Monthly Archive for May, 2011

Everyday Ichiro #004: Memorial Day

I sat down to watch this Memorial Day game between the Mariners and the Baltimore Orioles expecting the bizarro Ichiro that has played in place of the eponymous protagonist of this series for the last few weeks; a shadow player unable to scratch out hits and stumbling to a .163 batting average in the last 14 days. Ichiro, mired in a slump that even his singles-oriented style hasn’t busted yet, has had the worst month of his career. Geoff Baker at the Seattle Times suggested a one-game sit for Ichiro to shake him loose. Unconvinced of his mediocrity, I watched to see if the great man had indeed been normalized. I was deprived of such a vision, but I was not disappointed.

1. In his first at bat, on that sunny day in Seattle, Ichiro took four or five fastballs from Jake Arrieta, then pulled one of them–way low and in with three balls, an obvious fourth–into right field along the ground between the first and second basemen. Close on the heels of this immediately uncharacteristic success, Ichiro stole second base and made it to third when the catcher chucked it away, providing additional evidence that, for one, speed don’t slump, and that, for two, you’ve got to get on base to steal. Thirdly, working with the postulate that you don’t have to hit home runs to score with speed, Ichiro scored easily on a Brendan Ryan ground ball out.

2. His second time up, hitting with a 2-1 lead, Ichiro rapped a first pitch fastball straight back at Arrieta, sending the ball glancing off of the pitcher’s shin and into foul territory between first base and home, where it rolled to a stop, out of reach of the first baseman while Ichiro trotted through first base easily. This is the real Ichiro, not bizarro Ichiro, the expert at sending grounders into the infield like a firecracker into a sandpit, that spin and dance out of the arm’s reach like pinballs. Today, through two hitters, I’ve seen no incapable doppelgangers or waxy bobblehead dolls. Just Ichiro.

3. Ichiro took a hard sinker on the inside corner for a strike just before watching the hapless Michael Saunders get pegged out at second base on a steal attempt. The failed steal sucked the life out of the at bat, and Ichiro hit a soft liner to second base for the out.

4. Against young reliever Pedro Viola, who uses a roundhouse pitching wind-up that could’ve been orchestrated by Frank Viola, Ichiro showed bunt a little, took a few pitches and worked the count to 2-1 before lofting a fastball to center field. He should have hit it harder, but the team already held the lead and the Mariners closed out another one, to rise a game above .500. A .500 day for Ichiro on a .500 team. That’s the Ichiro I know, if not the team.

Sidenote: I just discovered Super Ichiro Crazy!, a site by Steve Mandich devoted to the life and career of Henry Kissinger. No, no, it’s an Ichiro site! Check it out, you’ll find lots of great images and information about Ichiro over the years, well pre-dating my own small obsession.

Weekend Reading: The Glorious Return

Eric writes about Frank McCourt, Fred Wilpon, and the obligations owners and fans have to one another at Baseball Prospectus.

David Cone is on his way to becoming the best player-turned-analyst ever. “I love Fangraphs,” and other choice quotes at New York Magazine.

A pitching duel or a slugest? Cee Angi over at Essence of Baseball chooses pitching every time, and discusses how she picks the games she wants to attend.

Josh Wilker’s new book, an appreciation of ‘The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training’ is out June 7. Until then he’s writing about players on the team, starting with ye olde Jimmy Feldman at Cardboard Gods.

If you like P&P but don’t always like reading, check out our tumblr Pitchrs & Poets. Also, if you haven’t already, feel free to follow us on twitter and on facebook.

Lightning Round: Steinbrenner and the Yankees Beard Ban

The P&P Lightning Round is an exercise in crowdsourcing and fast writing. Twitter suggests a topic. We spend 45 minutes writing about it. Then we post the results.

New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon is barely hanging on. In pictures he looks a broken man, shoulders sagging, face weathered in new and unkind ways. In interviews he gives the desperate impression of somebody defeated, a man trying desperately to maintain some semblance of control. But Wilpon will not maintain control. A look at the recent history of the Mets indicates that he likely never truly had control. Fred Wilpon is already ruined.

