War Hero: Mark Grace

May 08, 2008 | Comments (0) | by Jake the Terrible Cubs Fan

In 1982, Ernie Banks became the first Cubs player to have his number retired. In 1987, Billy Williams joined him as the second. For sixteen years, the two flags with Banks and Williams' numbers, one on each foul pole, flapped in the Chicago breeze all by their lonesome. Then in 2003, Ron Santo's number 10 was rightfully added, followed by Ryno's #23 two years later. So who should be the next Cubs great to be considered for this great achievement? Keith Moreland?.....Derrick May?......Mike Harkey?.....Ty Griffin? Um, no.

How about number 17, Mark Grace?

Mark splashed onto the scene in 1988, taking over the first base gig for Leon Durham, whose thick glasses and love for cocaine were his downfall. Mark hit .296 his rookie season and finished second to Reds third baseman, Chris Sabo for National League Rookie of the Year, who surely swayed a few voters with his James Worthy-esque goggles. While Sabo quickly flamed out in the big leagues faster than he could say to his barber, 'Just a little off the top', Grace became a Cubs fixture at first base for over a decade.

Mark was known more for his consistency at the plate than for his power, hitting .303 lifetime, and .307 during his tenure with the Cubs. Mark is among the Cubs top ten all-time leaders in on-base percentage, runs, hits, total bases, doubles, runs batted in, bases on balls, and extra base hits. His highest ranking of all of those is doubles, in which his 456 two-baggers are second in franchise history to only Cap Anson. Mark was also well known for his glove work at first base. From 1992 to 1996, Mark won 4 Gold Gloves, only failing to do so in the strike-shortened '94 season, somehow losing to Jeff Bagwell.

Mark Grace was never really the main attraction at Wrigley. Throughout his time there, casual fans were usually enamored with the star power of Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson and in later years, Sammy Sosa. But Mark always managed to be a fan favorite of the Cub faithful. He was a man's man, who appealed to the blue-collar crowd in Chicago's meatpacking district with his no-nonsense scrappy play on the field, and laid-back, fun-loving personality off it. Mark was known for his love of partying, drinking and smoking, and is argued by some to have been a bad influence on young pitchers Kyle Farnsworth and Kerry Wood, as he introduced them to the Chicago nightlife. Oddly enough, Kerry Wood hasn't been any good since Grace left*. So one could surmise that the key to Kerry Wood making a return to form would be to drink and smoke more. And Kyle Farnsworth? Well he's just like a little kid that you leave at the mall on purpose or drop off at a foster home under the cover of night. But that's neither here nor there. Unlike Farnsworth, the late-night lifestyle never really affected Mark's play. He still went out there each day and got the job done on the field, hitting no worse than .280 in any season with the Cubs. Maybe Mark was just better at finding a good " slumpbuster" than Kyle was.

In 2000, Mark was hosed by the Cubs management, who failed to re-sign him despite claims according to Mark from Andy MacPhail that they were planning on it. After being left hanging for over a month, Mark was forced to look elsewhere for work, and much to the dismay of Cub fans, he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks in December of that year. The loss of Grace technically marked the beginning of the Hee Suck Choi Era. Only problem was, Choi was a wet fart, so instead we were unfortunately stuck with the Matt Stairs-Fred McGriff-Eric Karros Era. Aside from Choi supposedly being "ready", it is said that a rift between Mark and Sammy Sosa also fueled his departure from Chicago. Let it be said Choi's crowning moment as a Cub was being nearly knocked unconscious when he slammed his head into the ground on a nationally televised game versus the Yankees, shaming his homeland. Meanwhile, Sammy Sosa has moved on and now owns multiple fighting cocks in the Dominican Republic.

I had the privilege of attending Mark's first series back in Wrigley with his new team. If there was bad blood between him and the management, it certainly never poured over to the fan base, as he was given a standing ovation during his first at bat in all three games that series.

In 2001, in his first season as a D-back, Mark finally got his World Series ring, as Arizona shocked the Yankees in seven games. While us Cubs fans sat there wishing it would've been with our team, you just couldn't help being happy for the guy. So now we're just stuck wondering what-if, and are left to watch "Taking Care of Business " if we want to see Gracie hit a World Series home run for the Cubs. Unfortunately that requires having to enduring 107 minutes of Jim Belushi, and I don't think many have the intestinal fortitude for that.

In 2006, Mark came back to Wrigley to sing the seventh inning stretch, which is hopefully a sign that tensions have died down between him and the Cubs. The departure of team president Andy MacPhail, who Grace claims shut the door on his career in Wrigley, brings hope for the remarriage. But I think the ultimate way to make amends and honor one of the team's greatest players in recent years would be to raise his #17 up the flagpole. Mark had a great career with the Cubs, and while it probably won't beckon the call of Cooperstown, it should definitely beckon the call of Wrigleyville. So raise a can of Old Style to ole' #17. Then drink it really fast and open another one. Gracie would want it that way.

"A slumpbuster is when you have to take one for the team. It's finding the biggest, nastiest, fattest broad, and you put the wood to her to come out of your slump. Also known as 'jumping on a grenade for the team'."

*TMS insiders have confirmed that smoking and drinking were part of Kerry's 2008 preseason workout. The closerbeard is a byproduct of said training.