Home SPORTS Jerry Grote: Champion Catcher Passes Away at 81

Jerry Grote: Champion Catcher Passes Away at 81

by Ohio Digital News

Sad today.  Very sad.  Almost at a loss for words.  Losing Jerry Grote over the weekend at the age of 81 is a painful loss, to his family and friends, to all Mets fans, and to a degree, a personal loss as well.

That’s what kind of effect Grote had on everyone he met, whether it was at a ballgame, or at a baseball function, or at a baseball card show, any kind of function, at church, or just about anywhere.

Over the years, Grote met thousands of baseball fans, thousands of Mets fans (including this fan), and surely they all share that feeling.

We’re losing too many, just too many.  We lost Bud Harrelson earlier this year, who also had that unique ability to befriend everyone he met virtually instantaneously, and the equally congenial Jim McAndrew and Pat Zachry in recent weeks.

It’s a fact of life that we are all mortal, and yet, the loss of another great ballplayer, another great Met, no matter what age, is a painful reminder that a great era, a great Championship in the history of the New York Mets, fades deeper into the annals of history.

As with any Championship, there always are many contributors.  Any review of the Miracle Mets in 1969, the club that shocked the baseball world when they defeated the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles in five games, you’ll always find Grote as the foundation, the root element to a superb pitching staff behind the plate.

Just ask any of his teammates:

Jerry Koosman: “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.”

Cleon Jones: “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.”

Ed Kranepool: “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.’”

Ron Swoboda: “When someone stole a base on him, he took it personally.  He was a superb catcher.”

Art Shamsky: “Without Jerry, we don’t win in 1969.  It’s as simple as that.  He was the best.”

After his career, Grote was quick to confess he wasn’t all warm and fuzzy when he played.  On game days, his teammates knew he was focused solely on the game and peripheral distractions were considered annoying.

Jon Matlack: “He was the best catcher I ever threw to.  I don’t think I ever shook him off.”

Statististically, Grote was not a Hall of Famer, a .252 average logged with 16 years in the bigs, just 39 homers and 404 RBIs.  But he’s a Mets Hall of Famer, honored in 1992, for his valued contributions to two league Championships (1969 and ’73), two All Star appearances (1968 and ’74), and that wizard-like catching ability behind the dish.  In three full seasons (1972, ’76, and ’77), his fielding percentage was 1.000.  Yes, flawless.  Overall for his career, his fielding percentage was .991.

You’d have to go back and thank the great scout, Red Murff, for bringing Grote to the Mets.  Murff, who also found Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan – among many others – on Texas ballfields, recommended and signed the native San Antonian Grote for his then-employer Houston Colt 45s in 1962.

Would you believe Grote threw a no-hitter and a one-hitter for his high school team?  Yes, you read that right.  Not caught, but threw a no-hitter.  He was a pitcher, catcher, and occasional third baseman in high school.

With Houston, Grote caught a nine-inning no-hitter by Ken Johnson in 1964, but the Astros lost that game, 1-0, after two Houston errors allowed Pete Rose (gee, whatever happened to him?) in the top of the ninth.

Fortunately for the Mets, Murff was soon recruited to join the Mets scouting staff, and recommended they acquire that catcher in Houston.  So in October of ’65, the Mets sent cash and a player to be named later – which later became pitcher Tom Parsons – to the by then Houston Astros, for Grote.

And a Miracle was being born.

Grote was only the second Met to be named a starter on an All-Star team in 1968, the first being Ron Hunt in 1964.  He is still at or near the top on many franchise stat lists – fifth All time in games played (1,235), first as catcher (1,176), remains Top Ten in at-bats (3,881) and plate appearances (4,335).

Mets owner Steve Cohen summed up the organization’s feelings:

“We are incredibly saddened to hear of 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.  Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Cheryl, family, and friends.”

Cheryl Grote posted this on her Facebook page with the news of her husband’s passing: “I lost our beloved catcher, Jerry Grote, to Respiratory Failure after a heart procedure.  He gave a hard fight to the very end as we all expected he would.  He is now home with Jesus.”

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

RIP, Jerry.

The post Jerry Grote: Champion Catcher Passes Away at 81 appeared first on NY Sports Day.

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