Friday, December 23, 2011

The Glory of Their Time, Chapter 3: Mark Grace

2005 Zenith Artist's Proofs Silver #243 Mark Grace

Mark Grace is a true "fan favorite". He is one of the most beloved players in Cubs history and one of the best to ever occupy the first-base bag as a Cubbie. He's also one of the rare first baseman to establish a long and successful career without hitting a lot of homers.

The Grace card shown above is one of the "zeniths" of my 150+ card collection of him, a true masterpiece (my scanner manages to make shiny cards even shinier!).

Grace is my mom's favorite baseball player, so I figured I'd dedicate a GOTT post in his honor. 

1988 Donruss #40 Mark Grace RC

Mark Grace wasn't drafted until the 24th round of the 1985 rookie draft, when the Cubs nabbed him. In his rookie season of 1988, he'd smash 144 hits (with 23 doubles among them) and post a .371 on-base percentage, quite a feat for a rookie. He'd finish second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting to Chris Sabo of the Reds.

1989 Topps #465 Mark Grace
1990 Fleer "League Standouts" #6 Mark Grace
In 1989, Grace would smack 160 hits. He wouldn't post a lower total until 2000. Grace would hit .314 with a .405 OBP in '89 (80 walks next to just 42 K's), amazing stats for just a second-year player. He'd also hit an amazing .647 in the 1989 NLCS, although the Cubs (obviously) came out on the losing end of the series. All in all, it was a true "Topps Rookie Cup" season.

He wouldn't have to wear that #53 as shown in his '89 Topps issue for long; he'd made it clear that he was a Windy City mainstay, receiving the more "major league" number of 17 for the 1990 season, which he'd wear for the rest of his career.

1990 would be the first of ten seasons where Grace would hit more than 30 doubles, with 32. Opposing pitchers must have felt like they were pitching to six reincarnations of Mark Grace in the years to come, he refused to strike out and always seemed to be in the batter's box. He'd average 71 walks a year from 1991 to 1993 while not striking out more than 53 times in any of those years. He also hit for the cycle in '93, the last player to do that for the Cubs to date.

1995 Fleer #415 Mark Grace
1996 Topps #55 Mark Grace
After an off year in 1994, Grace came back to post two of his finest seasons in '95 and '96. 

He'd lead the league with an amazing 51 doubles in 1995, a career high. Perhaps Fleer caught him legging out one of those many doubles for their '95 issue. 1995 would also be the first of six straight years where Grace would post an OBP greater than .390, with a .395 total in '95.

Grace has reason to smile for his 1996 Topps card. He'd post a career-best .331 batting average and win his fourth (and final) Gold Glove award. 

2000 Topps #30 Mark Grace

In researching for this post, I was surprised to find that Grace was only elected to three All-Star teams, his final one coming in 1997. He'd also post a career-best .409 OBP in '97 and would hit 17 homers in 1998, also a personal best.

2000 would be his final season as a Cub. He'd score 107 runs in '99 (the most of his career), one of which likely "graces" the front of his 2000 Topps issue. Possibly his most amazing stat is that he walked 95 times in 2000 (a career-high), while striking out just 28 times (a full season career-low).

2001 Topps Traded #T17 Mark Grace

My mom refuses to acknowledge my Diamondback cards of Grace as part of my collection of his. It's true; he just doesn't look right in the purple-ish D-Backs uniforms.

He'd sign with the Diamondbacks as a free agent in December of 2000. It proved to be a fine choice, as he'd win his first (and only) World Series with the Diamondbacks in their '01 triumph over the Yankees. 2001 would be Grace's last good year, posting a .386 OBP to go along with 15 homers.

2004 Donruss #220 Mark Grace

This card perfectly captures my favorite quality of Mark Grace. I've got a soft spot for anyone nowadays who doesn't wear batting gloves, and Grace never wore them at any point in his career to my knowledge.
2003 would be Grace's final year in the big leagues. He'd play in just 66 games for the Diamondbacks, posting a dreary .200 BA and a career-low .279 OBP.

Grace now announces games on TV for the D-Backs, and he's a darn good announcer from what I've heard. He's got the makings of a baseball-lifer, as he should be spending many more years in the booth and has always shown a deep passion for the game of baseball.

1997 Leaf Fractal Matrix Die-Cuts #13 Mark Grace
2002 Topps Total #566 Mark Grace

I'll leave you with two of my favorites from my Grace collection. As long as he's my mom's favorite player, he'll always have a special spot in my collection.

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