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. 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 team mate 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."
But in his first two seasons Grote had a hard time adjusting to New York. 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.
On June 12th he had a walk off base hit, coming against the Cincinnati Reds at Shea, in a Mets 3-2 win. 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, he hit a two run HR in a 9-6 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. 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, while seeing action in 31 games & then he missed a week of action in September. He finished up 1966 batting .237. with three HRs 12 doubles & 31 RBIs in 120 games. He was behind the plate for 115 games throwing out 40% of would be base stealers.
To start off 1967, Grote hit a two run HR on Opening Day against the Pittsburgh Pirates Bob Veale, but the Mets still lost 6-3. The '67 Opening Day starter was Don Cardwell, Tom Seaver would make the next ten Opening Day starts for the Mets through 1977. Grote would put in another strong season for New York, showing signs of becoming a superior defensive catcher. His biggest problem was his attitude, playing with a chip on his shoulder.
Quotes: 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 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 catchers 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. He struggled all year at the plate and blamed everybody else for his troubles. He hit just .195 with four HRs eight doubles 23 RBIs & a .226 on base %.
But behind the plate 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).
By 1968 Gil Hodges took over as Mets manager & the attitude around the whole team slowly started to change. Hodges also helped Grote straighten out his personality. Hodges taught Grote hot to shorten up his swing & saw his hitting improve.
Coach Yogi Berra, a pretty good catcher in his own career; worked with him on his catching skills. All things began to come together for him, on the field & at the plate. Grote got his attitude straightened out and being the a fierce competitor he was, along with hard work, became one of the game's best catchers.
Quotes: Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame catcher, Johnny Bench once said “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 in over 100 games nine different seasons, catching some of the best pitchers of the 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. St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Famer, 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 NL All Star Teams.
In 1968 he started out with a seven game April hit streak, which had him batting over .300 into early May. On May 25th he cleared the bases with a bases loaded double, in a 9-1 Mets win at the Houston Astrodome. In June he had three separate five game hit streaks & continued to flirt around the .300 level, until 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.
That year he made his first All Star team, getting the starting catchers position while batting 9th. He caught the Dodgers Don Drysdale in an 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 & driving in another run against the Chicago Cubs, leading to a 4-0 Mets shutout. 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 again, 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 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.
In 1969 he saw how good his pitching staff was & predicted good things for the Mets as early as Spring Training. Grote 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 & behind the plate he helped make the staff even better.
He worked so well with his pitchers, calling a great game, being on the same page at all times. Tom Seaver credited him with much of the success the pitchers had through the year, saying he was a perfect catcher for a pitcher to throw to. He threw out 56% of base runners trying to steal (second best in the NL) nailing 40 base runners overall (4th in the NL).
On an exciting 1969 Opening Day at Shea Stadium, 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 he had two more hits, driving 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 an 11-3 Mets win at 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 L.A. Dodgers & Claude Osteen. In the first ten games of June, he drove in five runs all contributing to Mets wins.
On June 30th, he belted a three run 1st inning HR off the Cardinals; Ray Washburn leading to a 1-2 Mets win. In July he started out the month, driving in runs in three straight games he played in, all Mets wins.
On July 9th, Grote had one of his biggest 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 base 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 future Hall of Famer; Phil Niekro. Then two days later he broke a 5-5 tie, with a walk off HR against Braves pitcher Claude Raymond.
The crowd was ecstatic as the Mets were now proving they were true contenders & 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. On August 23rd, he broke a 2-2 9th inning tie at Shea Stadium, collecting the game winning walk off double, against Jim Brewer 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 after a Don Clendenon 10th inning HR.
The next day Grote drove in two more runs, as Tom Seaver's went on to his 19th victory of the year, an 8-0 shutout. In early September, he hit HRs in back to back Mets wins against the Philadelphia Phillies, as their magic number of clinching a divisional title got closer to becoming a reality.
On September 24th, Grote caught Gary Genty's 6-0 shutout against 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 regular season of 1969, he hit .252 with 6 HRs 12 doubles 40 RBIs & a 313 on base %.
Post Season -1969 NLCS: Grote caught every inning of all eight post season games in 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 bringing in Art Shasky.
In Game #2 he went 0-5, but walked in the 3rd inning & scored a run on Buddy Harrelson's double. On October 6th, 1969, Grote was behind the plate at Shea Stadium for 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. He also struck out three times.
He was there to congratulate pitcher Nolan Ryan after the battery final out & New York 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 against the Baltimore Orioles he had just four hits, but two of them were at key moments.
In the ninth inning of Game #2 at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, 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 after Al Weis’ singled.
When the series moved to Shea Stadium, Grote showed the Orioles how tough he was & that he meant business. Oriole shortstop Mark Belanger was almost caught off the base attempting to get back after a hit.
Grote had backed up the play, got the ball & shoved Belanager off the bag. The ump ruled him safe, but Grote& his team were fired up.
In Game #4 at Shea Stadium, Grote opened up the 10th inning with a double, of reliever Dick Hall. Rod Gaspar came in to pinch run for him and eventually scored 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. Grote celebrated with the team & appeared on the Ed Sullivan with the rest of the Amazing's.