George Steinbrenner, even in death, is not ruined. His post-mortem legacy maintains a tighter grip on the Yankees than a living breathing Wilpon ever could on the Mets. The years of cycling through managers and front office officials still remain fresh in the baseball consciousness. The boastful and ill-conceived statements to the media have only been further-perfected by his son Hank. The silly rules that Steinbrenner used to establish himself as unquestioned boss of the New York Yankees remain in place today.

The silliest of those rules, of course, are those applying to facial hair. And not just because facial hair is a silly thing to regulate, but because there were never actually any rules. Steinbrenner’s facial hair policy was subjective. If he felt a mustache was too long, a mustache was indeed too long. The Simpsons of course parodied this with Mr. Burns questioning the length of Don Mattingly’s sideburns to the point of absurdity.

Funny. Even funnier when Mattingly was actually suspended the next season for refusing to cut his hair. (I love the image of Mattingly as rebel. Someday I will write something about Mattingly and John Cougar Mellencamp as dual Indiana idols who seem different but are actually surprisingly similar.)

The thing about Mattingly though, is that he was Mattingly. He could afford to protest. He was a beloved figure. Steinbrenner had him suspended, but then the issue was resolved quickly. Everything went back to normal. Could you imagine a lesser player attempting something similar? Luis Sojo?

I once worked at a restaurant that required clean-shaven faces from its male staff. There was an open kitchen, so even the back-house guys had to shave. Once, I showed up with about a day’s worth of shadow – maybe even slightly less – and was scolded by a manager for it. I’m not what you would call a regular shaver, and I thought it was a stupid rule, but the job paid really, really well. I picked my battles.

In retrospect, I’m sure my manager didn’t care about my beard. It was a power-play. Steinbrenner was likely the same way. It’s hard to imagine him with strong feelings about the aesthetic value facial hair. It’s easy to imagine him maneuvering in a Machiavellian way to cement his status atop the franchise. Reds owner Marge Schott, a similar if more evil strong-armer, also had a no-beard rule.

For Steinbrenner and his imitators (Willie Randolph and Joe Girardi instituted no-beard policies with the Mets and Yankees respectively – though tellingly, Mattingly hasn’t with the Dodgers), rules can exist solely as a manifestation of power – and a reminder of who’s boss. When Danny Tartabull and Paul O’Neil shaved in the morning, they thought of George Steinbrenner. They remembered their place in the world. They remembered who was boss. It’s hard to imagine a New York Met player having a similar thought.

Pitchers and Poets Podcast 30: The Fan Cave is Not Infinite

Ted and Eric discuss the mysteries of the MLB Fan Cave, the weirdness of Fred Wilpon, the 1990s First Basemen Week hangover, the golem that is Michael Pineda, Grizzly Giambi, and more.

 

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THANK YOU. We Chronicled An Era. #90s1BWeek

Dear Baseball Fans:

These have been an epic two weeks. 1990s First Basemen Week started as a loose concept album, a free associative invitation to ramble. It is a testament to the magnetism of Mssrs McGwire, Vaughn, Bagwell, Olerud, Thomas, and the rest that, despite our very broad concept, so many contributors and readers immediately found themselves on the very same page. We all knew what it meant to talk about first basemen from the 1990s. We all felt it.

As far as we are concerned here at P&P HQ, the concept album went platinum. You laughed, you cried, you offered to write about the mediocre slugger that everyone else had long forgotten about. The week expanded from one to two, the album grew to a double disc.

It’s been a privilege to curate the joy and the sorrow, the amazement and the dread that these fellows channelled. But even more, it’s been a joy to curate such a remarkable group of writers. The first basemen of the 1990s may not be dead, but you still somehow managed to bring them back to life.

