Remembering Jerry Grote: New York Mets Hall of Fame Catcher (Part One 1966-1969)

Gerald Wayne Grote was born October 6, 1942, in San Antonio, Texas. During his high school days he pitched, played third base & caught. He was a three-sport star in baseball, cross country, track & field.

The five-foot ten right hand hitting catcher was sought after by the Houston Colt 45's but chose to attend Trinity University instead.

By 1962, scout Red Murf sought him out again, & this time he felt he was ready as he signed with the Houston Colt 45’s. He spent 1963 at AA San Antonio batting .268 getting voted the best prospect in the Texas League to make the majors. 

MLB Debut: Grote made his MLB debut on September 21st, 1963, replacing John Bateman at catcher in the 5th inning, going 0-1 against Phillies pitcher; Dallas Green. He appeared in three games that year, getting his first career against Al Jackson & the New York Mets on September 27th.

In 1964 he caught 98 games but hit just .181 with 3 HRs & 24 RBIs. He was a teammate there of Rusty Staub for the ninth place Colts. 

In 1965 he was sent to the minors playing at AAA Oklahoma City in the Pacific Coast League. That year he was dealt to the New York Mets for Tom Parsons & Gary Kroll, in a deal that wasn’t looked at as being important at the time. He was sought after by Red Murf once again, who was now with the Mets.

Quotes- Jerry Grote: "I was glad to come over to the Mets from Houston. 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."

Mets Career: But in his first two seasons Grote had a hard time adjusting to New York. 

1966: Grote made his Mets debut on Opening Day 1966, catching pitcher Jack Fisher in a 3-2 loss to the newly transplanted Atlanta Braves. Grote went 0-2 with a walk in his Shea debut. Other Mets catchers that season included John Stephenson, Hawk Taylor & Greg Gossen. Grote didn't hit much at first, starting off the season batting .215 with two RBIs, through May.

In the first game of an April 24th double header split with the Braves in Atlanta, Grote got his first Mets hit. He would then hit safely in five straight games. On May 10th, he singled off the Astros Don Lee to bring in his first Mets RBI in a 7-4 win over his former teammates. 

In June Grote batted .370 collecting twenty hits & even stole a pair of bases. On June 7th, in the second game of a double header, he collected three hits in a 3-2 win over the Dodgers at Shea Stadium.

Walk Off Hit: On June 12th, Grote came into a 2-2 tie with the Reds in the top of the 10th inning. In the bottom of the 11th, he came to bat with two men on & hit a walk off single off Sammy Ellis bringing in Eddie Bressoud for the game winning run. 

On July 3rd, he contributed to a six run Mets 5th inning rally with a two run double in a 9-8 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

 On July 7th, Jerry hit a two run HR off the Phillies Bob Buhl helping in a 9-6 win at Philadelphia. Later in the month on July 21st, Grote hit a three run HR off the Giants Ron Herbel, as the Mets romped in San Francisco Giants 14-3. On July 25th, Grote hit a two run double at the Astrodome helping the Mets in a 6-4 win.

But in July he hit just .138 although he did drive in eleven runs. In August Grote drove in eleven runs for the second straight month & improved to hit .259, seeing action in 31 games.  In September he missed a week of action & drove in just one run. 

For 1966, Grote finished up batting .237. with three HRs 12 doubles 31 RBIs, while posting a .327 on base % & a .642 OPS in 120 games. He was behind the plate for 115 games throwing out 40% of would-be base stealers. The Mets went 66-96 finishing ninth under manager Wes Westrum.

1967: To start the season, Grote hit a two run HR on Opening Day off Pirates pitcher Bob Veale, but the Mets still lost 6-3. 

Trivia: The '67 Mets Opening Day starter was Don Cardwell. It was the last time someone other than Tom Seaver would make an Opening Day start until 1978. As Seaver would start the next ten Opening Days through 1977. 

In 1967 Grote would put in another strong season for New York, showing signs of becoming a superior defensive catcher. 

Attitude Issues: At this point in his young career, his biggest problem was his attitude, as he
played with a big chip on his shoulder.

