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