For that, we offer a huge THANK YOU to every one of our contributors. This was your week(s). You contributed to the monumental chronicling of an era, not through stats or lists, but through stories. Also, particular thanks go to the talented Kolin Pope–@kolinpope who is also the force behind our new design–for the epically appealing and amazingly appropriate header image, which has really tied the room together.

Sincerely,

Ted and Eric
Pitchers & Poets

A few P.S.es:

Check out our new Tumblr blog, where we post the weird, wacky, wonderful imagery of the baseball multiverse.

We’re also on Twitter, @pitchersnpoets. Eric has his own Twitter @ericnus and Ted has his @Ted_PandP.

The Things We Shared

When this first base business is over, Eric Nusbaum will still be here.

I admit there was a slightly cynical subtext to our early discussions about a 1990s first basemen week. On the one hand, the 90s first basemen topic gave us a range of personalities to explore and celebrate, it gave us avenues to discuss everything from urban blight to steroids to the strike to usual standby memory. On the other, the 90s are good business for people like this blog’s editors, born in the 1980s. The 90s are a gold mine of nostalgia.

The 90s were when we learned baseball. Its stars were the first stars we formed opinions about in the present-tense: by watching, by collecting cards, by reading sports pages. I know about Mickey Mantle but I know Ken Griffey Jr. This feeling, this owning of recent history, is the very premise of VH1. It’s the reason that The Tenth Inning felt so disconnected from the rest of Ken Burns’ Baseball. There’s been an unopened Cal Ripken Jr. Wheaties box in my parents’ pantry for over a decade.


So yes, we knew, or at least hoped, that the topic we chose, the 1990s first baseman, might capture the zeitgeist a bit more than our usual stuff. We wanted that, and thanks mostly to an unbelievable array of guest posters, some famous, some heretofore unknown (even to us), but all generous and talented, we got it. And further, thanks to the flurry of memories and old baseball cards and long winding essays of these past two weeks, I’ve been able to put off writing about Eric Karros

The powers that draw children to their favorite players have been written extensively. We know of the mystical nature of baseball fandom. Thanks to Josh Wilker we also know a little bit about the strange personal bridges we build to our own imagined versions of sports stars. There was never such a mystical connection between myself and Eric Karros. Instead, there were other things. There was timing and there were coincidences.

Karros was never my favorite player. My favorite player growing up, and still to this day if I had to pick one, was Raul Mondesi. Raul Mondesi was the player who made professional baseball – even when it was played live right in front of me – seem like the kind of thing that somebody had to have made up solely for my benefit. Everything about Mondesi was kinetic, dynamic. His arm. His grin. The way he hacked at bad pitches and slid only head first and when he did slide head first, always seemed to lose his helmet.

Karros was similarly inept at taking walks, but otherwise, he was nothing like Raul Mondesi. He plodded. He drifted. Where, say, Jeff Bagwell went to war each time he crouched into his high-tension batting stance, Eric Karros went to sleep. Eric Karros was and is an un-charismatic man. His game reflected this.

But I liked him. I liked him enough that in the years when Mondesi was my established favorite player, Karros slid comfortably into the two spot. There was so much about Karros for me to latch onto: his name was Eric. His number was 23 (my brother’s birthday, my grandmother’s lucky number in roulette). He was a tyall, slow-moving first baseman, which a small part of me must have known was the kind of player I’d become by high school.

And he was there. We traded Pedro. We traded Piazza. We traded Mondesi. We even traded Paul Konerko because first base was already locked down. But it took a decade for the Dodgers to trade Eric Karros. So I grew up with him. As much as Vin Scully or the ubiquitous Tommy Lasorda or Dodger Dogs or whatever else, Eric Karros was a staple of my baseball development. A stolid, not-quite-beloved but certainly well-liked constant from the time I was six, to the time I was sixteen.

* * *

The story should end here: a workmanlike remembrance of a first baseman past. But it doesn’t. Because things happened toward the end of Karros’ career, and I began to understand better. And Karros became a broadcaster. Now this is an essay about coming to terms.