In a late July game in Los Angeles, Grote came into the game to 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 catcher's position arguing balls & strikes. 

When he got to the dugout he continued to shout back to the umpire & then tossed a towel on to the field. He was ejected from the game & the Mets had to use outfielder, Tommie Reynolds at catcher.

They went on to lose the game to the Dodges in extra innings. Manager Westrum fined Grote $100 & the General Manager gave him a good chewing out as well. 

Grote struggle at the plate all season & was blaming everybody else for his troubles. 

Mets Manager Wes Westrum:
 "If he ever learns to control himself, he might become the best catcher in baseball."

On September 13th, with the score tied in the top of the 9th inning in Atlanta, Grote singled in Joe Mook in what was the games winning run, with an RBI hit off Pat Jarvis.

On the season, Jerry hit just .195 with four HRs eight doubles 23 RBIs a .226 on base % & a .479 OPS.

Behind the plate he was excellent, as he threw out 49% of would-be base stealers (4th best in the NL) throwing out 37 runners (second most in the NL). He was fourth in the league in games (119) put outs (609) assists (62) & errors (7).

1968- Coming into His Own: This season, Gil Hodges took over as Mets manager & the attitude around the whole team slowly started to change. Hodges helped Grote straighten out his attitude & personality issues. He also taught Grote how to shorten up his swing & saw his hitting improve.

Mets Coach Yogi Berra, a pretty good catcher in his own career, worked with Grote on his catching skills. All things began to come together for him on the field & at the plate. Grote got his attitude straightened out & being the fierce competitor he was, he worked hard now becoming one of the game's best catchers into the seventies.

Quotes- Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame catcher, Johnny Bench: “If Jerry Grote was on my team, I’d be playing third base.”

Grote would be the Mets regular catcher for a dozen years, behind the plate for 100 plus games seven times, catching some of the best pitchers of the era. Grote's rifle arm was so accurate many base runners wouldn’t even try to steal on him. St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Famer, Lou Brock who once held the all-time record for stolen bases, said Grote was the toughest catcher in the league to run on.

In 1968 he started out with a seven-game hit streak, four multi-hit games & batted .333 in the first month.

Three Hit Game: On April 28th, Grote had three hits, including a pair of RBI singles in a 6-5 win over the Reds at Crosley Field.

In May, Grote had a ten-game hit streak, while hitting safely in 13 of 16 games finishing the month with a .304 average.

Multi RBI Game: On May 25th he cleared the bases with a bases loaded double off the Braves Cecil Upshaw in a 9-1 Mets win at Atlanta.

In June Jerry had seven multi-hit games, as he also hit safely in 16 of 19 games, flirting above .300 thru the end of July.

On June 12th the 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 on the mound. Grote followed up with a single to score J.C. Martin with the games winning run.

1968 All Star: That year Grote made his first All Star team, getting the starting catcher's position while batting 8th. Grote was battery mate to the Dodgers Don Drysdale for three innings, then Juan Marichal for two innings, in an amazing 1-0 N.L. win at the Houston Astrodome. Tom Seaver also represented the Mets that night pitching two scoreless innings.

Multi RBI Game: On July 12th, Grote helped the Mets rookie star pitcher Jerry Koosman win his 12th game of the year, in a 4-0 shut out at Wrigley Field. Grote hit a two run HR off the Cubs Ken Holtzman & drove in another run with an RBI single off Jack Lamabe.

On August 2nd, on another road trip to Los Angeles, the Mets rallied again, as Ron Swoboda singled off Don Sutton in the top of the 8th inning to tie the game. Grote followed with an RBI single scoring Cleon Jones, in what turned out to be the games winning run.

On September 20th he had another key base hit, with an RBI single scoring Cleon Jones 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 improvement on the year & their future looked as bright as ever with a young talented pitching staff featuring; Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman & Nolan Ryan.

For 1968 Grote improved at the plate, hitting .282 with a career high 114 hits. He hit three HRs with 18 doubles 31 RBIs a .706 OPS & a team leading .357 on base %.

