Interview with former Mets prospect Jeff Grose: Part 2

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.)

Grose register

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!

15 comments for “Interview with former Mets prospect Jeff Grose: Part 2

  1. norme
    November 18, 2015 at 8:41 am

    Hey Doug and Jeff,
    Thank you. Great stuff.

  2. November 18, 2015 at 8:53 am

    Part II was just as good, if not better, than Part I. I enjoyed this very much.

    If Mr. Grose reads the comments section, I would suggest that he completely let go of any regret about not trying to hang on. He made a difficult decision, which to an outsider like me seems like one that was 100% correct. He should be proud of that.

  3. Jon
    November 18, 2015 at 10:31 am

    Great stuff. I’ve always been fascinated with these guys whose photos we saw in the yearbook — Young Men With a Future — whose “futures” subsequently vanished. What became of them?

  4. Chris F
    November 18, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    Totally awesome stuff!! Thanks Doug and Jeff for making this happen. It has been among my favorite reads. As a kid coming to age at that time, playing Little League (southpaw pitcher!) and totally immersed in the Mets this has just been a time machine. I also drive through Marion a bunch of times a year, and it will always be a source of conversation along a pretty bleak stretch of I-81! Thanks again Jeff for sharing your Mets history with us!

  5. Jeff Grose
    November 18, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    I want to thank Doug and all of you for your time and comments. Being an English Teacher I use stories from my past to teach students how to use their experiences to try to link to literature or writing assignments(yuck) that they have to do. They have always encouraged me to write a book. Perhaps someday. Ironic how I was once a “young man with a future” in a Met’s Yearbook; however that future was not in baseball.

    • john
      November 23, 2015 at 12:42 pm

      Still you did something most of us dream about. One thing I say to people, think about the best player you ever played ball with he more than likely didn’t even get scouted.

    • Irene Brown
      January 9, 2016 at 3:54 pm

      Hi Jeff,
      Remember your young days so well….happy memories.
      Mrs. Brown

    • Carol Smirnoff Bektas
      June 12, 2016 at 7:48 am

      Jeff,
      I was in your class at CHS. I remember we were all so proud of you being drafted by the Mets. Even though your career was a short one it was good. You were exceptional and handled it well. Good job!

      Carol

    • Tim O'Donovan
      July 7, 2017 at 9:46 pm

      Jeff:

      Topps Vault has two of your Topps photos on Ebay right now.

      • Doug
        July 8, 2017 at 12:35 pm

        Thanks Tim. I’ll drop Jeff a line and let him know.

  6. Jim OMalley
    November 18, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    This is great…you should become a regular contributor. Let’s get Reardon to do an interview. He’s got an interesting story too…having been traded before the rise of the 80s Met teams and also having been traded for Ellis Valentine.

  7. November 18, 2015 at 10:18 pm

    Was great to hear what happened to Jeff Grose. He was a cult hero when we watched him pitch for the North Edison Little League in Edison,NJ.his pitches were a blur! Sorry to here what happened to his brother Hoppy who also was a very good ball player. We played for the New Jersey Senior Little League State Sectional Championship together.

  8. Andy McMahon
    November 22, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    Great interview. I was best friends with Jeff Gross’s son and growing up he was all our idols. Imagine knowing someone who pitched for the mets. If I look hard enough I’m sure I can find his baseball card. Still to this day making an impact on young peoples lives. Hope all is well

  9. November 23, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    Really terrific…

  10. Rich Strack
    January 12, 2016 at 8:14 pm

    I loved both interviews. Jeff Grose is an amazing man and the baseball side of him is only half of what people know. He’s as good with teaching students classic literature as he is gripping a curveball.

    Thank you for this feature!

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