INTERVIEW WITH JEFF GROSE: PART 2
Last week in this space we featured part 1 of our discussion with Jeff Grose. We heard about his early days with the Mets, Spring Training memories, and the onset of arm troubles. We wrap up today with his recollections of some of his teammates, the emotional end of his playing days, and yes, baseball cards. Mets360 extends its sincere thanks to Grose for sharing his history and enriching our site greatly in the process. (And a shoutout to friend of the site Jim O’Malley for sharing a page from the Mets 1975 Organization Sketchbook.)
Mets360: You were teammates with many players who are quite familiar to fans of the late-’70s Mets, among them John Stearns, Nino Espinosa, Mike Scott, Hubie Brooks, and Neil Allen. Any memories of your teammates you’d like to share?
GROSE: Ironically, as I watched Chase Utley barrel over Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada in the NLDS, I was reminded of John Stearns. He was nicknamed “Bad Dude” from his college days and he lived up to that nickname when going in to break up a double play. Unfortunately for him many of the Dominican shortstops would drop down low with their return throws to first to make runners slide early to protect them from getting creamed. One day Stearns caught a throw in the middle of his forehead. He got up to run back to the dugout and ended up running toward the bullpen. That incident never deterred him from going in hard– he was a “bad dude.”
Mets360: Were you especially close with any particular players during your career?
GROSE: I was very close to Jeff Reardon in AA and he would ask me to watch him throw in the bullpen if he was struggling with his mechanics. I had, and still have, a good eye for pitching mechanics. He went on to have a wonderful career (although some of post-career stuff may have tarnished his image) and I would like to think that I had some influence over that. All of the pitchers that I pitched with in the minor leagues were great teammates. We worked together to win at whatever level we were pitching at.
Mets360: You had a pretty strong final season with Jackson in 1978 (2.45 ERA, a shutout, only 31 hits allowed in 44 innings pitched). You were still just 23 at this point– how and why did the relationship with the Mets end?
GROSE: My arm had been hurting me for three seasons and my final year in Jackson I sat out the first month or so of the season to get my tonsils out. We always referred to the regression from AAA to AA as going from a prospect to a suspect. So at 23 I was considered done. However, the manager at Jackson that year, Bob Wellman, was an awesome manager. He knew that I could still pitch, but that every five days was a problem. My arm would hurt so much after a start that it would take me a week before I could pitch effectively again. However, I remember that we needed a win in the final game of the regular season to clinch the Eastern Division of the Texas League. He called me in to his office the day before the game and told me that he was giving me the ball, he knew that I would win the game. Well, I knew that it was my swan song, my final chance to go out with a bang. I found out earlier the day of the game that my little brother had been hit in the eye in a baseball game back home and that he would never see out of that eye again. So I dedicated the game to Wellman and my brother. I struck out the first nine guys up and pitched a one-hit shutout. One of my best memories as a pro. As it turned out, my first start in the playoffs I called Wellman out in the first inning and handed him the ball. We used to say “stick a fork in him, he’s done”– well, I was done. The Mets released me that winter and the Padres called offering me a contract. I have always second guessed not signing with them and hanging on for a few years; however I always swore that I wouldn’t be a hanger-on like some of the players that I watched who were done and they wouldn’t accept it.
Mets360: Are you familiar with the passage from Roger Angell’s book Five Seasons concerning Spring Training, 1975: “Between [Jerry Koosman and Randy Tate], there was an appearance by a good-looking Mets sprout named Jeff Grose, who is only two years out of high school. Grose, a southpaw, showed us a live fastball and a smooth, high-kicking motion, and he hid the ball behind his hip on the mound, like Sandy Koufax.”
GROSE: My mother, who was a huge baseball fan (it’s in our blood), somehow found a copy of that book and I have one in my possession. It is flattering to be compared to Koufax and to know that even though I have always felt that I fell short of my ultimate goal, to pitch in a regular season major league game, that other people saw that I had the potential if my career hadn’t been cut short by injury. My other regret is that had I not been so rebellious I could have stayed on as a pitching coach and been around the game that I love so much for much longer.
Mets360: I’m curious whether you collected baseball cards at all as a kid growing up in the ’50s/’60s.
GROSE: Growing up my grandparents lived in Baltimore and us in New Jersey. I loved the Orioles and the Yankees, there were no Mets back then. I’m sure that I had all of the Yankee greats, I know I had an autographed Yogi Berra card, which he signed at a Yoo-hoo promotion. Unfortunately, we would put those cards in the spokes of our bikes. Thousands of dollars destroyed for the sound. We used to flip cards to try to win our friends’ cards. It was a different time. I still have some cards laying around somewhere in an old shoebox.
Mets360: Do you have any recollections regarding the Topps Spring Training photoshoots?
GROSE: I remember the Topps Spring Training shoots. How exciting to think that I would have a baseball card. Then, in 1975, Topps makes the decision, I think for the first time, not to print the whole 40-man roster and instead just the 25-man roster that was starting the season. It was a royalty thing. Why pay someone if you don’t have to? I recently saw a Topps card of me, 40 years later, which mysteriously showed up on my Verizon phone in my VZ Pics. Where it came from is unknown. It is a 1976 card with “Minors” printed on the upper-right-hand corner of it. Weird!