Jerry Grote Began His All-Star Baseball Career at Trinity
Catcher Jerry Grote had an explosive year while playing for the Tiger baseball team in 1962.
Grote led the Tigers in five categories during his one season as a Trinity player: batting average (.413), hits (31), home runs (five), RBI (19), and runs (29).
“I decided to go to college for one year, and the biggest reason was (assistant coach) Del Baker,” Grote said. “He had been a first base coach for the Boston Red Sox, and stole a lot of pitchers’ signs for Ted Williams.” The Tiger team, which went 9-11, played on a field at Basse and McCullough in San Antonio.
Baker imparted some valuable knowledge to Grote and his Tiger teammates. The veteran baseball man was a catcher for the Detroit Tigers from 1914-16, and later skippered the club to the 1940 American League Pennant. Baker joined the Trinity staff as an assistant in the 1960s, working with head coach Hillery Horne, and later with future Trinity Athletic Hall of Fame member Houston Wheeler.
Grote came to “Trinity Hill” from San Antonio’s MacArthur High School, from where he graduated in 1961. The baseball team was successful, but, according to Grote, they “never could get past the legendary South San team.”
After playing for Trinity, Grote went on to an illustrious 16-season career in Major League Baseball, including 12 with the New York Mets. He began in 1963 with the Houston Colt .45s (later the Astros), and played for Judge Roy Hofheinz’s team from 1963-1964. Grote then provided his services to the Mets (1966-1977), and was a major force in the 1969 World Series, when the “Miracle Mets” defeated the Baltimore Orioles.
Grote was twice selected as an All-Star, with the first honor coming in 1968. Grote played in the 1968 All-Star Game at the Astrodome in Houston, alongside National League legends Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Don Drysdale, Juan Marichal, and Pete Rose, to name a few. In 1974, the annual Major League Baseball match-up was held at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, and Grote teamed up with Aaron, Rose, Johnny Bench, and Steve Carlton. The National League emerged as the winner of both games.
He fully expected to retire after the 1977 season, but was talked into a move to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Grote told Dodgers general manager Al Campanis that, in New York, he lived in a mansion (in the servants’ quarters), and there was a pool next to the residence. He also had dining privileges at New York restaurants, and was quite comfortable. The two sides came to terms, and Grote went to play for Tommy Lasorda from 1977-1978. Grote retired in 1978 because of injuries.
But, the Kansas City Royals lured Grote out of retirement in 1981. During his final season, he played for the Royals and the Dodgers.
The “iron man” played in 1,421 games in his career, chalked up 1,092 hits (.252 average), smacked 39 home runs, and swatted 404 RBI. Grote finished his career with a .991 fielding average, which, at the time of his retirement, was eighth highest among all Major League catchers.
Grote has been inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame (1991), the New York Mets Hall of Fame (1992), and the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame (1998).
But a big thrill for Grote was his election to the Trinity University Athletic Hall of Fame, with the ceremony in October 2011. At a reception for the honorees in the Bell Athletic Center lobby, Grote held the current Tiger baseball team spellbound with tales of the Big League Diamond. He told the Trinity players some of his favorite pitchers were Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Tommy John, Tug McGraw, and Nolan Ryan.
Grote returned to campus in February of this year, to throw out the ceremonial opening pitch as the Tigers went on rack up a 37-12 overall record - which tied the school record for wins. Coach Tim Scannell and the Tigers also made a third straight trip to the NCAA Playoffs, and came within one game of winning the Regional Tournament.
“I love the aggressiveness the Tigers have,” Grote said. “They always are taking that extra base, and they do not hesitate. I think that is a major difference which has made Trinity an outstanding ball club.”
During Trinity’s 2012 opening weekend, Grote was reunited with Tiger teammate Jim Potter, the former director of intramurals who was inducted into the Hall of Fame Class of 2003. The two storytellers “spun yarns” throughout the weekend, which made Grote’s wife Cheryl shake her head and say, “I can’t believe you two!”
Grote also played with Gaylon Stroth, Jerry Mattingly, Pat Olfers, Don Hrebec, Tommy Ezell, and Smoky Baker, Del Baker’s son.
After his Major League playing days, Grote managed the Minor League Lakeland (Fla.) Tigers and the Birmingham (Ala.) Barons. He played for St. Lucie Legends of the Senior Professional Baseball Association in 1989. Until last season, Grote was a color commentator for the Triple-A Round Rock Express, near Austin. The team is owned by Lynn Nolan Ryan Jr., the son of Nolan Ryan.
Grote also raised Texas longhorn steers on his ranch, and appeared as a mystery guest on the television game show “What’s My Line?”
These days, the 69-year-old Grote and his wife reside in Belton, Texas. They are involved in many activities, including a group known as the “Water Buffaloes.” During Fiesta Week, the Public Safety Team (official name) takes water, snacks, and other items, to police officers working the parades.