Behind the plate, he caught 115 games (5th most in the NL) posting a .994 fielding % (third best in the NL) & threw out 43% of base runners trying to steal. That season the only other Mets catcher was J.C. Martin, although Rookie Duffy Dyer caught one game.

1969 Championship Season: Grote saw how good his pitching staff was & predicted good things for the Mets as early as Spring Training. He told the press yes, they were a young club, but they had now played together as a team for a few years. 

There was more pride in the air, thanks to Gil Hodges having the players believe in themselves. 

Behind the plate Grote helped make the staff even better. He worked well with his pitchers, calling a great game, being on the same page with them at all times. 

Hall of Famer & 1969 Cy Young winner, Tom Seaver credited him with much of the success the pitchers had through the year. Seaver stated he was a perfect catcher for a pitcher to throw to. 

In an exciting 1969 Opening Day at Shea Stadium, the Mets hosted the expansion Montreal Expos. The Expos were the first team to play in MLB outside the United States. Grote had two Opening Day hits driving in a run in the 11-10 Mets loss. 

The next day he collected two more hits, driving in a pair of runs with a 1st inning RBI single off Bill Stonemann & a 3rd inning RBI double off Mike Wegner.

Four RBI Game: On April 20th, Grote had a big three hit game while driving in a season high four runs against the reigning NL champion Cardinals in an 11-3 Mets win at St. Louis.

In the 2nd, Grote hit the first of two doubles with an RBI double off Nelson Briles. In the 9th inning, with the bases loaded Grote hit a base clearing three run double off Gary Waslewski.

On June 1st, Jerry tripled off the San Francisco Giants Bobby Bolin, tying up the game early on at 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 L.A. Dodgers & Claude Osteen. In the first ten games of June, Grote drove in five runs all contributing to Mets wins.

On June 30th, in the 1st inning, Grote belted a three-run HR off the Cardinals Ray Washburn leading to a 10-2 Mets win. 

In July he started out the month, driving in runs in three straight games which were all Mets wins.

Tom Seaver's Imperfect Game: On July 9th, Grote had one of his biggest career highlights, catching Tom Seaver's one hitter against the first place Chicago Cubs. That classic night is known as the "Imperfect Game". That night in the 2nd inning, Grote reached base on an error & then scored on a Tom Seaver RRBI single.

On July 18th, Grote hit an 8th inning two run HR off the Expos Dan McGinn in a 5-2 win n Montreal. 

In August Grote had his best month at the plate, batting .362 with 21 hits while driving in eleven runs.

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 himself a big series. On August 1st, Grote hit a 4th inning HR off future Hall of Famer, Phil Niekro. He collected two hits & a walk in the 5-4 Mets win.

Walk OFF HR: On August 3rd, Grote had gone 1-2 with a base hit & reaching on an error bringing in a run earlier in the game.

 In the bottom of the 11th inning, he came to bat in the in a 5-5 tie, facing Claude Raymond. Grote hit a walk off HR giving the Mets a 6-5 win. The Shea crowd was ecstatic as the Mets were now just 6.5 games behind those first place Cubs.

In the final two weeks of the month, Grote played in eight games driving in seven runs. 

On August 16th, his 7th inning pinch hit single, off the San Diego Padres; Dave Roberts proved to be the game winning run. 

Walk Off Hit: On August 23rd, Grote had his fifth three hit game of the season. In the bottom of the 2nd, he drove home Ken Boswell with an RBI single off the Dodgers Jim Bunning. 

In the bottom of the 9th inning, with the score tied 2-2 he doubled off Jim Brewer bringing home Donn Clendenon with the walk off run, to beat the Dodgers 3-2.

On August 30th in San Francisco, Grote delivered a 6th inning single off the Giants Gaylord Perry, breaking a 1-1 tie. The Mets went on to a win it with Don Clendenon's 10th inning walk off HR.

The next day Grote drove in two more runs, with a two-run single off the Giants Mike McCormick. It came in the first game of a double header where Tom Seaver's collected his 19th victory of the year, in the 8-0 shutout.

