that came in at least the top four of every major positive pitching category. He had a modest start to his season until he stayed over the .280 mark for good at the end of June.

On the Fourth of July in a game against the Phillies in Philadelphia, Grote hit a 9th inning two run HR off former team mate Tug McGraw for the games winning runs in the 4-3 win. By the end of July he was hitting over .300, after hitting safely in 15 of 20 games in the month. In August he drove in a dozen runs & stayed over the .300 mark into September.

In a bizarre feat on September 5, 1975 Grote tied the modern major-league record by reaching base on errors three times during a 5–2 win over the Cardinals. He ended the year leading all catchers in fielding (.995%) nailing 35 runners trying to steal (2nd in the NL) 34 %, with 706 put outs (3rd in the NL) & 55 assists (5th in the NL).

In the bicentennial year of 1976 Grote hit a solid .272 in his last full season as a New York Met. On Opening Day he helped Tom Seaver to a 3-2 win over the Expos, by driving in the first run of the Mets season with a single off Steve Rogers. He would hit .389 in April & remain at .300 through the month of May.

In a June 13th double header in San Francisco, Grote homered in the first game helping Mickey Lolich to a 4-2 win. In the night cap he drove in two more runs with a double & sac fly off Jim Barr, leading Seaver to a win as the Mets swept the double header. On June 23rd he hit another HR in the top of the 9th inning breaking a 4-4 tie to beat (future Met) Pete Falcone & the Cards in St. Louis.

He slumped in July dropping to .246 but a good August brought his average back up. On August 22nd in a classic Sunday afternoon pitcher's duel in San Diego, Grote drove in the game's only run off Randy Jones as the Mets & Jon Matlack won a 1-0 squeaker. Injuries nagged Grote again as he missed almost all of September. At 34 age was catching up to the catcher & a young John Stearns was awaiting his chance in the background.

He hit .272 with 4 HRs 14 doubles 28 RBIs & a .350 on base % (fourth best on the club). Defensively he had 617 put outs with a .993 fielding % (5th best in the NL). He allowed 61 stolen bases (5th most in the NL) throwing out 33%. That season he played two games in the outfield as well.

By 1977 the Mets had lost their dear owner Joan Payson & strange changes had taken place in the organization. In the wake of free agency M. Donald Grant refused to give in to what he called the selfish players financial requests. By now most of the players from their championship years were gone. That summer led to the horrible Midnight Massacre where Tom Seaver was traded to the Reds.

Once Seaver was gone, Grote wasn’t too far behind. He had begun the year telling the press he was there to back up John Stearns on days he needed a rest. On August 31st, Grote was traded to make way for John Stearns and sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for minor leaguers Dan Smith & Randy Rogers. Grote played only 61 games with the Dodgers, over the next two seasons.

In 1977 he was the team's third string catcher backing up Steve Yeagar & Johnny Oates. He also played 11 games behind Ron Cey at third base. In 1978 he backed up Yeagar & Joe Ferguson at catcher, seeing action in 35 games. Grote got to appear with the Dodgers in the World Series both years, winning two more NL pennants. He would appear in three post season games in 1977 & three more in 1978 mostly as a defensive replacement.

After playing with the Dodgers for two seasons, he retired for two years, be with his family. He 7 his wife divorced a year later & he was lured back to the game by former Mets coach Billy Connors. Grote returned in 1981, playing for the Kansas City Royals as a third string catcher & pinch hitter.

On June 3, 1981 Grote hit a grand slam HR (his first home run since 1976) and went 3-for-4 with a club-record seven RBIs to lead the Royals to a 12–9 win over the Seattle Mariners. He then returned to Los Angeles after getting released by the Royals to finish off the year in one game with the Dodgers.

Jerry Grote is third on the Mets all time list for games played (1235) the most by a catcher (1176). He is eleventh in hits (994) twelfth in walks (363) thirteenth in total bases (1278) fourteenth in triples (18) fifteenth in doubles (143)

Lifetime in his entire career he played in 1421 games, hit .252 with 1092 hits 39 HRs 160 doubles 22 triples 352 runs scored 404 RBIs and a .316 on base %.

Behind the plate he caught 1348 games (47th all time) with a 991 fielding % (58th all time) throwing out 38% of would be base stealers, 350 in all. He has 8081 put outs (27th all time), with 635 assists, 76 double plays & 78 errors made in 8851 chances.

In 26 post season games, spanning four seasons Grote was 18 for 81 (.222) with three doubles, eight runs scored, four RBIs & four walks.

Quotes: "There was never any doubt that Jerry Grote was one of the best defensive receivers in the National League. He always handled pitchers well and had a rifle arm."

Retirement: He briefly coached for the Tigers' Lakeland and Birmingham farm clubs. He played in the Senior Professional baseball league in 1989 hitting two HRs there.

Outside of baseball he later became the sales manager for a development team for a San Antonio firm. Grote has sold real estate, as well as owned a meat market & cattle ranch.

He also works as a color commentator on Round Rock Express (PCL) on hometown broadcasts.

Quotes: Grote:“Many folks ask me how my knees and arms are holding up after all those years of catching. Well, the truth is... GREAT! I fortunately and surprisingly never had any problems through all the years I played which I attribute to the "wise" way in which I caught and played. My only knee surgery came from playing in a golf tournament while in Washington, D.C. I slipped and fell while trying to escape a monstrous thunderstorm there!”

Honors: Grote was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in 1992. He is also a member of the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame, The San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame , The Trinity University Athletic Hall of Fame & the San Antonio Missions Wall of Fame.

Grote was on hand for the 20th anniversary of the 1973 NL Championship team in 1993. He was at Citi Field for the 40th anniversary of the 1969 team as well as that Sundays autograph show on Long Island.

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