Oct 7, 2020

Jerry Grote: New York Mets Hall of Fame Catcher (Part Two 1970-1977)

Over the next two seasons after the Miracle 1969 World Series, Grote caught in 125 games behind the plate both years. On April 22nd, 1970 he set a record for put outs in a game by a catcher with twenty. Tom Seaver tied an MLB record with 19 strike outs on that day.

That year overall, he led the league in put outs (855) throwing out 39% of would be base stealers, 26 runners (fifth in the NL) while posting a .990 fielding % (3rd best in the league). At the plate he didn't hit over the.200 mark until the end of June although he did drive in 15 runs in 48 games.

In late May he hit two the only two HRs he would hit all season. In July he hit safely in 13 of 17 games raising his average almost seventy points. He had six multi hit games in the first ten games of the month & nine multi hit games in the month.

He started out August hitting safely in eight of ten games & peaked with a .280 batting average before falling off the rest of the season.

In September the Mets were still in the pennant race, on September 5th, he had a two RBI day at Wrigley Field helping the Mets to a 5-3 win.

In his next game, two days later on September 7th, he drove in two more runs against the Montreal Expos. He broke an 8th inning tie, with a base hit off Expo's relief ace Mike Marshall, leading to a 5-3 win in the first game of a double header sweep. Grote played in both ends of the twin bill & gathering up two more hits in the 5-1 night cap win.

The Mets faded out of the race in late September, finishing up in third place. Grote ended the year with a .255 average, hitting just two HRs with 14 doubles 34 RBIs & a .313 on base %. 

Behind the plate he led the league in put outs & caught 125 games (5th in the NL) posting a .991 fielding % (3rd in the NL). He threw out 39% of would be base stealers, throwing out 26 runners (5th in the league).

In 1971 Grote had an Opening Day RBI in Tom Seaver's 4-2 win over the Montreal Expos. On April 11th at Shea Stadium, 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 as one of the team's best hitters.

In May an eight game hit streak with five multi hit games, which brought him up 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. But it proved to be the winning run as Willie Stargell & Al Oliver drove in three 9th inning runs.

On June 29th he hit one of his two HRs in a 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. In July he was still battling over .300 but missed some time struggling through an injury & it affected his hitting, as his average dropped off in August.

On August 7th he had three hits, with an RBI in the Mets 20-6 blowout of the Braves in Atlanta. For the third place '71 Mets, he hit a career high 25 doubles leading the club. He batted .270 with two HRs, 35 RBIs & a .339 on base %. 

Behind the plate he led the league in put outs once again, posting a .990 fielding % (3rd in the NL). That year he threw out just 26% of would be base stealers, by far the lowest in his career as a starting player. He allowed 51 stolen bases (5th most in the NL).

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

On a rainy Opening Day the Mets retired Hodges number & Grote caught Tom Seaver's 4-0 shutout over the Pittsburgh Prates. On April 28th, his 8th inning double scored Jim Fregosi & Eddie Kranepool tying up a game against the Chicago Cubs. The Mets won it in the 12th inning, on Jim Beachump's pinch hit walk off RBI single.

On May 19th, at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Grote hit a solo HR off Dick Selma in the 5th inning. He then added a three run shot off Chris Short in the 8th inning completing his four big RBI day in an 8-3 Mets win.

For a brief time that season, manager Yogi Berra went with Duffy Dyer as the teams main catcher. Dyer had been hitting well & was younger. The experiment didn't last too long, although Dyer was a fine defensive catcher, when the hitting slowed up he was not as good as Grote all around.

It was later revealed that Berra was covering up an injury Grote had & he eventually needed surgery to remove bone chips. In June he went down for two weeks & 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 played in just 64 games, eight games only in the final two months. 

In that time he 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 %. At the plate, he hit .210 with three HRs five doubles, 21 RBIs & a .310 on base % .

1973 Mets Pennant Season: The 1973 Mets pennant season brought more injuries for the battered catcher. He started out the season missing the first seven games & then appearing as a pinch hitter when he returned.

On April 19th, he had a pair of hits with his first RBI of the year, in the Mets 3-1 win over the Chicago Cubs. On April 29th, his sac fly RBI was the only run of the game, in a Jerry Koosman / Carl Morton pitcher's duel in Atlanta.

In early May he fractured his wrist after getting hit by a pitch. He missed two months from May 11th through July 11th, only to return and have Pete Rose foul tip a pitch off his finger.

He suffered a fracture missing more time on & off in July as well. While he was on the DL, Duffy Dyer & Rookie Ron Hodges did well but the Mets pitching staff struggled without their main catcher.

