Why Mark Grace's return is a big deal

The Cubs and one of their biggest stars from the '90s finally reunite

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Last night
Canucks 3, Blackhawks 0
The Blackhawks earned 49 shots, they only gave up 20. And yet they were still shutout for a fifth straight loss on a night the Sedin Bros. had their numbers retired. It’s been the road trip from hell and there’s still two games left.

Michigan 79, Northwestern 54
Of all the bad seasons that Chicago teams are posting, the ‘Cats have the worst.

No games

Mark Grace is back where he belongs

Mark Grace is back with the Chicago Cubs and I have to admit there was a part of me that looped a double down the right field line, pumped my fist and took a drag of an imaginary cigarette when I first heard the news.

Later, I realized there were probably a lot of Cubs fans younger than me that wouldn’t understand that reaction. That they’d see Grace’s hiring by the Marquee Network as just another former Cubs player being added to an ever-expanding roster for a venture that still hasn’t hammered out a deal to televise games on Comcast.

And I get it. The last time Grace wore a Cubs jersey at Wrigley Field, it was Sept. 28, 2000 and he was grounding out to the Phillies’ Thomas Jacquez to end the eighth inning. An acrimonious divorce followed that offseason and Grace headed to Arizona where he’d win a World Series the following fall and never really leave for the next two decades.

After all, it was Grace who started the Game 7 rally off Mariano Rivera with a single to start the bottom of the ninth inning, a point that Chicago fans took just a bit more pride in than Chris Chelios winning a Cup with Detroit a year later.

But the D’Backs took more pride in it. Because the franchise was only three years old when it captured its title, Grace immediately became a Mount Rushmore type, earning a TV gig after his playing days were done.

While his relationship with the Cubs didn’t reach Sammy Sosa-type levels — he threw out a first pitch at Wrigley in 2006 and his presence was requested at the Cubs Convention — it certainly never matched someone who recorded the most hits of any big leaguer in the ‘90s. That dynamic plus his employment meant he was a Diamondback first, a Cub second.

Maybe that was for the best because Grace didn’t acquit himself well at the end of his career and in his immediate post-playing days. In fact, that time was actually kind of ugly. There was the infamous “slumpbuster” quote on Jim Rome in 2003 that probably would’ve got him Roenick’ed in the year 2020. There were also the two drunk-driving arrests in 2011 and 2012 that cost him his TV gig with the D’Backs and landed him in Phoenix’s “Tent City” jail for four months. Grace was publicly contrite after being released and has stayed out of trouble since, serving as both a coach and broadcaster for a D’backs franchise that never fully deserted him.

But now Grace is back with the Cubs. It’s unclear exactly what his role will be or how much he’ll be around — Grace will also still be working for Fox Sports Arizona, which is weird — but Grace told 670’s Danny Parkins on Wednesday that he’ll be part of the broadcast for the Wrigley opener.

“I wanted to be a Cub for life,” Grace told Parkins. Full interview here.

Grace has never been the best broadcaster from a technical sense, so it remains to be seen if Cubs fans will take to him in that role. Judging from some online comments, many weren’t a fan of his work when he was in the D’Backs booth.

But if you’re a fan around my age, it’s a big deal from the sentimental standpoint. Grace came up to the Cubs just as I was coming into my baseball-fan prime and he was more than a staple on those mediocre-at-best teams of the ‘90s. He was a fan favorite, not only for his prodigious hitting skills, but for his presence around the Wrigleyville nightlife. (It should also be noted he was Patrick Sharp to a certain segment of fans long before Patrick Sharp was Patrick Sharp.)

I was in the right field bleachers on an August night when Grace notched hit 2,000 and, as lefthanded first baseman, I felt a certain kinship with him.

I wasn’t the only one.

One more thing: When the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, there were a lot of ex-Cubs who were there to enjoy the event and provide a tie back for so many generations. The older fans had Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins and the Gen X’ers had Ryne Sandberg, Bobby Dernier and Jody Davis hanging around from the ‘84 team. Kerry Wood was there for the millennials and heck, even Ryan Dempster was around for those fans who came of age with Lou Piniella’s division winners.

But for those of us who came of age during the ‘90s, there was no one besides the generation-spanning Ryno. Sammy Sosa was in exile. Greg Maddux was a Brave.  Shawon Dunston was a Giant. Jamie Moyer may still have been pitching for all I know.

Meanwhile, Grace was off in the desert, where a likeness of himself was racing in the seventh inning mascot race for a team he’d played three seasons for.

The attention was nice for Grace, but it also never seemed quite right because he’d been a star for the Cubs for 13 seasons and should have been at Wrigley. This season’s gig is a good first step at making up for lost time and it’ll be interesting to see if the absence created a gap that can never be fully closed.

Have a friend who was a big Mark Grace fan? Pass this along

The White Sox opened up camp with some injury news: Yasmani Grandal has a calf strain, Lucas Giolito has a chest strain and Gio Gonzalez has left shoulder soreness. GM Rick Hahn said none of the injuries are considered serious or will affect their availability for the start of the season.

• In better news, Michael Kopech threw a side session and drew a lot of attention from the media as he looks to rebound from Tommy John surgery in 2020.

The Cubs welcomed Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward among other early-arrival position players to camp. The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma looked at the possibilities of Schwarber finally becoming the offensive leader the Cubs need.

• Ben Zobrist hasn’t officially retired, but John Heyman reports that the 38-year-old former Cub is at home with his children and has no plans to play in 2020.

Definitely going to make Throwback Thursday a thing in the newsletter each week.

So with the All-Star Game back in Chicago this weekend, enjoy this highlight reel of Michael Jordan’s best plays from the 1988 game. (The introduction at home is particularly awesome, even if the announcer isn’t Ray Clay.)

• Fun fact: David Ross hit his first career home run off Mark Grace, a fun story that Jesse Rogers recounted back in 2016. (ESPN)

• What’s taking the Cubs and Comcast so long? There are three big reasons holding up the deal. (TV Answerman)

• Great news for the Illini: No structural damage to Ayo Dosunmo’s leg. (Tribune)

• Happy trails to the Tribune’s Rich Campbell, who is leaving the Bears beat to take a non-media job that allows him to spend more time with his family. (Twitter)

Scott Powers’ oral history of Kevin Garnett’s senior season at Farragut was awesome. Particularly loved Taylor Bell’s reasoning why Chicago basketball is able to claim KG as one of our own. (The Athletic)

• I don’t care if you call me a meatball. This was dumb.

• Finally, Kirby Dach has probably never heard of Mark Grace.

That’s it for today. Keep sharing Midway Minute with your frents and I’ll see all of you back here tomorrow morning to close out the week.