INTERVIEW WITH JEFF GROSE: PART 1
Back in November of 2014, Card of the Week’s Mystery Met episode 9 featured a fresh-faced ’70s prospect named Jeff Grose. The internet being the strange and magical thing that it is, the piece made its way back to Grose, who left a quick note in the comments section. It is our great good fortune that Grose consented to a follow-up interview, and shared some memories of his time with the organization back in the days of Nixon, Ford, Carter, Seaver, Matlack, and Stearns. Below is part 1 of our conversation; check back here next Wednesday for the conclusion.
Mets360: You were selected by the Mets in the 14th round of the 1972 draft, a 17-year old high-school kid out of New Jersey. Did you expect to be drafted? How did you find out that you had been picked?
GROSE: There were as many as 10-12 scouts, both professional and college, watching me pitch at the end of my final high-school season. Several told me that they were interested in drafting me. I averaged two strikeouts an inning and had already pitched three no-hitters that year. I also had teams interested in me as a first baseman because I could hit as well. So I was cautiously optimistic of being drafted. The Mets scout, Pete Gebrian, called the day after the draft to inform me. It was incredibly exciting.
Mets360: So that same year, you found yourself in the small town of Marion, VA, playing for a rookie-league team managed by former Met Chuck Hiller. What kind of adjustment was it being away from home at that age, traveling around the Appalachian League?
GROSE: My first several weeks in Marion were an eye opener. It was my first time away from home so that was a little scary. Marion was a tiny little town nestled in the Appalachians, and was nothing like New Jersey. I couldn’t pitch the way that I did in high school because now every hitter was good. After like my third game, which I got hit hard in, Hiller called me into his office and told me that one more performance like that and I was going home. I can remember the tears rolling down my face as my dream of pitching in the major leagues appeared to be short lived. Needless to say everything changed after that. My next game I pitched as if it were my last and that was how I pitched for the rest of my career.
Mets360: How would you characterize what type of pitcher you were (eg, crafty lefty, fireballer, etc)?
GROSE: My fastball was clocked at only 90 at my peak so even though I considered myself a fastball pitcher, compared to some of the other guys that I pitched with that would be a contradiction. One year, if my memory serves me, I was on a staff with Mike Scott, Juan Berenguer, Neil Allen, and Jeff Reardon. One of the opposing players told me how happy they were when I pitched because they felt like they at least had a chance. My fastball moved a lot, and I had a pretty nasty curveball. My problem was locating my curve and changeup. When you move up the food chain everyone throws hard, location is the key.
Mets360: You moved up that food chain pretty steadily over the course of the next several years, from low A to high A to AA and finally to AAA in 1976. What were your experiences like in Spring Training down in St Petersburg as you progressed through the system?
GROSE: Walking into my first Spring Training in 1975 was pretty intimidating. All of the pitchers that I idolized, Seaver, Koosman, and Matlack, were still around. Willie Mays, Joe Torre. Ed Kranepool, Bud Harrelson, etc. I remember thinking, “What the f*** am I doing here with these guys?” Then one day I was throwing on the side and Tom Seaver was watching me. He said to me, “Man, you can really throw hard for a little guy.” I was only 6’, 170 pounds. It was then that I felt that I belonged. I actually got into an argument with the bullpen coach, Joe Pignatano, the first Spring Training game because Rube Walker, the pitching coach, told me that I was first up in the bullpen that day and Joe got someone else up. I think he told me to “Shut the f*** up and sit down” and I told him, “F*** you, I’m supposed to be first up.” I pitched an inning against the Cardinals the next day. I was the last pitcher on the staff sent down to the minor leagues at the end of Spring Training. I remember Yogi Berra telling me that I would be back; however, the next spring was the first players’ strike. Unfortunately, when that Spring Training began I tried to throw too hard too soon and my arm problems began.
Mets360: You had thrown a fair amount of innings by the time you were 21, and of course this was during a less-evolved era in terms of caring for pitcher’s arms.
GROSE: We always went out to pitch a complete game. The relief pitchers, at that time, were usually pitchers who had gotten shelled earlier in a series or a guy who couldn’t crack the starting rotation. So we wouldn’t want to hand the ball to one of them in a close game. I would say that on average I threw around 130-150 pitches a game. We were taught to pitch to the corners and if we were ahead in the count, to get the hitters to chase a bad pitch. I still cringe when watching a game when a pitcher throws a fastball down the middle or gives up a hit on an 0-2 count. My first full season in Tidewater, 1976, I was having trouble locating my curve. I was getting hit pretty hard so I decided to start throwing a slider. I had a good one; however, I should have eased myself into throwing it, as that was when I hurt my arm for good. I found out years later, after I struck out 18 hitters in 9 innings in the men’s over-30 World Series, that it was a torn labrum. I had surgery; however, there was so much scar tissue from years of abuse that I would never throw pain-free again.
Click here for Part II