Eric Karros has not broken my heart. He has not made me a cynic and he has not changed the way I think about my childhood, or the Dodgers, or whatever else. But watching Eric Karros on television now is painful for me. And not just in the way that it’s painful for anybody subjected to watching Eric Karros on television. I genuinely want to like him. I genuinely want that player who was so perfectly suited to my youthful circumstances to also suit my adult circumstances.

Instead, Eric Karros is the worst kind of ballplayer-turned-announcer: the kind who can’t help but turn every on-field incident into a personal anecdote. The kind who is vain, unthinking, and genuinely boring to listen to. Watch Eric Karros in the studio, or listen to him in the booth, and you will experience a man who seems to have no sense of how he is being perceived.

Karros the broadcaster is probably most famous for making an inappropriate on-air comment about his colleague Erin Andrews during the 2006 Little League World Series. Via Deadspin:

Erin Andrews was doing a bit piece about an injured player who was hurt playing ping pong. She throws it back to Brent Musberger and Eric Karros, and Musberger talks about Kirk Gibson and how memorable that was. Karros replies, “Yeah, I think all of these boys will have something to remember with Erin Andrews.” Musburger responds, “yeah,” and is followed by 15-20 seconds of silence.

That’s a tasteless comment. But let’s face it, it’s the kind of thing that any baseball player – or any man, really – might say off the air to no consequence. And it doesn’t make Eric Karros a bad person, it just makes him a regular former ballplayer, a typical color commentator. Hell, even this, the most scandalous side of Eric Karros, is pretty bland. The consequences of his professional worst are a mere awkward silence, a few chuckles.

(Allow me this caveat: I don’t think Eric Karros is a bad guy. When Jose Offerman shoved him in the dugout during a game, it was almost certainly because Jose Offerman was a crazy bastard. When he fought Ismael Valdes in the shower, it was probably just one of those things. And when he was finally traded and said it was his own fault for not producing enough, Eric Karros showed about as much dignity as a man could in that situation.)

In the end, Eric Karros is typical. He’s a nice enough guy. He’s a little vain. He’s the all-time leader in home runs by an L.A. Dodger, and yet he never won a playoff series with the team. He never made an All Star game. His numbers look a whole lot worse than they did in the 90s.

Even with these last two weeks of first base adrenaline pumping through me, I’m unable to muster the enthusiasm I want to about Karros. Maybe because unlike teammates Mondesi and Piazza and Nomo, and unlike so many other 90s first basemen, he was never an outsized figure. Maybe because his career went fine for a decade then faded into effectual play and a quiet exit bow, like careers are supposed to do.d

Eric Karros became a dull broadcaster. Nothing in his career indicated that any other path was possible. Nothing in his career indicated that Eric Karros would differentiate himself as an intellect, as a wiseacre, as a stylish or otherwise memorable commentator.

The more I think about it, the less disappointed I am. Because Eric Karros and I still share a name. I still have a blue Dodgers batting practice jersey with the meaningful number 23 on it high up in my closet. These things are enough. I expect nothing more from Eric Karros. I deserve nothing more from him. Nobody does.

Baking the Perfect 1990s First Basemen with Kenneth Morgan

Kenneth Morgan, P&P’s resident statistician, helped kick off 1990s First Basemen Week by investigating the ultimate 1990s first baseman stat-line. Then throughout the last two weeks, you heard testimonies as to why certain players are the most 1990s first baseman.  Today, with the support of baking metaphors, Kenneth helps bring us home with a statistical investigation into which 1B of the decade is the most 90s. Tweet Kenneth @KCMorganUW.

The numbers you see preceding each ingredient are the weightings I gave each one, out of 100. So, the ten ingredients you see listed above are in order of importance. How did HR% end up on top of the heap? I think I’ll let The Simpsons explain:

Mark McGwire: “Do you want to know the terrifying truth? Or do you want to see me sock a few dingers?!”

Everyone: “Dingers! Dingers!”

-The Simpsons, “Brother’s Little Helper”, Oct. 3 1999

If you notice the date that this episode aired I think it effectively summarizes the mindset of the 1990’s baseball fan.