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

On August 8th in Los Angeles, his RBI single off the Dodgers Andy Messersmith turned out to be the only run of the game. John Matlack shut out the Dodgers on a two hitter. A week later on August 15th, Grote hit a grand slam HR off the Padres; Steve Arlin in San Diego. Tom Seaver earned his fifteenth win of the year, in the 7-0 shutout.

On August 18th the Mets beat up on the Cincinnati Reds, whom they'd later face in that years NLCS, 12-1. Grote had four hits with a walk & run scored in the game. Grote collected 13 hits in the successful long 13 game home stand against Western Division teams late that month. Upon his healthy return Grote drove in 14 runs in the month bringing his average up from .184 to .244.

During the incredible Mets September stretch run, they went 19-7 coming from last place to win the NL Eastern crown. 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 the league for the final months.

In September, Grote hit safely in 16 of the 25 games he played in, batting .304 with 27 hits in that month. He had eight multi hit games and drove in 11 runs in the month. On September 16th, he had a three hit game against the Chicago Cubs. He drove in the winning run with an 8th inning single, bringing the Mets to 2.5 games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.

On September 21st, he had another three hit day, with two doubles & a walk. Grote's 1st inning double off Steve Blass, drove in two runs as the Mets scored four runs in the inning going on to a 10-2 win.

The victory helped them take over first place from those Pittsburgh Pirates, as Tom Seaver won his 18th. The Mets went into a rainy Chicago Wrigley Field needing to win to clinch the NL Eastern title.

On September 30th they won the second game of a double header guaranteeing them at least a tie for the Divisional title. On October 1st, Tom Seaver went out & beat the Cubs to clinch the East.

Grote singled off Burt Hooton in the 4th inning scoring Cleon Jones & John Milner, putting New York up 3-0. As Tug McGraw came on in the 9th, he got Glen Beckert to ground out for the last out. Grote congratulated his pitcher & his team mates in an empty rainy Wrigley Field. It was onto the post season for the Mets for the second time in four years.

Grote played in 86 games on the 1973 season, batting .256 with ten doubles, one HR and 32 RBIs. In 81 games behind the plate, he posted the league's second best fielding % (.995%).

He threw out 35% of would be base stealers, which was just around the league average. That season Grote posted the league's best range factor, per game & per nine innings. It is a stat not looked at much- especially in those days, but Grote led the league in that department six different times.

1973 Post Season- NLCS: In the 1973 NLCS the Mets went up against the heavily favored Cincinnati Reds. Grote was behind the plate in Game #1 at Riverfront Stadium, as Tom Seaver took a 2-1 loss on Johnny Bench's walk off HR.

In Game #2 at Riverfront Stadium, Grote called the pitches for Jon Matlack who threw a two hit shutout against the Big Red Machine. In the 9th inning, the Mets were clinging to a 1-0 lead. 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 a 5-0 victory & headed back to New York tied at one game each.

In Game #3 at Shea Stadium, the Mets won big, but the game was highlighted by the Bud Harrelson Pete Rose bench clearing brawl. Grote was right in the middle of things, getting a hit & drawing a walk as well.

In Game #4 he got one of the Mets three hits, but they suffered a 2-1 loss. In Game #5, he singled as the Mets went on to a 7-2 win clinching the NL Pennant. In the bottom of the 9th, he ran off the field for his life, as Tug McGraw got Dan Driessan to ground out to first base.

The fans stormed the field & ripped everything they could apart. The team celebrated with champagne flying in the ecstatic club house as they advanced to the World Series. Overall Grote hit .211 (4-19) with two RBIs & two runs scored.

1973 World Series: 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 to that point in time. Grote actually caught every inning of the World Series & all of the post season that year, as he did in 1969.

In Game #2 he had two hits, and scored a run when A's first baseman Gene Tenace threw wildly to home plate as Grote was trying to score on a Jim Beachump ground ball. There was a lot of excitement in New York as the Series returned to Shea Stadium tied at one game apiece on a cool fall evening.

In Game #3 the two best pitchers in baseball went head to head, as Tom Seaver faced off against Jim Catfish Hunter. Hunter was shaky in the 1st inning, allowing two runs, but he settled down to pitch six innings, exiting 2-1. 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 to Angel Mangual got away from Grote. It was ruled a passed ball as Oakland’s Ted Kubiak reached also reached base. He would eventually would score the winning run as Bert Campaneris drove a base hit to center field.

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 of the game & he couldn’t react quick enough.

In Game #4 Grote came back with a big 3-4 night at the plate. The Game was highlighted by Rusty Staub's three run HR & five RBI night, as Jon Matlack rolled to a 6-1 win.

Game #5 was another classic pitcher's duel as Jerry Koosman shut out Vida Blue 2-0. In the 6th inning Grote singled & then scored one of the two Mets runs on Don Hahn's RBI triple. The win put the Mets ahead three games to two, heading west back to Oakland.

