In an era of big-muscled bashers, Mark Grace was an uncommon picture at first base. Grace didn’t hit for the power of Mark McGwire, he didn’t lumber around the base like Mo Vaughn nor did he strikeout with unheard of propensity like Andres Galarraga. Grace employed a smooth stroke that smacked out double after double while rarely striking out.
Grace, a 24th round selection out of San Diego State University, terrorized minor league pitching before the Cubs called him up in 1988. As a rookie, Mark didn’t have to wait on the bench, gathering splinters in his backside like so many youths – he was handed the regular first base job. Finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting to Reds third baseman Chris Sabo, Grace hit a nifty .296 in his frosh season.
Elevating his game in 1989, Grace had the best strikeout-to-walk ratio among NL first basemen (something he accomplished quite often in the high strikeout era in which he played). Mark’s .314 batting average and .405 on-base percentage helped the Cubs reach the postseason. In an NLCS loss to the Giants, Grace hit a mighty .647 with eight RBI and an otherworldly slugging average of 1.118. But it wasn’t enough to topple the Giants.
A .300 hitter again in 1990, Grace led NL first basemen in two-baggers and stolen bases. He paced NL first basemen in runs scored in 1991 and had a 2 to 1 walk-strikeout-ratio in 1992.
A fine fielder, Mark fielded .998 in 1992 and .997 in 1993, winning Gold Gloves each season. In the ’93 season, Grace showed off his penchant for the double, leading NLfirst basemen with 39 two-baggers. His highwatermark for doubles came in 1995, an All-Star/Gold Glove year, when he led the senior circuit with51 two-base clouts. His worth to the Cubs was never more evident than the ’95 season: Grace was the only NL first baseman to score and drive in 90 or more runs on the season.
Mark had his highwater mark for batting average in 1996, stroking the onion at a .331 clip. The top hitting first baseman in the senior circuit, Mark also flashed his usual exceptional leather, winning his fourth Gold Glove Award. Grace committed just four errors all season. He slugged a career high 17 homeruns in 1998, leading the Cubs to the postseason, but the Braves had their number and made short order of the baby bears.
The Cubs plummeted in the standings in 1999 but Mark kept giving the Wrigley Faithful something to watch, hitting .309 and scoring 107 runs for a last place Chicago squad. After the 2000 season, Mark left the Cubs via free agency and signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks, who were quickly building an NL powerhouse. Leaving Chicago in his rear-viewmirror, Mark finally got a taste of World Series play withArizona, hitting .263 with a 4 to 1 walk-to-strikeout ratio.
At the age of 38 in 2002, Mark’s numbers began to dip and by 2003 he lost his job to a young Lyle Overbay. Ending his career as the opposite of his peers: a first baseman who made contact, lashed out doubles and not homers and walked a substantial amount more than he fanned.
G 2,245/R 1,179/H2,445/2B 511/HR 173/RBI 1,146/BB 1,075/SO 642/SB 70/BA .303/SA .442