Ya Gotta Have A Catcher - PART 1

By tobajoma
Oct. 27, 2016

It was reported that when the Mets drafted veteran catcher Hobie Landrith as their first pick in the expansion pool, Casey Stengel explained the choice with “Ya gotta have a catcher or else you’re gonna have a lot of passed balls”. Landrith certainly wasn’t the answer in 1962 and neither were the other drafted catchers who also got a chance - Chris Cannizzaro and Choo Choo Coleman. Before spring training, the Mets signed veteran Joe Ginsberg and he didn’t last long. The quest to find a good major-league catcher has been a challenge for the Mets throughout their history. Of course, they have had some great ones - Piazza and Carter, a terrific defensive catcher and team leader in Jerry Grote and some pretty good ones like John Stearns and Paul LoDuca. But all of them came in trades. The only quality catcher the Mets developed through their farm system who became a star for them was Todd Hundley. Hard to believe.

Before acquiring Jerry Grote in October of 1965, they also tried Harry Chiti who was acquired for a player to be named later who turned out to be himself, Sammy Taylor who had been okay for the Cubs and figured to be the primary starter for the Mets, but didn’t help much, Joe Pignatano who later became a coach for the team, but whose claim to fame for his Mets playing career was hitting into a triple play in his last major league at bat on September 30th, Norm Sherry, Jesse Gonder who was the best hitting catcher the Mets would have so far, but terrible defensively, and former Braves bonus baby Hawk Taylor.

Then, before the start of the 1965 season, the Mets made the big move for their star catcher of the future - except it wasn’t. Greg Goossen, a big, young catcher who had a terrific season as a first-year player in the Dodgers system was claimed on first-year waivers. Back then, there was a crazy rule that players with just one year in the minors had to stay with the major league team all year or be subject to waivers. Goossen was raw, but all the scouts loved his potential and he looked like a steal. Here was the power-hitting catcher the Mets could pencil in as their future #1. Unfortunately, Casey Stengel probably doomed him with another of his famous quotes “we got a young catcher here, 20 years old, and in 10 years, he’s got a chance to be 30“. Still, the fans thought Goossen could eventually be the answer. After sending him to the NYP League where he excelled, the Mets rushed him prematurely to the big leagues where he hit .290. He didn’t figure to be ready for full time duty for a year or two, but the outlook was bright. In 1965, the Mets also tried to revive the playing career of Yankee great Yogi Berra, a move that lasted about a week until Yogi retired.

In what seemed like an afterthought on October 19th, the Mets traded pitcher Tom Parsons who had been a dreadful 1-10 for them to Houston for light-hitting young catcher Jerry Grote. The Mets were more interested in Houston’s better hitting catcher, John Bateman, but weren’t able to come to an agreement. So, the Mets went into the 1966 season with Grote and Hawk Taylor as their catchers. It didn’t look any more promising than in past seasons, but the Mets had another plan for the future.

TO BE CONTINUED