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

After the Pennant: In 1974 the Mets began the season in Philadelphia, dropping the Opener 6-4. Grote started out the year with a two run HR in the second game of the season in a 9-2 win over Philadelphia.

In the home opener on April 10th, 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 8-7 win in L.A. over the Dodgers. He finished April under .200 (.196) but hit better in May.

On May 13th, he hit a two run 8th inning HR off the Cardinals Bob Gibson, leading to a 5-3 Mets win. He had three multi RBI games that month & raised his average sixty points while hitting safely in 15 of 20 games.

That month the Mets officials accused umpires of pocketing baseballs, claiming the usual five dozen balls given to the home team, kept coming up short. The newspapers ran with the story causing controversy. In a May game at Shea Stadium, umpire Bruce Froemming sent over the baseballs with a note that said; " here's your five dozen baseballs- count 'em!".

In the 8th inning, a pitch from Harry Parker got by Grote & hit Froemming. Grote & his manager Yogi Berra, claimed the battery got crossed up.

But Froemming charged that it was deliberately done, to get back at him for his note. He also pushed that the catcher did not go out to the mound to talk to the pitcher after the cross up, as is usually done. Grote insisted it was a mistake, saying that the news paper articles must have really hit home.

1974 All Star: By the All Star break he was batting .278 and his manager Yogi Berra who was the NL All Star skipper, named Grote to the All Star team.

The Game was played in Pittsburgh & many of the fans there, were upset at Berra choosing Grote over the Pirates local young star Dave Parker. Grote came in to the game to catch Mike Marshall in the 9th inning of the NL's 7-2 win.

His second half of the season was cut short when a foul ball hit off his hand in late August & he missed all of September. 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.

The Mets were unable to avenge their NL title having a terrible year falling to fifth place (71-91). Overall Grote caught 94 games throwing out 35% of would be base stealers, while posting a .988 fielding %. At the plate he batted .257 with five HRs eight doubles 36 RBIs & a .326 on base %.

Entering the 1975 season, Grote was 32 years old, he would hit a career high .295 (third best on the club, second best among every day players) while tying a career best with 114 hits. He would also match his career best on base % (.357%). He would hit two HRs with 14 doubles 39 RBIs and 30 runs scored. 

The '75 Mets would finish third with an 82-80 record. Grote would anchor a staff that came in at least the top four of every major positive pitching category.

In April he played in 14 games, hit his first HR of the year & drove in eight runs. Grote hit well enough to be at .280 through the end of June. From late June in to July he hit safely in 18 of 21 games.

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, which was the games winning runs in the 4-3 win. By the end of July he hit safely in 11 of 12 games, raising his average over .300 while holing a .350 on base %. In August he drove in a dozen runs in the month & 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 in a single game. It happened during a 5–2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. 

Behind the plate 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). That season he was proud to be Tom Seaver's battery mate for the third time in his third Cy Young Award winning season.

Bicentennial Year: In 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 Cincinnati 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 the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for minor leaguers Dan Smith & Randy Rogers.

Mets All Time Leader Board: Jerry Grote is the Mets All time leading catcher in games behind the plate, catching 1176.

He is fifth on the Mets all time list for games played (1235).

He is eleventh in hits (994) thirteenth in walks (363) fourteenth in total bases (1278) seventeenth in doubles (143) & eighteenth in RBIs (357) & twentieth in triples (18). Jerry Grote was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in 1992.

Post Mets Career: Grote played only 61 games with the Dodgers, over the next two seasons but got to the World Series both times. 

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. 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 to be with his family.

But family issues saw he & his wife Sharon divorced a year later. Grote was then lured back to the game by former Mets coach; Billy Connors.

He returned back to the game in 1981 at age 38, 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 was released by the Royals & then returned to Los Angeles to finish off the year in one game with the Dodgers.

Career Stats: 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 (51st all time) with a 991 fielding % (81st all time) throwing out 38% of would be base stealers, 350 in all.

He has 8081 put outs (31st all time), with 635 assists, 76 double plays & 78 errors made in 8851 chances. Grote caught 116 shutouts in his career, ranking him 15th all-time among catchers. In 26 post season games, spanning four seasons Grote was 18 for 81 (.222) with three doubles, eight runs scored, four RBIs & four walks.

"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 Detroit Tigers' Lakeland and Birmingham farm clubs. In 1985 while managing at Lakeland, he was short on catchers during a double header. He called his GM & activated himself to catch the second game of the twin bill. at age 42. He was promptly deactivated after the game.

He also played in the Senior Professional baseball league in 1989 hitting two HRs there.

Outside of baseball he raises prize Texas longhorns on his ranch near Austin. He was once a 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 worked as a color commentator on the Round Rock Express (PCL) on hometown broadcasts.

Quotes: Jerry 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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