By Todd Brommelkamp/KGYM Radio
Want to win a bar bet sometime in the near future?
Wager a beer then ask the following question: Which MLB player had the most hits during the decade of the 1990s?
Chances are you’ll score yourself a free lager.
The answer isn’t Tony Gwynn or Ken Griffey Jr. It’s Mark Grace who had 1,754 knocks over the course of the decade.
The former first baseman has made his way back into the lives of Cubs fans with his presence on the team’s new Marquee Sports Network. Reviews have been mixed so far with some fans finding Grace rather boring while others have enjoyed the fact he doesn’t appear to take himself too seriously.
Grace was an underrated ballplayer whose legacy probably hasn’t been helped by his off-field exploits, which include a pair of DUI arrests.
At his prime with the Cubs he was the slick-fielding, sweet-swinging first basemen on one of the best pre-Ricketts era Chicago Cubs teams of my life – the 1989 National League East champions. That season, his second in the majors, Grace his .314 with a .405 on-base percentage. His 13 homers and 79 runs driven in coupled with his solid glove work helped him pick up enough Most Valuable Player votes to finish 14th, one spot behind teammate Jerome Walton (remember him?).
Speaking of bar bets, Kevin Mitchell (remember him?) was the National League MVP that season.
Enough about the 1989 Giants, which ended the Cubs’ first playoff appearance since 1984 in spectacular fashion by sweeping the final three contests at Candlestick Park in the best-of-5 series.
Grace left the Cubs as a free agent after the 2000 season and picked up a World Series ring his first season after leaving Chicago when the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Yankees on a flare off the bat of former Cub Luis Gonzalez (remember him?).
I have one very personal memory of Gracie. He was in the lineup on May 28, 1998, when the Cubs hosted the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field. Several of my friends from high school and I took in that game in the sun-drenched left field bleachers. It was my first game at Wrigley Field and I can still remember the smell of the hot dogs and beer (we weren’t partaking in the latter) and the feeling that baseball had somehow changed for me that day. To quote a line from The Big Lebowski, “How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm once they’ve seen Karl Hungus?”
Grace had a monster game that afternoon, going 3-for-5 behind Sammy Sosa in the lineup. One of those three hits was a home run off Curt Schilling in the first inning.
But like so many Cubs fans of generations past my first exposure to the team in its home environment couldn’t possibly be a feel-good story.
Nope, the normally sure-handed Grace booted two balls that day including a ninth inning grounder by Ruben Amaro Jr. (remember him?) that allowed Greg Jefferies to score what would prove to be the game-winning run.
I’m happy Grace is going to be a presence on the team’s new network and I imagine the folks at Murphy’s Bleachers are as well.