For many years, my go-to baseball trivia question was this: who led the 1990s in hits?
I won’t bury the lede any further: The answer is Mark Grace. Grace never hit 20 home runs in a season despite being a middle-of-the-order bat, and he spent most of his career on lackluster Cubs teams. He was a three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner who never finished higher than thirteenth in MVP voting. He was a very good baseball player. But I think it’s safe to say that he’s not the first name that comes to mind when looking for the decade-leader in hits.
Growing up, Grace was my favorite player, but that’s only part of why I loved this trivia question. In my mind, Grace epitomized something special about the game. He played smart and with obvious boyhood joy. He could hit .300 falling asleep, and though he wasn’t known for his power, he held his own – in his words – by “turning triples into doubles” (he also led the nineties in doubles). #17 wasn’t a superstar to the world (he didn’t hit home runs, he didn’t run well, and he played for the lovable loser version of the Cubs), but Grace made the most of his physical abilities and let his personality shine through. And ah yes, he had more hits in the nineties than Tony Gwynn, Robby Alomar, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Sammy Sosa, Cal Ripken Jr.…or anyone else.
That he accomplished this feat speaks to the randomness and the breadth of the game of baseball. Only a player who played in every season of the decade is likely to lead all major leaguers in hits (see the exception to this rule later). And yet, what a tremendous accomplishment! The juxtaposition of those two thoughts encapsulates so much of what makes baseball unique. Timing is a huge factor in determining what becomes part of the baseball zeitgeist, and yet, there’s an ocean of information beneath the surface of any given statistical achievement.
Not to date myself, but there’s been two full decades since Grace led the nineties in hits! Granted, hits are no longer the be all and end all of offensive production. Not anywhere close. But they’re still important. Leading the league in hits over a decade is more trivia than player analysis, but it’s still an accomplishment that shines a light on a particular style of hitter. So without further ado, I thought it would be a fun exercise to see who wins the Mark Grace Award for leading a decade in hits.
- Robinson Cano (1,695)
- Nick Markakis (1,651)
- Adam Jones (1,647)
- Starlin Castro (1,617)
- Miguel Cabrera (1,595)
- Elvis Andrus (1,595)
Kicking it off, this is not the list I expected for our most recent decade. Cano taking the title is impressive, if not surprising for the career .302 hitter, because he only appeared in 107 games this last season and only 80 games the year before that. Taking the crown regardless speaks to how difficult it is in this day and age to stay in the game. Kudos to the the rest of the list as well, which provides a real working class crew (Miggy aside). Cano is also, for what it’s worth, the least productive hits king in any decade since the war-torn forties when the Indians’ Lou Boudreau took home the title with 1,578 hits.
- Ichiro Suzuki (2,030)
- Derek Jeter (1,940)
- Miguel Tejada (1,860)
- Todd Helton (1,756)
- Vladimir Guerrero (1,751)
Tejada is the only name on this list that might take more than a couple of guesses. Of course, the most impressive feat here is that Ichiro managed to chalk up more than 2,000 hits in only 9 seasons.
- Mark Grace (1,754)
- Rafael Palmiero (1,747)
- Craig Biggio (1,728)
- Tony Gwynn (1,713)
- Roberto Alomar (1,678)
Biggio or Gwynn probably would have been my guess had I not known the answer beforehand. Biggio led the league in plate appearances in 5 seasons (’92, ’95, ’97,’98,’99), but he hit “only” .297 for the decade (versus .310 for Grace). Gwynn hit .344 in the nineties, but only managed to appear in more than 140 games twice.
- Robin Yount (1,731)
- Eddie Murray (1,642)
- Willie Wilson (1,639)
- Wade Boggs (1,597)
- Dale Murphy (1,553)
Willie Wilson gave himself a good head start with 230 hits in 1980, but Yount and Murray managed to make up the difference before the end of the eighties. The Royals’ great did crush the competition for most triples in the decade, however, with 115 (Yount was second with 83).
- Pete Rose (2,045)
- Rod Carew (1,787)
- Al Oliver (1,686)
- Lou Brock (1,617)
- Bobby Bonds (1,565)
No surprises here, with Rose and Carew atop the list.