First basemen also enjoy walking, lacing doubles down the line and into the gaps, and driving other teammates in. You might be wondering why HBP% was included. Can you think of another defensive position where a higher percentage of players wore as much armor while at-bat? Mo Vaughn, Mark McGwire, Andres Galarraga, et al. Sure, I guess we’ll wait those extra 10-15 seconds for you to undress your elbow and shin pads and lumber on down the first baseline after a walk or HBP.

Did you know that during the 90’s Andres Galarraga was hit 100 times, while Eddie Murray was only hit ONCE in 4000+ plate appearances? Were pitchers scared of Eddie’s charging-the-mound capabilities? For someone with the nickname “steady” he must’ve done a lot of contorting in the box to avoid all of those close shaves!

Let’s now put all of these ingredients into our oven and see if it gives us the 1990’s first baseman we wanted. I used a process in the same vain as how Mr. Carson Cistulli calculates his NERD and SCOUT scores on Fangraphs.

Step 1: I looked at statistics compiled from 1990-1999 for all qualified first basemen. I only looked at 1B who had at least 3000 plate appearances, sorry Travis Lee. This left me with 17 first basemen: Mark McGwire, Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, John Olerud, Fred McGriff, Cecil Fielder, Mo Vaughn, Will Clark, Wally Joyner, Mark Grace, Mark Palmeiro, Eddie Murray, Don Mattingly, Gregg Jefferies, Eric Karros, and Andres Galarraga.

Step 2: I calculated the averages, standard deviations, and z-scores for all 10 of the statistics listed above.

(A Z-score is a measure of how many standard deviations a certain number is away from the mean (average) of a distribution. For a real-world example, let’s say we decided to graph the height of everyone who played in the MLB in the 1990’s. The shape of this graph would closely resemble the shape of Mount Everest; whose tallest point would represent the average height (probably 5’11” or 6’0”) of these players. Most MLB players from the 90’s would be closely grouped around this average and about 70% of them would be between 5’9”-6’3”. Former Mariners 2B Joey Cora (5’7”) would have a Z-score of about -2.0, as he was well below the average height of his peers. Former Mariners SP Randy Johnson 6’11” would have a Z-score of about +2.0-3.0 as he towered above the average MLB player and his height was extremely unique compared to 1990’s MLB players.)

Step 3: Find the average z-score for each first baseman, weighted appropriately by the weights listed in the ingredients.

-Our goal is to find the most 1990’s first baseman, not the best from this decade, nor the worst from the decade. Essentially we’re looking at the person who was most “average” in relation to the other 16 players in this group that we’re using. In order to find this player, we’re looking for the one whose average z-score is closest to 0.0. This may seem odd for a goal to be 0, but remember that 0 here means average. Average is our goal.

Step 4: Scale results onto a 0-100 scale, where 100 represents the most 1990’s first baseman possible!

Step 5: Graph!

Sweet cuppin’ cakes, John Olerud scored a perfect 100/100 (meaning he had a z-score of EXACTLY 0.0)! I didn’t know what to expect out of this somewhat arbitrary experiment to find the quintessential 1990’s first baseman. I like the order of this list though, especially the top three. John Olerud, Fred McGriff, and Will Clark. That’s about as 1990’s as you get!

The face of the 1990s

All stats via Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.

Bob Hamelin: Almost Anything by Wes Marfield

Wes Marfield lives in Kansas City and perpetually believes the Royals have a chance to make the playoffs. His writing has appeared on Deadspin and CollegeHumor.com. He also Tweets infrequently @PapaMarf, though he mostly created his account for the Steve Balboni avatar.

This lumbering brute had an up-and-down career. Honing his craft in Southern California, it wasn’t long before he was belting out hits across the country in front of sold out crowds. Although our hero’s stock pinnacled after picking up some much-deserved hardware in 1994, his legend and outward appearance still strike a chord with fans that were lucky enough to cross paths with this mountain of a man in his prime.

