Jerry Grote, Mets Catcher For 1969 World Series, Dies At 81

Jerry Grote, Mets Catcher for 1969 World Series, Dies at 81

Jerry Grote, who was among the National League’s leading catchers of his time and guided the pitching staff that propelled the New York Mets to their astonishing 1969 World Series championship, died on Sunday in Austin, Texas. He was 81.

Jerry Grote

Jay Horwitz, the Mets’ vice president of media relations, said the cause was respiratory failure, occurring on Sunday afternoon after a heart procedure at the Texas Cardiac Arrhythmia Institute.

JERRY GROTE, METS CATCHER FOR 1969 WORLD SERIES, DIES AT 81

Grote, who played for the Mets for more than a decade, was known for targeting would-be base stealers with his powerful arm, and for his savvy in calling pitches.

In 1969, he caught the future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver and the outstanding left-hander Jerry Koosman when the Mets staged a late-season drive and defeated the Baltimore Orioles in a five-game World Series. That championship was a remarkable turnaround for a team that had finished at or near the bottom of the National League for years after its founding in 1962.

An enduring image of the Mets’ triumphal moment shows Koosman leaping into Grote’s arms on the Shea Stadium mound in New York seconds after left fielder Cleon Jones caught a fly ball for the Series’ final out.

Lou Brock, who stole hundreds of bases in his career, mostly for the St. Louis Cardinals, conceded that Grote often got the better of him. “Grote’s quick out the box, has a powerful arm and always seemed to have a sixth sense about me stealing,” Brock told Sports Illustrated in 1974. “He would have the ball waiting for me at second base long before I got there.”

Grote was an All-Star in 1968 and 1974 and finished among the National League’s top five catchers in fielding percentage seven times, including a No. 1 ranking in 1975.

He was also remembered for a competitive drive that spawned a gruff demeanor.

The Mets’ left-hander Jon Matlack once remarked how, when he made his debut in 1971, “I was scared to death that I’d bounce a curveball into the dirt and get him mad. You worried about him more than the hitter.”

Grote was “a hard-bitten catcher who would goad his teammates to pitch harder, who could snap at reporters and official scorers,” the sports columnist George Vecsey of The New York Times wrote in 1981. He quoted Grote as saying: “I had the red neck. I was red all over.”

Gerald Wayne Grote was born on Oct. 6, 1942, in San Antonio, Texas. He was the oldest of three children of Clarence and Leila Rittmann Grote.

He pitched, caught and played third base in high school, then enrolled at nearby Trinity University. Del Baker, a former major league catcher, manager and coach, who was an adviser to the Trinity baseball team, tutored him in catching skills.

The Houston Colt .45s (the future Astros), a team that entered the National League along with the Mets, signed Grote in their first season. He shuttled between Houston and the minors until he was traded to the Mets in 1965 for pitcher Tom Parsons.

When he was batting over .300 at midseason in 1968, Grote became only the second Mets player, after second baseman Ron Hunt, to make an All-Star Game starting lineup. He ended the season with a .282 batting average.

Then came the Mets’ storied 1969 season, in which they overtook the Chicago Cubs to win the National League East title and swept the Atlanta Braves in three games to capture the N.L. pennant. The Mets were defeated by the Orioles in Game 1 of the World Series but swept the next four games. Grote’s single in the ninth inning of Game 2 was followed by Al Weis’s tiebreaking hit. He doubled in the bottom of the 10th inning in Game 4, won by the Mets when pinch-runner Rod Gaspar scored on a throwing error.

Grote remained a Mets mainstay in 1970 and 1971. Gil Hodges, who managed the Mets’ 1969 World Series winners and whom Grote had credited for providing tips that improved his hitting, died of a heart attack during spring training in 1972.

JERRY GROTE, METS CATCHER FOR 1969 WORLD SERIES, DIES AT 81

Injuries took a toll on Grote afterward under manager Yogi Berra. He shared the catching with Duffy Dyer in 1972, having been hampered by bone chips, and missed two months of the 1973 season when he was hit by a pitch that broke a bone in his right arm.

But the Mets won another pennant that season and faced the Oakland A’s in the World Series. Grote batted a decent-enough .267, but his passed ball in the 11th inning of Game 3 led to an A’s victory. Oakland went on to win the Series in seven games.

Grote posted a career high .295 batting average in 1975. The Mets traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in August 1977. He was a backup to Steve Yeager, retired after the 1978 season, then came back to catch briefly for the Kansas City Royals and the Dodgers in 1981.

Playing in the major leagues for 16 seasons, Grote had a .252 career batting average with 1,092 hits, 39 home runs and 404 runs driven in.

After he left the majors, he managed in the minor leagues and raised steers on his Texas ranch.

He is survived by his third wife, Cheryl Grote, and her three children, Laurel, Joseph and Jacob Luedecke; three children with his first wife, Sharon Grote — Sandy Deloney, Jeff Grote and Jennifer Jackson; six grandchildren; and three step-grandchildren.

Grote thrived on the enthusiasm of Mets fans and, in his contentious way, contrasted their support with that of fans in Houston.

“One of the advantages of playing for New York is that the big crowds at Shea Stadium help you tremendously,” he said in a 1971 interview with Sports Illustrated. “They make you want to give 115 percent all the time. In Houston, nobody seems to applaud unless the hands on the scoreboard start to clap. Once those hands stop, so do all the others. Real enthusiasm.”

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