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What a DisGrace!
by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
May 8, 2006

What a DisGrace

I get ticked off every time I see John Mabry man first base for the Chicago Cubs.

 

 
Good old #17 

Not because he pales in comparison to Derek Lee, the best hitter in baseball last season.Not because heís spent three stints with the arch-rival Cardinals.And not because the Cubs have a bunch of minor league players who could perform as well as Mabry for a fraction of the salary, although none of these factors appease me any.

 

I get ticked off because John Mabry wears a #17 on his jersey.#17 is Mark Graceís number.As bad as it is to see another Cub wear it, itís worse to see it on an awkward, white, right-handed first baseman.If Freddie Bynum wore #17, it might not be as bad.But seeing someone with some similarities and some differences sport it appears incongruous and awkward.

 

Why the heck isnít Gracieís number retired?Good question.The numbers are there: .303 career average, .383 OBP, .442 SLG, 1,179 runs scored, 1,146 RBI, 2,445 hits, 511 doubles, and 1075 walks to just 642 strikeouts.But more than that, he was a team captain and the face of the franchise for a decade.

 



His cult status in Chicago is well known, but Grace was admired throughout the country.Without question, the 1998 Cubs are my favorite team of all time.So when I began my college career at Pittsburgh in 1998, I doused myself in Cub paraphernalia everywhere I went.Did I get a lot of comments from people about Sammy Sosa and the historic home run chase?Nope.ďCubs fan, huh?I like Mark Grace,Ē is the type of comment I got constantly.Not just from awestruck college girls, either; heterosexual men, who were not huge Cubs fans or even necessarily baseball fans, loved Mark Grace.

 

What has endeared so many to Mark Grace?His good looks, infectious smile, charm with reporters, corny commercials, hustle, lack of batting gloves, and intelligent play have all contributed.On a personal note, watching his 2,000th career hit in person against Dustin Hermanson of the Montreal Expos in 1999 is one of my fondest ballpark memories.Wrigley Field erupted after that double in a way that Iíd never experienced before.††††

 

But to finally answer the initial question, Mark Graceís number isnít retired because heís upset at how Cubs president Andy McPhail and GM Jim Hendry handled his departure in 2000.Mark has maintained that all he would need is an apology to forgive them (and God willing, replace Bob Brenly as the WGN color commentator for Cubs games).But the fact that John Mabryís wearing #17 leads one to believe that such an apology is not forthcoming.

 

 
Sosa and Grace share some Cubbie blues 

I realize that not every team retires a playerís number immediately upon his retirement (or in the case of the White Sox and Harold Baines, immediately upon trading him at age 30),but I donít recall any Cub wearing #23 between either time Sandberg retired and his number retirement ceremony last year.Also, if you look up and down the Cubsí current 40-man roster, youíll notice that no one is wearing #21 right now.This might indicate that the Cubs plan on some sort of reconciliation with estranged outfielder Sammy Sosa.

 

Now, donít get me wrong. Sammy had a greater career with the Cubs than Gracie did.But Sosa has been ostracized from the Cubs through his own actions, while Grace has been removed from the club through the actions of its upper management.The Cubs need to wait for Sosa to make an apology to retire his number, yet they must make one themselves to retire Graceís number.So it doesnít bode well that Graceís odds of getting his number retired are lower than Sosaís odds of apologizing to the Cubs for walking out during a game.

 

But whether he apologizes or not, Sammy Sosaís going to make the Hall of Fame.Because of the plethora of slugging first basemen during the 1990ís, Grace almost certainly wonít get inducted.Thatís why Mark Grace, more loved than Sosa around Chicago and across the country even during Sosaís prime, needs to have his number retired more.Like Ron Santo, itís as close to Cooperstown as heís going to get.And the way the Cubs are playing right now, a Mark Grace number retirement ceremony is the closest the Cubs will get to a meaningful game in September. ††

 




Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith Glab resides in Chicago, Illinois, and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.




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