In early September, he hit HRs in back-to-back wins over the Phillies at Shea Stadium as the Mets magic number of clinching the division was getting closer.

Mets Clinch NL East: On September 24th, Grote caught Gary Genty's 6-0 shutout over the St. Louis Cardinals, as the Mets clinched the NL Eastern Division Title. In the game he had two hits of his own, including a double.

In the Amazing Mets 1969 season, Grote hit .252 with 6 HRs 12 doubles 3 triples & 40 RBIs. He struck out 59 ties with 32 walks posting a .313 on base % & .663 OPS.

Behind the plate Grote threw out 56% of base runners trying to steal (second best in the NL) nailing 40 base runners overall (4th in the NL).

Post Season -1969 NLCS: Grote caught every inning of all eight post season games for the 1969 Amazing Mets.

 In Game #1 of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves at Fulton County Stadium, Grote drove in the historic first run in Mets post season history, with a single off Phil Niekro bringing in Art Shasky. The Mets went on to a 9-5 win.

In the Game #2 Mets 11-6 victory, Grote went 0-5 but he did draw a 3rd inning walk, scoring a run-on Bud Harrelson's double. 

On October 6th, 1969, in Game #3 of the NLCS, Grote was behind the plate at Shea Stadium on his 27th birthday, as the Mets won their first pennant. In the game he drew a walk in the 6th inning & scored on Tommie Agee's base hit. Grote also struck out three times.

Grote called the pitches for Nolan Ryan as he pitched seven relief innings, shutting out the Braves in the final four innings. Grote was there to congratulate Ryan after the final out, as the fans soon stormed the field as the Amazing New York Mets advanced to the World Series. 

Overall, in the NLCS he batted .167 (2-12) with a double, a walk & an RBI.

1969 World Series: In the 1969 World Series the Mets were underdog to the mighty Baltimore Orioles. Grote would collect just four hits, but two of them were at key moments. 

In the Game #1 loss at Baltimore, he went 1-4 with a 7th inning single off Mike Cuellar.

In Game #2 at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, the Mets Jerry Koosman took a no hitter into the bottom of the 7th inning. 

In the top of the 9th, the Mets & Orioles were locked up at 1-1. Grote singled off Dave McNally, advancing Ed Charles to second base. Charles would score what was to be the games winning run on Al Weis’ single into left field.

As the series moved to Shea Stadium, in New York there was plenty of excitement around the city. Jerry Grote showed the Orioles how tough he was & that he meant business. 

Early on, Oriole shortstop Mark Belanger was almost caught off the base attempting to get back to the base after a hit. Grote had backed up the play, got the ball & shoved Belanger off the bag. The ump ruled him safe, but Grote & his team were fired up.

In the bottom of the 6th inning, he doubled off Jim Palmer bringing in Ken Boswell with the Mets fourth run. Tommie Agee helped the Mets two spectacular catches in centerfield in the 5-0 Gary Gentry / Nolan Ryan combined shut out.

In Game #4 at Shea Stadium, Grote had gone 0-3 striking out twice. Tom Seaver allowed just one run thru ten innings & the game went into extra innings tied at one. In the top of the 10th inning Grote hit a double, of reliever Dick Hall. 

Rod Gaspar came in to pinch run for him & eventually scored the winning run-when J.C. Martin laid down a bunt & reliever Pete Richert hit him in the back with the throw. The Mets now led the series three games to one.

In Game #5, Jerry Koosman threw a complete game three run, five hit victory to seal the Mets championship. At the plate Grote went 0-4.

But he was a stalworth once again behind the plate. As the O's Davey Johnson flew out to Cleon Jones in left field, Jerry Koosman leaped into Grote’s arms in celebration at the pitcher's mound, just as the Shea fans rushed the field.

The Amazing Mets had done it, winning the most surprising World Series & forever being remembered as the ultimate underdog Champions. Grote celebrated with the team in the locker room, in the ticker tape parade & later appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show as his life would be changed forever.


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