- Roberto Clemente (1,877)
- Hank Aaron (1,819)
- Vada Pinson (1,776)
- Maury Wills (1,744)
- Brooks Robinson (1,692)
For the decade, Clemente hit .328/.375/.501. He took the batting crown four times and hit over .350 twice (1961: .351 BA, 1967: .357 BA).
- Richie Ashburn (1,875)
- Nellie Fox (1,837)
- Stan Musial (1,771)
- Alvin Dark (1,675)
- Duke Snider (1,605)
Integration wasn’t exactly a comprehensive process from the jump when Jackie Robinson first appeared for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, so we’ll make the fifties the last decade. All in all, Pete Rose unsurprisingly was the most prolific hits leader in any decade with 2,045 knocks in the 70s, but I’m not sure there’s a more impressive name on there than Ichiro, whose wizardy with the bat came up just 15 hits shy of Rose in just 9 seasons from 2001 to 2010.
Otherwise, definitely some names you might have expected (Rose, Young, Clemente), but it’s not as if a 3,000 hit king rules every decade. Ashburn, like Grace, hit the league at the perfect time to snag this award, as his career spanned from 1948 to 1962. He joins Grace and Cano as the non-3000 hit players to lead a decade in hits (though Cano still has an outside shot to get there). For their careers, Grace takes the distinction as the player with the least career hits to lead a decade in the category.
Who else on these list surprises you? Al Dark? Elvis Andrus? Who did you expect? Let’s hear your takes in the comments!
Mark Grace was also my favorite player.
Nice. Donnie baseball was my guy
Will Clark for me. Three very similar players and careers.
Mark Grace-3x All Star and 3x DUI. Now a convicted felon. Real POS
He is a POS because he has Dui’s?
THREE DUI’s? Yeah, I’d say that qualifies one as a POS.
You’re really salty against the cubs. LIG dude. Lit it go. White Sox could win the next 5 out of the next 20 world series but they will be the 4th best Chicago sports team. Possibly 5th if the bulls ever get good again
Don’t exaggerate. It was only 2. Which is still two too many . Still
Mine too! I lived Ryno and Sammy, but Mark Grace is my all-time favorite. Javy Baez a close second
There’s not enough mustard in the world for a hotdog like Baez. Good player, though.
Boy I don’t think you’ve ever watched Javy Baez play… He’s definitely not a hot dog.
How is Javy Baez a hot dog?
Javier Baez can’t be a Polish or Italian sausage either. Maybe a chorizo!
I just got my Baez jersey today. There’s so many good players on the cubs right now. For me I don’t and can’t have a single favorite player.
I was a Dale Murphy fan, but I wouldn’t have guessed that he was one of the hit leaders.
I was also a huge Mark Grace fan. For whatever reason, I always appreciated some of the less flashy players at first. John Olerud, Darin Erstad, and Alvin Davis were a few others.
John Olerud was great and as he got up in years he became John Olderdude.
Kent Tekulve was Teek and when he got up in years he was Anteek.
Mark Grace just got more and more Graceful. A fine ballplayer.
I always though Hohn Olerud was cool for wearing the helmet in the field
We had a guy on my summer baseball team who was a catcher with the two-piece catching mask. He’d wear the catching helmet while playing first, hilarious.
Do you know why Olerud did that?
He had brain surgery in college for an aneurysm. He had to wear the hard helmet for a while just in case a batted ball hit him in the head. He said he just got used to it and decided to keep wearing it even after he had to.
He also pitched in college and was 15-0 his senior year.
Should do some pitcher ones
I second innings pitched.
ABs would be a cool one for that same reason. Juan Pierre for 2000s?
Agreed. Next time I’ll make myself try to come up with a list before reading the results
Very interesting sets of names. Thanks for the research. I had forgotten what a great hitter Al Oliver was. Grace and Cano were surprises. I would guessed Gywnn and Markakis would have been my guesses. Cool stuff!
dynamite drop in monty
Mark Grace stoke my parking spot at Costco in 2010
what? you have a reserved parking spot at costco?
dynamite drop in monty
Summer of 98 was the end of my Mark Grace fandom. He told me to f@ck off while leaving the field, thinking I was the guy heckling him. Never looked at the man the same ever since.
dynamite drop in monty
See? All these people are duped. Mark Grace is a jerk.
