Chicago Cubs: Making a case for Mark Grace’s No. 17 to be retired
There may not have been a better hitter in the history of the Chicago Cubs than Mark Grace. As far as just pure hitting goes, it would be hard to argue it. While Grace didn’t have the power numbers that Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, or Sammy Sosa had – he was a better contact hitter. A doubles machine, always getting that barrel of the bat on the ball and putting it in play – Grace was as good as there was in his time as a Cub. So why isn’t his number retired? A case can be made that the next Cub great to have their number honored by hanging with the all-time Cubs greats should be Mark Grace.
Grace was drafted by the Cubs in 1985, paid his dues and perfected his craft while in the minor leagues for three years. In 270 career minor league games, he posted an impressive stat line of a .332 batting average, 32 home runs, and 210 runs batted in. Just as impressive as those stats were his doubles (63), walks (121), and his lack of strikeouts (56). With those kind of numbers being displayed, there was no holding Grace back from making it to the Cubs.
In 1988, Grace would make his major league debut and quickly would put the pressure on then starting first baseman Leon Durham. Durham’s struggles at the plate caused for more playing time for Grace and eventually the Cubs couldn’t sit Grace anymore. He needed to be played consistently to get better and for the Cubs to get better, a moved was made and Durham was traded. From that point until the last game of the 2000 season, Mark Grace was the Chicago Cubs first baseman.
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In his 13 year career he would compile an outstanding stat line. He batted a .308 average, with 148 home runs, 1004 runs batted in, 2201 hits, 456 doubles, 946 walks, with only 561 strikeouts in 7156 at-bats as a Cub. In the 1990’s, he led all of baseball with hits (1754), doubles (364), and sacrifice flies (73) again showing his ability to put the ball in play. Grace was also a three-time all-star (1993, 95, 97) and a gold glove winner four times (1992,93,95,96).
Grace was the leader of the Cubs his entire career. Not the kind of leader that would necessarily bark at his teammates. He was a leader who kept the locker room and dugout loose and joked with everyone. He would also teach the younger players and take them under his wing and help groom them.
Feb 11, 2014; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks hitting coach Mark Grace during camp at Salt River Fields. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Grace was what was traditionally thought of when you would talk about the make-up of a baseball player. Hard-working, playing each play as hard as possible, treating the game with respect. He also realized that it was an honor to be a professional baseball player.
Unfortunately Grace wasn’t able to have many chances at post season play. He would only be on two postseason Cubs’ teams (1989, 1998).
I know he has had his share of personal problems since retiring from baseball; but I do not think that those issues should cost him this honor. He paid his debt for what he did. And from what I have heard and read, he has cleaned up.
He is now a hitting instructor with one of the Diamondback’s minor league affiliates. Getting himself back into what he loved, baseball and teaching the next generation the game he loves.
There is no questioning Graces contributions to the Cubs and the city of Chicago. His numbers compare closely to Ryne Sandberg‘s. While Ryno had better power numbers, Grace’s average is 18 points higher and he had almost a third less strikeouts. Now, I’m not saying Ryno doesn’t deserve his number up in the Wrigley Field air. Ryno is my all-time favorite Cub, I’m just making my case in point for Grace.
The Cubs fans loved Grace and I’m sure still do and Grace always loved the Cubs fans back. It would be a great moment for the Cubs, the fans, and especially for Grace to get this prestigious honor.