For Chicago Cubs fans in the 90s, Mark Grace was certainly a popular name around Wrigleyville. However, it may be accurate to say he is still very underrated because of how good the numbers were.
It has been 19 years since Mark Grace suited up for the Chicago Cubs. Before we had Anthony Rizzo and Derrek Lee, we had Gracie manning first base for many seasons. And he indeed was as consistently as good of a hitter as you can get. His 7,156 at-bats in a Cubs uniform are 7th all-time on the franchise list and third-most among Cubs first baseman.
A lot of recognition has to be given to the man who had more hits (1,754) than any other baseball player in the 1990s. Think of all the great hitters of that decade. None of them had more hits than Grace in that span. He was not one to slug the ball out of the ballpark often, he was too busy hitting line drives, taking walks and not striking out.
One could look at just his slash line of .308/.386/.445 in his 13 seasons as a Cub to see how good he was. But there are other things to look at to enforce how great he was.
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Grace made his MLB debut with the Cubs in 1988 and played in Chicago through the 2000 season. He played in less than 140 games twice: his rookie year and the strike-shortened 1994 season. Take away 1994, and he averaged 150 games played per season as a Cub. For fWAR lovers out there he averaged a 3.4 fWAR per season in all 13 seasons and recorded a 4.4+ fWAR in four of them.
What was rarer than him missing a game? Him striking out. He averaged a 6.9% K rate per season. Considering he had 600+ plate appearances in 10 of his 13 seasons as a Cub and never less than 550 (outside of the strike of 1994), that is remarkable. On top of that he averaged a BB rate of 11.5% per season, which certainly helped his cumulative .386 OBP.
Now to look into what he did best, getting hits. His 2,201 hits are fifth on the all-time franchise list. Of those, 456 were doubles, which is second by a Cub all-time. Outside of 1994, he recorded no less than 143 hits and averaged 173 per season. Seven of those years he recorded 180+ hits and had a career-high 193 in 1993.
He tallied 1,554 singles, 456 doubles, 43 triples, 148 homers, 946 walks, 561 strikeouts in 1,910 games as a Cub.
It is amazing he was only a three-time All-Star. He had to compete with slugging first-baseman who hit a lot of homers, but that does not take away what a professional hitter he was. He was worthy of making many more based on his numbers alone without comparing it to others. Grace did also win four Gold Gloves for his efforts at first base.
A few individual performances that stick out include him hitting for the cycle on May 9, 1993, his .647/.682/1.118 hitting in the 1989 NLCS and his epic extra-inning walk-off home run on September 13, 1998.
Grace is honestly one of the best pure-hitters in Chicago Cubs history. His ability to spray the ball all over the park with such consistency over the 13 years can often be overshadowed by the steroid-era sluggers of that time. It was probably an emotional feeling for fans when they saw him finally get a ring with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001.