Chicago Cubs: Oh, Amazing Grace – how sweet the swing
Originally drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 15th round of the 1984 amateur draft, Grace decided not to sign, opting to play another year of amateur ball to work on his game. The following year, in 1985, he was drafted again once more. This time, it was the Chicago Cubs who selected Grace. It was a marriage that lasted for the next 15 years.
Grace quickly rose through the Cubs farm system in the 1986 season, hitting for a .342 average for Peoria. That year, he became the first player to win the Midwest League batting title in his first year as a professional ballplayer.
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Since 1981, Leon Durham was the stalwart player who manned first base for the Chicago Cubs. However, with his bat declining and the impending emergence of Grace, it quickly became clear by 1988 that Durham’s days of playing at Wrigley were numbered. He started the season struggling to keep his average just over the dreaded Mendoza Line and after just 24 games, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds and Grace was quickly called up to ‘the Show.’
Grace put together a successful rookie campaign, hitting .296 with an on-base percentage of .371. He eventually finished runner-up for the National League Rookie of the Year Award, trailing only behind Cincinnati’s Chris Sabo in the voting.
By the end of the 1980s, Grace, now affectionately nicknamed “Amazing Grace,” became a clubhouse leader and a reliable player, touted by all of baseball, players and managers alike, as a stellar talent with the bat and the glove.
In 1989, he helped the Cubs clinch the National League East Division title and led the team into the National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants.
The Cubs eventually fell short of their first pennant victory since 1945 in just five games but Grace was nothing short of, well, amazing, as he hit .647 with one home run and three doubles. He also drove in eight of the team’s 16 total runs scored in the series.
It was a heartbreaking end to the promising season but Grace’s play foreshadowed what was to come heading into the 1990s.