Thursday, January 12, 2012

#311 - Jerry Grote

In another great action shot Jerry Grote appears to have just hit one off his bat handle in a game at Shea against the Reds that may or may not have been a playoff game. Jerry was one of the Mets' walking wounded in '73. In May he went down with a fractured wrist that kept him out of the lineup for three months. He then had a tough time coming back - his average was still under .200 by early August - but hit nearly .300 from there on as NY won the division after a nice comeback. To demonstrate how snake-bitten these guys were earlier in the season, when Grote went down the Mets bought Jerry May from KC. In May's first game he sprained his wrist and a week later he was out of the majors for good..

Jerry Grote was born and raised in Texas where he was a high school track star and pitched, caught, and played third in baseball. In '61 he went to Trinity University where he played a season of baseball in which he hit .413 with five homers and 19 RBI's. He was signed that summer of '62 by the Colt .45's and got things kicked off the next spring in Double A San Antonio. He did quite well, hitting .268 with 14 homers and 62 RBI's and caught full-time, picking up a bunch of tips from his back-up Clint Courtney, a former Braves catcher. In '64 he graduated to Houston where he shared time behind the plate with John Bateman. While Jerry was far the superior defender, Bateman was a bit better offensively and in '65 when Ron Brand came up, Jerry was sent to Triple A Oklahoma City. There he ht much better and when the season was over he was sent to the Mets for Tom Parsons.

Grote went from one crappy team to another and in '66 he was named NY's starting catcher, improving his average 50 points over his '64 one. In '67 he fell back below .200 but he picked off half the guys that tried to steal on him and did a great job helping develop new phenom Tom Seaver. In '68 new manager Gil Hodges worked with Jerry on his hitting and Grote got his first All-Star nod as a result. In '69 he hit lifetime highs in homers and RBI's for the Series winners while significantly cutting down on his K's (for the rest of his career his K totals pretty much matched his walk ones). In '70 and '71 he led the NL catchers in putouts but his percentage of runners picked off dropped substantially, however, and in '72 new manager Yogi Berra named Duffy Dyer the starting catcher. It was revealed later in the season that Jerry had bone chips in his throwing elbow and after the season he had them removed. After his up-and-down '73 he returned to his starting gig in '74 and was hitting .288 mid-season to make his second All-Star team. In '75 he upped his average to a lifetime high of .295 and in '76 he served his last season as the Mets starting guy behind the plate.

In '77 the Mets traded Tom Seaver to Cincinnati. It had already been an unusual season for Grote as John Stearns took over the starting catcher job and Jerry had almost as many starts at third base as he did behind the plate. Shortly after Seaver left, Jerry was sent to the Dodgers for a couple minor leaguers. With LA he was the third guy behind Steve Yeager and Johnny Oates. In that role his at bats would be extremely limited but he did return to the post-season the next two seasons. After the '78 season he basically retired to be with his family in Texas. But late in '80 he got divorced and at 38 he signed with the Royals for the '81 season. While Jerry would again be pretty far down on the depth chart, he did put up one last memorable feat when that July he had seven RBI's in a game. Despite that and hitting over .300 in his limited role he was released in late summer and re-signed with LA. After a couple games with them he was done. Jerry hit .252 with 39 homers and 404 RBI's for his career. In the post-season he hit .222 in 26 games. Defensively he is in the top 30 all-time for putouts at catcher (all those NY strikeouts) and in the top 70 for fielding percentage.

After playing Grote briefly returned to baseball in '85 when he managed a couple teams in the Detroit system, even playing a game behind the plate. Most of the time he hung out in Texas.

Unsurprisingly Jerry's star bullets focus on his defense. The cartoon adds a lot of color to what he did after playing. The ranch he bought was a working one outside San Antonio and that is just what he did - worked the ranch. He also got involved in a bunch of local San Antonio businesses, including managing a real estate firm and a couple restaurants. San Antonio is still his home base.

These guys played together on LA but barely so I am going through their battery-mate:

1. Grote and Duffy Dyer '69 to '74 Mets;
2. Dyer and Terry Forster '77 Pirates.

1 comment:

  1. May actually played four games for the Mets - 3 starts. But yeah, he was taken out in the 4th against the Padres on June 4th after a walk. So that still counts as snake-bit, though it allowed Ron Hodges to get to the bigs to be the eternal catching caddy.