Might have been on the sauce at the time and just didn’t realize or care.
That’s funny. Did you at least meet him? I briefly met Shane Victorino at a Target in Las Vegas where he resides. He was with his family so I just only shook his hand.
I’m a little stunned that Stan Musial wasn’t the hits leader in the 50s. I know his age was getting up there but he was still one of the best hitters of all time.
I wonder if he was in the ‘40s.
Probably Ted Williams.
Ted Williams name on either the 40s or 50s list would have surprised me. Remember he lost 3 seasons due to WWII and most of 2 seasons due to the Korean War.
Ted Williams was also the league leader in walks for 8 of his MLB seasons which impacted his ability to gain higher hit totals. His career walk total approached his hit total with an astounding 2021 BB’s along with 2654 hits in 2292 games played and 9788 plate appearances.
Williams 19 year MLB career included 3 full seasons missed during WWII (1943-1945) along with 2 mostly missed years (1952,1953) during the Korean conflict. Williams also missed significant time 1n 1950 and 1955 when he appeared in less than 100 games.
Ted Williams was the best pure hitter in the history of MLB.
I saw an interview with Dom DiMaggio, who was Joe’s brother, but played with the Red Sox alongside Williams for several years. They asked him who was the better hitter: Joe or Ted?
He saw Ted Williams play every day, but was also Joe DiMaggio’s brother for crying out loud. Plus the rivalry of those two teams.
Dom gave what I think was the perfect answer to that question.
He said “I think Ted was the best left handed hitter ever and I think Joe was the best right handed hitter ever.”
Nope. Per fangraphs the top 3 in the 40s were Lou Boudreau, Bob Elliot, and Dixie Walker. However it’s really worth noting not one of these guys missed a season due to WWII while numbers 4 and 5 Stan the Man and Bobby Doerr both missed a full season to serve in the military. Looking at career trends, had Musial not served he would likely easily have won out in the 40s.
The most surprising name on the 70s list is Bobby Bonds
I loved Grace too but I remember an interview on WGN when he said he would never leave Chicago and then he corrected himself and said unless it was to play for his hometown Padres with Gwynn. So I was upset when he went to Arizona. What stings even more is that he helped beat my Yankees. I know that Chicago didn’t offer him a good deal. And I know he was sick of losing. But still ….#grudge
But the way the story goes is that the Cubs never offered him anything, even declined salary arbitration (which some how was possible back then)… And Grace went to AZ, where his family lived.
I believe he still lives in AZ, but covers the Cubs as part of their new network.
As a Cub fan, I was actually happy that he won a ring, too bad Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson didn’t get to win one… As well as many other Cubs legends.
Yeah, he kind of got screwed over. They kept telling him they’d re-sign him and then they didn’t because Hee Seop Choi was “ready.” So he was left scrambling to find a team and wound up in Arizona.
I remember I got to see him play in his first series back at Wrigley. Each day the crowd gave him a standing ovation when he came up for his first at bat. It was really neat.
Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks are a few more names that should make the Wrigley family still hang their heads in shame.
The Cubs had 4 HOF players, those 3 plus Fergie Jenkins, along with some other All-Stars but failed to reach the postseason even once during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. An added ‘shame’ was the Cubs should have also had Lou Brock on those teams, a fifth HOF player who would appear in 3 World Series with the rival Cardinals while earning two championship rings.
Ryno and Hawk got Honorary Rings. Billy Williams as. Sucks so much that Ernie and Ron Santo had passed on before they won. It was in the mid 90s Harry said one day the cubs would win the world series. It might sound corny but I truly believe that Ronny,Ernie and even cuhs fans fathers and mothers helped it rain in the 10th inning. What were the odds of the rain delay being 17 mins long and KB getting the final put out
Total bases for the decades would be interesting. I feel like Dwight Evans led the 80’s.
I’d think Mike Schmidt or Dale Murphy ahead of Evans. Although Dewey is criminally underrated.
