Former Mid Sixties Mets Pitcher: Joe Grzenda (1967) & His Washington Senators / Nationals Story

Joseph Charles Grzenda was born on June 8, 1937 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The tall six foot two right handed pitcher was signed out of high school in 1955 by the Detroit Tigers.

He went 13-3 in the Georgia Florida League in 1956 getting quickly promoted to AA ball. In 1958 he was 16-8 in the Southern Association (AA ball) with Birmingham. 

It was there he looked out the dug out & was attracted to a  pretty brunette, named Ruth. He sent out the bat boy with a note asking to meet her. Her friend said you have to meet him, he's the  star of the team. After the game they met for burgers & milk shakes & eventually got married, lasting a life time together.

He was a big sixteen game winner (16-7) that year at Birmingham. And would go 31-15 in five combined seasons with the Barons. He was inducted to the teams Hall of Fame.

Grzenda got his big league call up in 1961, pitching four games for the Detroit Tigers. On May 27th, 1961 he earned his first career win, a victory over the Chicago White Sox in relief.

He was back in the minors for the next three seasons becoming a full time relief pitcher. He was signed by the Kansas City Angels after getting released by Detroit. He never won a game in Kansas City, going 0-4 in parts of the 1964 & 1966 seasons, appearing in 41 games in those years. On August 14, 1967 his contract was purchased by the New York Mets.

The Mets put him to work right away the next day, pitching three innings in relief in both ends of a double header loss at Philadelphia. 

Two days later he entered the second game of a double header in Pittsburgh, with the Mets leading 5-4 in the 9th inning. With two men on he gave up an RBI ground out to Roberto Clemente that tied the game. He pitched into the 12th inning giving way to rookie Tom Seaver, who gave up the game winning hit to Manny Mota, in the 13th inning.

Grzenda would appear in just 11 games for the ’67 Mets posting no record and a 2.16 ERA, striking out nine batters in 16 innings pitched.

In November his contract was purchased by the Minnesota Twins. He returned to the majors in 1969 going 4-1 with three saves, for the A.L. Western Champion Twins. He made one appearance in the ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles. 

In 1970 he was traded to the Washington Senators for Brant Alyea. Over the next two seasons he found a home out of the Seantors bullpen.

In 1970 he appeared in 49 games going 3-6 with six saves. He had his best year in 1971 going 5-2 with five saves, posting a 1.92 ERA in the teams last year in the nation’s capitol before moving to Texas. 

Trivia: He loved playing in Washington D.C. & was sad to leave the city, especially after his best season. He was called in to pitch the final inning, of the last game the Senators played in D.C. Manager, Ted Williams waved him in to hold down a 7-5 lead over the AL New York team. 

He got the first two outs & shouted at Horace Clarke to get in the batters box. But no sooner did the fans storm the field, grabbing what they could from the Senators, in their final game. The game was forfeited.

After the game he, his wife Ruth & their two children left the ballpark forever, with his 11 year old son crying that his team was gone. Grzenda took the ball from that last at bat & had never let it go.

In 2005, Grzenda got to use that actual ball & hand it to President George W. Bush to throw out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals debut in D.C. at JFK Stadium. He was instructed by the Secret Service how to hand the ball to Bush, but he told them he wanted it back. Geroge W. made sure he got it back.      

In November he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals ending his eight year career. Lifetime he was 14-13 with 14 saves posting a 4.00 ERA with 173 strike outs in 308 innings pitched in 219 appearances. 

After baseball he worked as a security guard & making car batteries for 25 years, in north east Pennsylvania.

Grzenda passed away on July 12th, 2019 at age 82.


Unknown said…
Dad'was most proud that he came out the majors withe majors with a winning record and a pension.

J.C. Grzenda Jr.
Robert Wayne said…
I was 11 years old when we got Major League Baseball in the Dallas metroplex. I wish Joe hadn’t been traded and had been one of the original Rangers.

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