- Avg ranking (high/low/most common): 28.98 (7/50/42)
- Seasons: 2001 - 2003
- Stats with Arizona: 335 games, .268/.359/.416 = .774 OPS, 94 OPS+, 2.2 bWAR
Best season: 2001 - 145 games, .298/.386/.466 = .852 OPS, 113 OPS+, 2.4 bWAR
This is one of the more hotly-contested entries on the list, as evidenced from the huge disparity in ranking results.
Mark Grace joined the Arizona Diamondbacks in the winter of 2000. After the Chicago Cubs elected not to offer salary arbitration to Grace, Jerry Colangelo and Company decided to pounce, bringing in the veteran first baseman who had compiled the most hits in all of baseball for the 1990s. With Arizona being the winter home of the Chicago Cubs, and the year-round home to a massive number of Chicago transplants, the former face of the Cubs franchise became an instant fan favourite in Arizona before he ever stepped in the batter’s box. At age 37, Grace was well-along the “wrong side” of the aging curve, but fit firmly into the Arizona’s mold of grizzled veteran “winner” the team had adopted when they brought in Steve Finley (34) and Randy Johnson (35).
Much ado was made about how Grace was going to bring his hitting prowess to the heart of the order, and in so doing, was going to give the Diamondbacks the offensive depth they needed to return to the playoff and to finally overcome the Giants and the Mets. Of course, most of this was the bluster of publicity. Grace’s best years at the plate were firmly behind him. By 2001, if anything, Grace was a glove-first first baseman. Though he hadn’t won a Gold Glove since 1996, Grace’s ability to pick errant throws and his instincts for being in the right place at the right time were still considered some of the best in the game.
That’s not to say that Grace failed to come through in 2001. In fact, he was as steady and reliable as ever during the regular season, then stepped up his game in the postseason. Across the three playoff series that year, Grace went 14-for-49 with two doubles and this home run.
Despite playing baseball as a professional for 14 seasons, he had never been to Yankee Stadium. He spent a great deal of time taking in the sights, then came to the plate in the fourth inning of game four with the Diamondbacks down 1-0 and decided to visit the upper deck.
Though the Diamondbacks would eventually go on to lose that game when Derek Jeter took Byung-Hyun Kim to the opposite field just after the stroke of November, the Diamondbacks still got the final say. Grace was a big part of that as well.
Playing in Arizona, and down 2-1 entering the ninth, the Diamondbacks were faced with the unenviable task of trying to come back against the Yankees with MAriano Rivera taking the mound. Grace was the leadoff hitter and knew he needed to get on by hook or by crook. During a broadcast in later years, Grace would claim he stepped into the box ready to turn into a pitch to get hit if that is what it took to get on base. There was no need though, as Grace would lace a single to start the rally that would eventually end with the Diamondbacks hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy.
During the championship parade, Grace gave the public a preview of things to come, dominating the player presentations and speaking engagements with his boisterous personality and his natural ability to command a room or crowd.
Time catches up to everyone eventually though, and Mark Grace was no exception. After delivering on the hype of helping bring a championship to Arizona in 2001, Grace’s inevitable decline followed swiftly. Both his bat speed and his moderate leg speed had abandoned him, and he wound up limping to the worst season of his career. In 2003 he turned over starting duties to his protege, Lyle Overbay and finished his career as a bench bent with little pop, but a great command of the strike zone.
It was during these season’s in decline where Grace’s personality carried him more than anything. At no time was this personality more on display than in a game on September 2, 2002. With the Dodgers crushing the Diamondbacks 18-1, Bob Brenly turned to Mark Grace to pitch the ninth inning in order to spare the bullpen and to reward Grace with some fun. After doing his best Mike Fetters impersonation while on the mound, Grace would then throw to David Ross.
After his years of playing were over, Grace transitioned to the broadcast booth and served as the team’s colour analyst from 2004-2012. During some broadcasts, he would do his job from the cheap seats, mixing in with fans and regaling them with stories. It was also during this time that fans were exposed to some of the demons that would later come back to haunt him, including a profanity-ridden commentary on Juan Encarnacion which slipped through the technical truck’s censors.
In 2011 and 2012, Grace was arrested for a pair of DUIs and subsequently relieved of his broadcasting duties. The team however, elected not to sever ties with him, and instead provided him with a position as a coach during spring training as part of his work release from jail. He spent the next four seasons coaching at various levels for the team during which he took every opportunity to encourage the younger players to learn from the mistakes he had made. In 2015, Grace was named Turner Ward’s assistant hitting coach for the parent club and then served as hitting coach again in 2016.
In 2010, Grace was named one of the “Legends” for the Diamondbacks Legends Race that runs during the fifth inning break during Diamondbacks home games. The Legends personality has become a running joke synonymous with losing, as it has only won less than 6% of the races it has participated in.
As a whole, Mark Grace’s time on the field for Arizona was very mediocre. However, his instrumental contributions to the team’s only World Series championship, along with his later antics and his joie de vie, have made him one of the most recognizable personalities ever associated with the team.In 2017 the Diamondbacks welcomed Grace back to the broadcasting booth as a member of the pre and post-game analysis “D-Backs Live”.