Murphy led with 2796. Evans 2657, Schmidt 2507.
Murray 2791, Yount 2756
Grace was the funniest radio interviewee I’ve ever heard. #slumpbusting
Mark Grace led baseball in hits, doubles AND sacrifice flies in the decade of the 90’s… Pretty interesting.
Dude retired with a >.300 BA and >.800 OPS. Granted, those aren’t ideal numbers for a 1B, but factor in elite defense, it makes the fact that Harold Baines is in Cooperstown and not Gracie is that much more of a travesty.
Great article – interesting point of view.
I had never heard of Vada Pinson. He even played for my home team in ‘69. Guy had a really good career and he seems to have been lost to history.
I remember him, but I’m 70 y/o.
He is one of the legends that doesn’t really get talked about much., so it is not really that surprising. I believe it is because he was at his best on pre-Big Red Machine Cincinnati teams. Before the 70s when Rose and Bench turned Reds into household names, that franchise was about about as anonymous as the Pirates, the Browns, or the Senators lineups. They just didn’t get to the postseason enough to be remembered by anyone other than fans of their team.
Part of the problem for the 60’s Reds was that the Cardinals, Dodgers and Giants were good every year with a pretty stable lineup of quality players.
Right, because the Pirates in the 60s, with Clemente, Groat, Mazeroski, Alou, Friend, Law, Veale, etc we’re totally unknown.
Think before you type
Vada Pinson was a great hitter with the Reds from 1959-1968. He also had a career that peaked earlier than most. Pinson had 1,177 hits before he turned 26, which was fifth most in MLB history at that time. The four players who were ahead of him are all in the Hall of Fame: Ty Cobb, Mel Ott, Al Kaline, and Freddie Lindstrom.
Pinson also played with some all-time greats. In his only postseason appearance, CF Pinson was flanked by HOF RF Frank Robinson when the Reds lost to the Yankees in the 1961 World Series. Pinson’s Cincinnati career also overlapped with future ‘Big Red Machine’ cogs Pete Rose starting in 1963, Tony Perez in 1964 and Johnny Bench in 1967.
Would have guessed George Brett would appear in one of those top 5’s but I suppose his career arc didn’t fit nicely in a particular decade.
Cubs fans be trying to tell us Grace is a HoFer still
DarkSide with the amount of players they’re putting into the HOF with non hof numbers I wouldn’t be disappointed if they did. I agree though he missed it by a tick. If he would’ve surpassed 3k hits he should’ve IMO. However, Grace had one of the better careers as a ballplayer than alot.
“That guy” on Twitter:
Hits and average aren’t everything ya jerk! Let me just google is wRC+ he was average at best….. wait
/need to delete some tweets
Grace and Rizzo are my all time favorite Cubs and hitters. I loved this guy on the Cubs in the 90s. He was clutch and even though they never won anything he had tons of memorable moments as a Cub. Was so happy he finally got a ring with Arizona, homered in Yankee Stadium in the WS but was pissed at the Cubs at the time for not resigning him. Grace is one of the top reasons I’m a Cubs fan to this day
Grace was also 1st player to hit it into the pool at Chase Field (Bank One Ballpark).
Great article! I remain a huge fan of traditional stats in addition to advanced analytics. Many of these players are in the HOF. For what it’s worth, in my baseball world I’d consider Mark Grace for enshrinement over his former teammate Sammy Sosa.
Btw: I don’t expect either to enter the HOF anytime soon. But as a fan of traditional stats I’d take the Mark Graces’s pure career triple slash of .303/.383/.442 and BB/SO ration of 1075/642 over Sammy Sosa’s tainted slash line of .273/.344/.534 along with his 929/2306 BB/SO ratio.
Mark Grace had some personal demons with his drinking/DUI issues but Sammy Sosa was a flat out PED and corked bat cheater.
Sammy is also full of himself… I can see him doing a HOF speech…
“what took you so long? I’m here because I’m Sammy Sosa, my numbers speak for me, I deserved to be here a lon’ time ago… Beisbol has been bery good to me”.
He went from a humble nobody to “who Tha fudge does he think he is?”.
