Our first player profile from the 1973 pennant-winning Mets is catcher, Jerry Grote. In 1973, Grote missed some time with injuries. In fact Grote played in just a little over half of the team’s games that year, appearing in 84 contests. Grote hit .256 with 1 home run and 32 RBI. Over his 16-year big-league career (with the Dodgers, Astros, and Royals as well as the Mets), Grote hit .252, with 39 HRs and 404 RBI. His numbers appear very modest, yet Grote is regarded as a key piece in the Mets’ 1969 world championship and 1973 NL championship.
Grote’s value to the Mets transcended his offensive production. Grote was widely recognized for being the best defensive catcher in baseball. This praise was heaped on him repeatedly, but probably the most often-cited quote about Grote’s defense came from none other than Johnny Bench, a contemporary of Grote’s. Bench said, “If Jerry Grote were a Cincinnati Red, I would have been a third baseman”. That is some pretty lofty praise from a Hall-of-Fame catcher. If you think about how the Mets won in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the formula was clear. They relied on pitching, pitching, and more pitching. The man entrusted to lead that young pitching staff was Jerry Grote. Grote helped nurture some big-name young pitchers, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, Jim McAndrew, and Tug McGraw to name just a few (Grote also worked with Nolan Ryan, who was not a part of the ’73 Mets).
Grote broke in with the Houston Colt 45s in 1963, and became a Met in 1966. He played 12 years in Queens, before being traded to the Dodgers on August 31, 1977, as part of the dismantling of the former core of the franchise. After spending parts of two seasons with Los Angeles, Grote moved on to the Royals, before ending his career with a brief return engagement with the Dodgers. He retired after the 1981 season. Always known for being gritty and tough as nails, Grote left a lasting impression in New York. He proved that a catcher’s value can be expressed through defensive, rather than offensive prowess. Jerry Grote turns 71 this year, and has come back to Flushing from time to time to celebrate special occasions. He, along with Duffy Dyer, gave the Mets a very solid receiving corps during the 1973 season.
There are some parallels that can be drawn between Grote and John Buck. Buck is not as skilled defensively, and has more power than Grote did, but they both have been given the keys to young pitching engine of the New York Mets. We are beginning to see the value Buck brings to the 2013 staff (just ask Jon Niese). In this way, Buck has a similar task to the one Grote faced in the late 1960s. Take a bunch of talented, raw arms and revitalize a baseball team. Grote certainly succeeded. We have the right to be confident that Buck will as well.