When you think about the men who have used to tools of ignorance for the Mets in the past 50 years, who comes to mind ? I’m sure the names Piazza, Carter, Hundley, Thole and Stearns comes to mind. These guys were known more for their batting prowess than for their ability to call games and work withboth rookie and veteran pitchers alike. But coming in at number 17 on the list, as voted by you the fans, is possibly the most revered defensive catcher to ever crouch behind the plate in a Mets uniform. Yes folks it’s Jerry Grote.
Gerald Wayne Grote was born in San Antonio Texas on born October 6, 1942. As a teenager, Jerry attended Douglas MacArthur High School where, he played on the baseball team ironically enough as a pitcher, catcher as well as third base. He threw both a no-hitter as well as a a one hitter while in high school.
Jerry would spend one year at Trinity University before signing with newly formed Houston Colt .45s as a amateur free agent. The Colt .45′s assigned to his hometown San Antonio Bullets, which was Houston’s double A minor league affiliate.He would get a September call up and made his Major League debut on September 21, 1963. H was used as a late inning defensive replacement for Houston’s everyday catcher, John Bateman. For the season, he appeared in three games that season.
In the 1964 season, Jerry was platooned with Bateman. But due to both their low batting averages, additional catchers, Dave Adlesh and John Hoffman were also used at points during the season.
In 1965, the Colt .45′s would change their names to the Houston Astros, and Grote would be demoted to the Houston’s Triple A affiliate, the Oklahoma City 89ers. Jerry played well in triple A, batting .265 with eleven home runs.
After the ’65 season ended, The Astros would trade Grote to the Mets in exchange for pitcher Tom Parsons. In 1966, Jerry would win the Mets catching job right out of Spring training. He still wasn’t ( nor would he ever be) hitting for average (.237 , three home runs, 31 RBI’s), the Mets were impressed withboth his defensive skills as well as his ability to handle their young pitching staff.
By 1968, Jerry was one of the most respected catcher is the game. His hitting also improved. By the midpoint of the season he was batting over .300 and was elected as the starting catcher in the 1968 All-Star Game. At the time, Jerry was the second Met – aside from Ron Hunt to be elected as a starter in an All-Star game. Jerry finished the year strongly, finishing witha batting average of .282 batting average , three homers and thirty one RBI’s
In 1969, Grote helped lead the charge to help the Mets reach their first post season ever. On September 24th 1969 that goal was reached when the Mets clinched the National League Eastern Division title.
Jerry had one of his best years as a power hitter, when he smacked six ( a career high). He finished the regular season with 40 runs batted in and a .252 batting average. But it was his defensive skills that helped the Mets the most. Jerry had a .991 fielding percentage that season and he threw out 56.3% of the runners who tried to steal bases against him.
The Mets were given little chance by the media to beat the Atlanta Braves in the 1969 National League Championship Series. But the Mets went on to sweep them, stunning the entire country ( except for the Mets faithful.) During the 1969 World Series, the Mets shocked the world by winning their frst World Series. It was against the Baltimore Orioles, a team that was predicted to steamroll over the Mets. Grote caught every inning of that post-season and would hit .211 with one RBI. Jerry Grote has been credited for Mets pitching staffs success. They would hold Orioles hitters to a .146 batting average in those five games.
Jerry continued to be one of the top catcher in the game.He led all National League catchers in both “70 as well as ’71 in putouts.
During the ’72 season, Jerry was limited to just 64 games due to ia elbow injury. He was shutdown that September to have bone chips removed from his right elbow.
After the first month of the ’73 season,Jerry fractured a bone in his throwing arm after he was hit by a pitch, and was placed on the disabled list for two months. Jerry returned in July, and coincidentally the Mets began winning The Mets would claw themselves out of last place and they went on to win the National League Eastern Division pennant. It was won of the most amazing comebacks of all time. The Mets went on to to defeat the ” Big Red Machine” in the NLCS that season. But in the World Series, the Mets would lose to the Oakland A’s in seven games. Once again just like ’69, Jerry caught every game of the ’73 post season.
In 1974Jerry was voted to his second All-Star game. He was limited to 97 games due to injuries . In order to keep him fresh , the Mets would platoon him with Duffy Dyer. He would end the season with a batting average of .257, five homers and thirty-six runs batted in.
Jerry would be fully healed in 1975, and it showed at the plate. He would finish the season with his highest batting average as a Met (.295). He led all National League catchers with a .995 fielding percentage.
By 1977, Grote was reduced to the role as the Mets back up catcher so that John Stearns could become the everyday backstop. That August, Grotewould be traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for minor leaguer, Dan Smith and third baseman, Randy Rogers.Neither would ever make it to the big leagues with the Mets. Jerry spent twelve seasons with the Mets and his departure was bittersweet to say the least.
Jerry would spend two years with the Dodgers, backing up Steve Yeager. He appeared in both the ’77 as well as the ’78 World Series against the Yankees.
Jerry retired from professional baseball after the 1978 season ended. In 1981 he was lured out of retirement by the Kansas City Royals, where he played just one season before hanging up his catching gear for good.
Four years after he retired, Grote would be names the manager of the Lakeland Tigers. He would also go on to manage the minor league team , the Birmingham Barons. In 1992, Jerry would finally be inducted into the the New York Mets Hall of Fame . He has most recently been on hand to attend the closing of Shea Stadium, as well as the reunion of the ’69 Amazing Mets at Citi Field. He currently raises his prize Texas longhorns on his ranch near Austin, Texas.
Most recently,Grote a color commentator for the Pacific Coast League’s Round Rock Express radio broadcasts which can be heard on the Internet at www.MiLB.com.
In his twelve years with the Mets he had a batting average of .256with35 homers and 357 RBI’s.
Tomorrow we will reveal number 16 on the list – and all I will say is he is one of the most iconic outfielders the Mets have ever had.
And with that said… HERE COMES THE INFAMY !!!!!
Mets alumni celebrating a birthday today include :
Mets reserve catcher/first baseman from the ’89 season, Phil Lombardi is 48 (1963) .
Clubhouse cancer of the ’04 season, Shane Spencer is 39 (1972) . He was good at the plate ( .281 batting average, 4 homers 26 RBI’s), but the front office could not ignore his off the field antics and he was released in late July of that season.
Starting pitcher from the ’09 team, Livan Hernandez is allegedly 36 (1975) . He pitched pretty well for the Mets for the first part of the season, but the combination of the rest of the league catching up to him , compounded with the fact that he was about to meet performance based bonuses with the Mets, and he was released in the middle of August of that season.
The New York Mets signed free agent reliever, Don Aase on February 20, 1989. He would spend one season in the Mets bullpen , and after the season he was granted free agency and exactly one year later he signed on with the Los Angeles Dodgers .
The New York Yankees signed pitcher, Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets as a free agent on February 20, 1996. This happened after Gooden’s one year suspension for violating the MLB”s drug policy, and had his contract voided by the Mets. He spent a couple of years with the Yanks and pitched decently for them, even pitching his first no-hitter of his career. Needless to say most Mets fans were seething at this transaction.
The New York Mets signed free agent first baseman,Tony Clark on February 20, 2003. He was originally brought in to a reserve first baseman/outfielder, but he became the Mets full time first baseman after Mo Vaughn re-injured his knee mid season.
And while you are boiling at the fact that Luis Castillo finally made it to camp , just remember that there are just 40 Pat Zachry days until the Mets open the 2011 season against the Florida Marlins in Miami and only 47 more days until the Mets 2011 home opener against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field.
Mo Vaughn wants to run like the wind !!!