And this is coming from a Cubs fan and a big time former Sammy fan when I was a kid.
My favorite player of all time, and I as well get people with the trivia of “who led MLB in hits and doubles in the 90’s?”, nobody ever gets it right. Kind of surprised the “slumpbuster” quote didnt get put in here somewhere, gotta love that one
Interesting names, both on the list and missing from the list.
If I could suggest a list, how about hit leaders using the middle of the decades. 1946-1955; 1956-1965; 1966-1975, etc. I think it would be interesting to see which names might pop up, like George Brett and Cal Ripken. Maybe Willie McGhee?
95 was his best season
I miss the days of players like Mark Grace, Tony Gwynn and Dale Murphy. Back when hitting 20 home runs was an accomplishment and every team did NOT have at least 1 player who would hit 30.
You sound like an old curmudgeon but I totally get it. The 30 HR 150 K season is maybe becoming a little too common.
LOL! Old curmudgeon? Can’t remember the last time I saw that spelled out.
Well maybe so. I’m glad I didnt ruminate about Rod Carew and Joe Morgan though. =)
I’m 36 and like to think I know a decent amount about baseball’s past. That said, I had no idea who Vada Pinson was, with all 2700-plus hits. I’m embarrassed.
That’s okay. In ’97 after McGwire hit 58 HR’s with the A’s/Cards he was told he tied the record for most in a season by a right handed hitter. He tied Hank Greenberg and Jimmie Foxx. McGwire actually said he had never heard of them! Seriously.
Jimmie Foxx was one of the best hitters ever. For McGwire to have never heard of him is a travesty, especially since they both played for the A’s!
How about the BEST pinch hitters of each decade………Manny Mota should show up !
Yes! Of course, back in the day teams would routinely carry a ‘pinch-hitter’ or two on their 25-man active roster, even before the arrival of the DH in 1973. This was possible because a typical pitching staff would be comprised of 10 pitchers and not the 13 seen in the current era.
Typically pinch hitters were older players who could no longer occupy a fielding position or were just flat out bad at defense but had a keen ability to hit. Teams also routinely carried 3 catchers, the third sometimes being a pinch-hitting specialist like 18-year veteran Smoky Burgess who rarely ever caught in his final 3 seasons with the White Sox.
Hank Aaron was obviously no surprise but your fun post gave me a chance to enjoy his career stats again. That’s where I saw a couple surprises. His age 37 and age 39 seasons were two of the most prolific of his amazing career. At that ripe old age he had his two highest OBPs, two highest slug% and two of this three highest OPS! That’s just incredible.
Yes! Hammerin’ Hank Aaron also did it without the benefit of PED’s or the DH role as an Atlanta Brave. He didn’t appear as a DH until his final two seasons in the AL as a Milwaukee Brewer when he was a shell of his former self at the ‘riper’ age of 41 and 42.
I was a HUGE Dale Murphy fan, but honestly didn’t expect to see him ranked top five on a list like this.
I never understood all those years with Grace and Sandberg on the Cubs. Grace was a prototypical 2 hole hitter. Sandberg a prototypical 3rd hitter. Regardless they hit Grace 3rd, Sandberg 2nd. Maybe it was because traditionally 2nd basemen rarely hit 3rd and 1st basemen rarely hit 2nd. IDK. Made no sense to me at the time.
Sammy Sosa was also their teammate for some of that time starting in 1992. Perhaps the Cubs preferred the R-L-R alignment of Sandberg-Grace-Sosa in the 2, 3 and cleanup roles.
And Dawson before Sosa. Good point.
They also probably prioritized Ryno’s speed over Gracies’ obp in the 2nd spot… Not that I agree with it, it kind of drove me crazy every time Maddon would hit KB 2nd and Zobrist 4th.
by that time Sandberg had come out of his early retirement and was in the last part of his career. Either lineup would’ve been fine but the Cubs just had no pitching whatsoever. Letting Maddux walk was their biggest mistake in the 90s
Greg Maddux truly wanted to remain with the Cubs when he hit free agency but egotist GM Larry Himes had other ideas. Himes was a great evaluator of talent as his resume proved, especially with the White Sox, but he was a ‘tool’ as a person and with some of his steadfast rules. Himes wore out his welcome with an abrasive personality which in and of itself was no small feat considering the loyalty that owner Jerry Reinsdorf typically holds for his front office executives.