That last paragraph could easily be describing legendary Grammy-winning rocker Meat Loaf. It can also sum up the career of former Royals Rookie of the Year Bob Hamelin. So when I think of a 1990s first baseman, my mind drifts back to memories of a man affectionately known as “The Hammer.”

I use the term “first baseman” loosely here, because Hamelin was primarily used as a DH while the more sure-handed, light-footed Wally Joyner spent the majority of the time manning the Royals other hot corner in the early-to-mid 90s. But according to his 1990 Upper Deck rookie card, Hamelin was a first baseman. And that’s good enough for me.

Major League Baseball, as you’re probably well aware, didn’t complete a full schedule in 1994 due to the players’ strike. But by the time the season came to an abrupt end on August 11, an overweight, glasses-wielding 26-year-old named Bob Hamelin had captured the hearts of Kansas City fans. He burst onto the scene with six home runs in April, and racked up 24 long balls and 65 RBI in the shortened campaign that eventually culminated in him taking home American League Rookie of the Year honors.

The Royals were four games back of the division leading White Sox at the time of the strike, finishing with a respectable 64-51 record. KC’s “Boys in Blue” posted an 83-79 mark in 2003 to finish the year above .500, but that was the only time they’ve done so since “The Hammer” roamed first base, the on-deck circle, and the postgame cold cut line. So it’s only fitting the best season the Royals have had since winning the World Series in 1985 was transpiring while a similarly portly man was crooning “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” to packed arenas across the country, picking up a Grammy along the way.

meatloaf

Like most good things from the decade, both men fizzled out of the spotlight by the turn of the millennium. Hamelin never regained his Rookie of the Year form, and played his last Major League game in 1998 after injury-plagued stints with the Tigers and Brewers. Mr. Loaf clung to his chart-topping hit, but has yet to produce another swoon-inducing ballad like to the one that shot him to fame. He made a pseudo-comeback on “Celebrity Apprentice,” so who knows – maybe we haven’t seen the last of “The Hammer” yet. Hell, Wally Backman is still coaching minor league baseball, so anything is possible.

Personally, I’d prefer to just hold on to the memories of a slovenly man huffing around the bases as a half-empty stadium waved inflatable hammers in his honor. And he’ll be hard pressed to make a better exit from the game than his abrupt retirement in the middle of a minor league contest in 1999.

Legend has it that as a member of the Toledo Mud Hens, Hamelin grounded out, took himself out of the game, kicked some loose equipment in the dugout and told his manager simply “I’m done.”

Maybe the game passed him by. The hitters got bigger, stronger, and devoted themselves to not-so-legal workout regimens that “The Hammer” had no interest in. Maybe the injuries caught up to him. Maybe he just lost interest in the game that made him a Kansas City celebrity in the mid 1990s. Guess we’ll never know for sure. But play one more inning in a minor league game with a path that wasn’t certain to ever lead him back to the show?

Bob Hamelin did a lot of things for baseball. He just wouldn’t do that.

Eric Karros: A Return to Normalcy by David Meir Grossman

David Meir Grossman writes under his full name so you don’t get him confused with the actually famous David Grossman. He currently writes for Lapham’s Quarterly, and has written for io9 and Thought Catalog. He lives in Brooklyn. Twitter here, tumblr here.

“Sign up with Eric Karros and join the Dodger Blue Crew!” Those might not have been the exact words, but I remember the feeling I saw when Eric Karros’ smiling mug popped up on the Dodger Stadium big screen: that ain’t right. The former leader of the Dodgers kids klub, Mike Piazza, had just been traded, and in what must have been a desperate PR move Karros was named temporary leader, the Omar Sulieman of getting free Dodger trading cards.

In retrospect, the move made perfect sense. It would have seemed odd to push newly acquired Gary Sheffield so soon, especially with an Ol’ Reliable like Karros around. The first of what would be five straight Dodger Rookies of the Year, Karros had quickly established himself as type of player Tommy Lasorda wanted: powerful. Although ROY runner up Moises Alou had a now-noticeably larger batting average and OBP, who cared about such things in 1992? Karros had twenty dingers and eighty-eight RBIs. He could hit big, and and he could stand around.

