Retired and Admired
Forty years of hard work on the job has come to an end for my husband. I couldn’t be more proud of him. It takes a special kind of man to get up and go to work day in and day out for that many years. His support of our family has never wavered and I’m very thankful that our two daughters have the best father in the world. His retirement is well-deserved and I’m excited because he can finally enjoy the things that he has toiled so hard for.
How does this tribute tie into a baseball blog? I’ll tell you. I got to thinking about who my favorite retired Cubs player is. One name immediately jumped into my mind. Mark Grace. Consistency is an apt word to describe not only my husband’s employment record but also Grace’s accomplishments on the baseball field. Let’s look at just how consistent he was.
Grace debuted for the Cubs in May of 1988, replacing the struggling Leon Durham at first base. His 2,500 hits and 500 doubles over a 16-year career, (13 years with the Cubs and 3 years with the Arizona Diamondbacks), were proof of his amazing effectiveness in the batter’s box. He holds the record for the most hits in the nineties, piling up a total of 1,754. That was his decade all right. His season batting average would drop below .300 only two times during those ten years. Ask any older, die-hard Cubs fan, who they think had the most beautiful swing from the left side and most will reply with his name. Fluidity and length were what I remember. Although he didn’t have the power numbers of his teammate Ryne Sandberg, he could still put the ball out of the park at times. Take a walk down memory lane with me:
Grace was also a talented first baseman. He won four Golden Gloves and made the National League All-Star team in 1993, 1995 and 1997. His lifetime fielding percentage was .995. Yet another indicator of consistently great defense at his position. In 2009, he became eligible for the National Baseball Hall of Fame but only received 4.1% of the vote to remain on the ballot, falling short of the 5% requirement.
But baseball stars can falter. Not only on the field but in life as well. Since retiring from baseball in 2003, Grace has suffered the effects of not one, but two DUI arrests in 2012, which not only cost him his job as a Diamondback broadcaster but also jeopardized his public image and self-esteem. He served a four-month work release jail sentence in 2013. The Arizona organization allowed him to return as an assistant hitting coach, thanks to the good will of their general manager, Kevin Towers. Grace told reporters that it was a wake-up call that forced him to replace his reckless habits with a much more stable lifestyle. He appreciated the second chance the club gave him and successfully turned things around. When asked if he misses the Cubs and the city of Chicago it’s apparent from his responses that he does. The Fall Classic championship he won with The Diamondbacks was sweet but I’d wager he would have preferred it to take place during his years as a Cub. Recent reports state that he will not be returning to Arizona in 2017.
Where does this leave Grace now? I’m saddened that the Cubs organization has not reached out to a player that brought so much to the game and fan base. The Amazing Grace signs once held high by loyal fans at his games have turned into fallen from grace slurs in the sometimes overly critical eye of the baseball community. I think about the second chance that was given to Aroldis Chapman, the Cubs’ fire-throwing closer, who, after serving a MLB suspension for domestic abuse allegations, was courted and paid quite handsomely to help the Cubs achieve their first World Series victory since 1908. I understand the need the team had for that investment, although serious issues were swept under the rug. Yet, when it comes to forgiving former longstanding players who have made mistakes such as Sammy Sosa or Grace, the Cubs seem to forget and ignore the huge impact these players have made on the game and the hearts of millions of fans like myself. Nothing would please me more than to have these two legends back in the fold. It would signify a renewed intent to let their impact on future players and fans continue for many years.
As a retiree, my husband will continue to enjoy various perks from the company he served for such a long time. It’s a way to acknowledge a respected work record. I hope the Cubs will GRACEiously do the same. It’s the right thing to do.