Only a 24th-round pick in the 1985 draft, Grace was The Sporting News NL Rookie of the Year in 1988, hitting .296 with seven homers and 57 RBI in 486 at-bats. However, he tied for the National League lead in errors by a first baseman. In 1989 he hit .314 and led the Cubs with 79 RBI, and led Chicago regulars in the LCS with eight RBI and a .647 batting average.
Grace spent the next eleven years on the hapless Cubs, reaching the postseason just one more time — as a wildcard team — in 1998, the year his teammate Sammy Sosa slugged 66 homers. In contrast to his superstar teammate, the first baseman didn’t have a huge home run swing (his season high was 17 dingers in ’98), but he did bat over .300 every year from ’89 on, except 1991 (.278) and 1994 (298).
Grace’s line-drive power to all parts of the field has enabled him to keep his batting average and run production above average. In fact, the first baseman tallied more hits as well as more doubles than other ballplayer from 1990 to 1999. On August 2, 1999, Grace lined his 2000th hit — a double — off Dustin Hermanson of the Expos.
Throughout his career in Wrigley Field, Grace was often nationally overlooked for the more stylish players on the Cubbies, like Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, and Sosa. In fact, Grace himself mentioned in an interview in 1992 that he didn’t “really want to become a guy that gets a lot of attention…I just want to be able to blend in.”
But “Amazing Grace” has always been a Chicago favorite for his consistency in the field as well as at the plate. Since his ’88 season, Grace has become the model of smooth at first, his sure hands snagging four Gold Gloves along the way. And Cub fans appreciated him as much as the other stars — in 1998, a marketing promotion for Beanie Babies gave away “Gracie the swan” in honor of the first baseman.
Relationships with the Cubs front office would soon sour. Thought to be a Cub for life, Grace became disenchanted in 2000, the last year of his contract with Chicago. After breaking a finger and tearing a hamstring in the spring, Grace was limited to just 34 games through April and May. Later in the season, Cubs’ president and GM Andy MacPhail made it clear that Grace would not be re-signed. The veteran finished with his worst batting average since 1991. The final week of the 2000 season saw Chicago-based sportswriters extolling Grace’s virtues, and fans lining the stadium with signs begging the powers that be to keep the Cub icon.
It didn’t happen. In the offseason, still slighted by MacPhail, Grace signed a two-year contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and took his dependable bat and glove to Bank One Ballpark. Rebounding from the injury and finally free of distractions, Grace had a good 2001 season, batting .298 with 78 RBI while helping the D-Backs to an NL West crown.