And it stayed that way for a while. Karros would flirt with excellence from time to time, mainly in ’95 and ’99, but on the whole stayed around .260 and twenty-five homers his entire career. He stuck around with the Dodgers for eleven years- seemingly because he showed up and did his work. There was little truly remarkable about Karros, but he became an institution in the way only players who don’t leave can. That Los Angeles is a town that loves flash and noise is a cliché, and Karros became fan club president because he embodied the opposite of that, what every kid looks for in a hero ballplayer- a distinctly local hero, someone who will show up everyday and you can claim as your own. We had to share Piazza with the rest of the league, and eventually Florida and New York. Eric Karros was ours.

Mark Grace: Lady’s Man by Jennifer Allen

Jennifer Allen is a diehard Cubs fan living in Alexandria, Virginia, with a large collection of recreational softball jerseys with the number “17” on the back. She is still waiting for her date with the now-single Grace.

There is a certain appeal held by young, good-looking baseball players in any town. In a sports-obsessed city like Chicago, looks can make an above-average player into something of a legend. As a true player off the playing field as well as on, his star power increases exponentially. In the 1990s, that star was Mark Grace.

As a young girl growing up in the Chicago suburbs, I was born a Cubs fan. The first game I ever watched on TV with my dad was the now-famous “Ryne Sandberg game,” on June 23, 1984. I was 20 days old. As much as I liked Ryno, I was in love with Mark Grace from a very early age. The first Cubs shirt I ever picked out for myself had a “17” on the front. I was a Mark Grace girl.

Mark Grace came up to the Cubs in 1988. At first, the new kid was over-shadowed by the well-known club stars, like Sandberg, Andre Dawson, and Greg Maddux. But the blonde-haired first baseman with the black eye grease quickly caught the attention of the women in Chicago. His frequent attendance at the Wrigleyville and Rush Street bars certainly boosted his ascent into dating legend. His fans all wanted to be the one who slipped “Gracie” their phone number at the bar. One might even say that increased crowds at Chicago bars during the 1990s were thanks to Mark Grace and his hard-partying ways.

As he got older and a little less skinny, “Mark Grace” remained the answer to any female asked to name the sexiest Cubs player. The wad of chewing tobacco he kept in his mouth during games wasn’t enough to turn them off. Grace readily admitted that he would rather spend his time smoking and drinking at the bar than weight lifting with the team. He didn’t care if his double would easily be a triple by another player. Who needs to be fast when you have women slipping you their underwear at a bar?

The consummate bachelor (even when he wasn’t), Grace readily admitted that his extracurriculars were more important to him than his baseball stats. When it was exposed that Rafael Palmeiro, the first baseman the Cubs traded away in 1988 to make room for Grace, took steroids throughout his storied career, Grace nonchalantly remarked on a radio show that he had never wanted to take steroids because he liked his sex life too much.

Even the fans who weren’t old enough to meet Grace at a bar were in love with him. Teenage girls swooned over him, wearing his jersey to Cubs games and hoping that he might notice them in the stands. They longed to be old enough to meet Grace at a bar on Rush Street or slip him a number that wasn’t their parents’ number. Grace had an ageless appeal, such a guy’s guy – always dirty from the game and constantly wiping his spit on the sleeve of his jersey. The scruff on his chin, his natural swagger as he walked up to the plate, everything about Grace made him a teenage (and not-so-teenage) dream.

When the Cubs decided not to re-sign Grace after the 2000 season, his female fans were devastated. No Cub came close to Grace in terms of sex appeal. Some looked to Kerry Wood, another attractive and personable young star, but he didn’t quite embrace the same “fan-friendly” lifestyle as Grace. No player since has been able to replace him as the ultimate Cubs ladies man and it looks like his reputation as Chicago’s Wilt Chamberlain will remain intact for many seasons to come