Cubs 101 - Pt. 46 - The Bitter Departure of Mark Grace
A possible side effect of playing for an organization with a history of losing that is longer than the average lifespan of a marathon runner is that its players will often depart on less-than-pleasant circumstances. For example -- Rick Sutcliffe and Andre Dawson, one the greatest Cub pitcher and the other the team's finest outfielder of the 80's both get cast aside like Larry Himes's garbage. Greg Maddux, the greatest righty pitcher of his era, gets brushed off and sent away at the peak of his skills. Ryne Sandberg, the greatest second baseman perhaps in the history of the game gets driven into early retirement. And then, Mark Grace, the team's finest first baseman in a century doesn't even receive a courtesy call to be told that his services would no longer be needed.
Grace would leave the Cubs after the 2000 season, a year after making headlines for collecting more hits and doubles than any other player in the '90's. He would leave Chicago with a captain's "C" on his jersey -- made a little less special by the fact that a similar one was worn by legendary selfish douchebag Sammy Sosa -- after having agreed to a series of one-year, five million dollar contracts.
For loyalist Cub fans, and certainly for Grace himself, it felt like a raw deal. The Cubs didn't exactly improve at first base the following season as they went out and acquired jabrones like Matt "T-Bone" Stairs and Ron Coomer to share first base responsibilities.
Meanwhile, Grace would sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he would bat .298, hitting 15 homers and driving in 78 RBI for a World Series winner. Still, Grace was known for his obsession with following the Cubs, keeping tabs on his former teammates and marking their progress throughout the '01 season.
The year following, Gracie's cigarette habit and lack of physical exercise would catch up with him, and he'd descend into part-time status, batting .252 for the D-backs in '02 and .200 for them in '03. Still, he would retire with a career .308 AVG as a Cub, and he'd play in more games at first base than any other Cub player in the 20th century.
None of which makes him a great player. And that perhaps is the fitting thing -- Grace was certainly good, he was reliable, he was loveable, and the leadership role he filled as a Cub has been seemingly vacant since his departure, but he occupied a slugger's position for 13 seasons, while batting in a slugger's spot in the lineup for most of that time, and he never hit more than 17 homeruns while never driving in more than 98 RBI. Maybe it makes sense, then, that the player most identified with the Cubs of the '90's was never really better than above average, which is also a description that could fit any Cubs team of that era - never really better than above average.
Still, it would have been nice for him to end his career a Cub. Certainly, it couldn't have hurt -- he probably would have brought more to the table in '01 than anybody else the Cubs grabbed, even Fred McGriff and his meaningless production, and his fall-off in '02 and '03 wouldn't have stopped the Cubs from finishing 5th the first year or 1st the second. But "nice" doesn't win championships. As much as we remember Grace fondly for being the anti-Sosa, the unselfish player who'd choke up on two strikes and try to keep the inning alive, for his slump-busting tactics with all the Chicago fatties out there, it would be appreciated probably by all of us if the next memorable Cubs first baseman is known best for not only the clutch hits and good attitude, but also for his prodigeous production and epic homeruns.
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