Fond Memories Of Jerry Grote

By Joe Scotchie

Who can forget the final out of the 1969 World Series? The New York Mets were up 5-3. They led the series, three games to one. The Baltimore Orioles, heavy favorites to win, had a runner on first with two outs. The Oriole batter, Davey Johnson, a future Mets skipper, crushed a line drive to left field.
Johnson later said it was the hardest ball he had ever hit. A home run would have tied the score. Instead, the ball died and landed in the glove of leftfielder Cleon Jones. Jones immediately knelt in prayerful thanks.
Near the pitcher’s mound, Mets catcher Jerry Grote jumped into the arms of the winning pitcher, Jerry Koosman. Tom Seaver rushed out of the dugout. Third baseman Ed Charles celebrated along with them. Grote jumping into Koosman’s two handed grasp remains the most iconic photo in Mets history.
Sadly, for baseball fans, Grote, who starred for the Mets from 1966 to 1977, passed away on April 7 at a hospital in Austin, TX. The man was 81.
But never forgotten. Tributes from Mets management and former teammates came pouring in. All were heartfelt. Casey Stengel once declared that the catcher is the most important position player on any championship ballclub. That, too, was Jerry Grote. And so, the tributes.
“We are incredibly saddened to hear about the passing of Jerry Grote. The Mets Hall of Famer was the backbone of a young Mets team who captured the heart of New York City in 1969. We are grateful that Jerry was able to reunite with his teammates one last time during the 1969 World Series reunion at Citi Field in 2019,” said Steve and Alex Cohen, co-owners.
“He was the reason for my success. I have the photo in my home of me jumping into his arms after we won in 1969. I am heartbroken. No one was better behind the plate. He really controlled the game.” Jerry Koosman.
“Jerry was a bulldog. He caught one of the greatest pitching staffs in the history of baseball. He was the glue that kept the staff together.” Cleon Jones.
“He was the best defensive catcher in the NL when he played. Johnny Bench once told me ‘If he was on the Reds, I would be playing third base.’” Ed Kranepool.
“When someone stole a base on him, he took it personally. He was a superb catcher.” Ron Swoboda.
“He was the best catcher I ever threw to. I don’t think I ever shook him off once. I had the pleasure of being his roommate on the road for a few years. It’s a sad day.” Jon Matlack.
“Without Jerry, we don’t win in 1969. It’s as simple as that. He was the best.” Art Shamsky.
Grote was the backbone of the Miracle Mets. His career was much more than that one great year. He was also the backstop for the “You Gotta Believe” 1973 Mets who, under Yogi Berra, won both the 1973 National League East division title and the National League pennant, before succumbing to the Oakland A’s in a thrilling seven-game Fall Classic.
A native of San Antonio, Grote, fittingly enough, attended Douglas MacArthur High School in that city. After a year at Trinity College, Grote was drafted by the Houston Colt .45s. In 1965, he was traded to the Mets, where his career took off. In 1968, he was selected to the National League’s All-Star team. That year, the Mets finally came alive, playing winning baseball as a prelude to the 1969 championship season.
In all Grote played 18 seasons as both a starting and backup catcher, ending his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Kansas City Royals.
Grote will always be a Met. And a fiercely competitive one. According to Marty Noble, the longtime Newsday sportswriter, Grote was the finest defensive catcher the Mets ever had.
“[Grote] was an extraordinary receiver — ask Tom Seaver — with a strong arm and a most competitive nature,” Noble wrote in a roundup of Mets’ greats. “Grote did anything he could to undermine the competition. If the final out of any inning were a strikeout or a ball he handled, he would roll the ball to the side of the mound farthest from the opposing dugout to force the opposing pitcher to take extra steps to retrieve it.”
Mets fans will miss Jerry Grote. Current players have another icon to emulate.

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