Why stop at the fifties?
Because the writer is making a political statement. He’s trying to say that we shouldn’t consider any records before baseball was integrated.
Elvis would be 4th on the 2010’s list if Kenyan Middleton’s fastball didn’t break his elbow in 18′.
No Willie Mays. Hmmm.
For what it’s worth, Mays had a ten year span with 1876 hits. 1954-1963.
Suggestion for a future article. Most hits in ANY ten year span.
Example: Pujols had 1900 hits his first ten seasons. 2001-2010.
But Ichiro had 2244 during that same span.
because cano spent 2019 in the nl and got exactly 100 hits there, turns out there’s a 3 way tie for most hits in the al in the 2010’s (cano, andrus, and miggy).
Roberto Clemente might be the least talked about baseball talent. You would think with his tragic death, he’d live on in baseball lore, but it doesn’t seem history has remembered him the way other ball players have been remembered.
There’s an award named after him for the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team”
Best glove and arm. EVER.
Hit safely in all 14 WS games.
The Godfather and standard bearer for all Latin players.
Hey MLB, RETIRE21!
Can’t wait for Costner to play Grace in a biopic.
I loved watching Mark Grace play. It was awesome he got to win a world series championship before calling it a career
Mark Grace also gave up David Ross’ first career homerun.
Used to see a ton of Grace on WGN back in those days. Grace thrived at a perfect time when there were a bunch of similar hitters playing 1B in the majors at the time. Guys like Don Mattingly/Will Clark/John Olerud/Wally Joyner/Hal Morris/Darin Erstad/Dave Magadan/John Kruk/Orlando Merced, guys that were not power hitters but could put up decent numbers at a position that was supposed to be an offensive spot in the lineup.
Mark Grace still leads the league in jerkoffery.
Would you consider a second column but with the decade split? Say from 1975-84, 1985-94, 1995-2004, 2005-14,
I ask because there are players whose prime span two different decades but is often lost because writers write the simple calendar decades. Take Hank Aaron, he would dominate 1955-64 and 1965-74.
Anyway, I greatly enjoyed your column.
Only a sportswriter would think decades run from 0 to 9. They always run from One to ten. Like, do you count from 0 to 9, or one to ten. I was sports editor of my college paper back in the Neanderthal age.
I’m with the TC and most people in regards to the age old debate of when units of time start. It makes more sense to say a new decade starts with a ‘zero’ year than a ‘one’ year. The same goes for a century and a millennium. Take the year 2000. It makes more sense and is far less confusing to consider 2000 the beginning of the new millenium, a new century and a new decade than those periods starting in 2001. I say, screw “Dennis the Short,” and “Venerable Bede” who apparently decided how to mark the the B.C/A.D era and simply discounted the year 0 A.D. (https://www.farmersalmanac.com/new-decade-2020-or-2021-100900)
A similar argument and pet peeve of mine is when do the seasons start? Astronomers go with the the equinoxes and solstices which vary from the 19th to the 22nd of their appropriate months. I always favored the meteorologists who go with the first of those same months which makes a heck of a lot more sense in regards to actual weather and tracking data. I mean, do you really consider most of December a fall month or a winter month? Is the majority of June a spring month or a summer month? I side with the weathermen: winter starts on December 1st, spring on March 1st, summer on June 1st and autumn on September 1st. (https://www.almanac.com/content/first-day-seasons)
Think in terms of you own birthday and then relate that to how those two dopes decided to mark the birth of Christ as 1 AD instead of 0 A.D. Obviously, each of our birth days begin with a specific date on the calendar but in terms of our age that day is considered a ‘zero’. The same date the following year you become ‘one’, and so on.
Remember back in 2000 when everyone was excited about it being the new millennium?
Even though it wasn’t!
This one didn’t start until 2001.
Stay tuned. Up next: We’ll be discussing why the year 2100 will NOT be a leap year.