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Remember That Guy: 'scrappy' Craig Grebeck

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Remember That Guy: 'scrappy' Craig Grebeck

I pulled up Craig Grebeck’s Score baseball cards from 1990 to 1993, and all four cards used the word “scrappy” to describe him. Two of the four went on to add “hard-nosed” after scrappy. You see, if an athlete is under 5-foot-10 and not bulky (that would make them a “fireplug”), they’re automatically scrappy. As for his nose, I don’t know how hard it is. It doesn’t look particularly hard. But fine, let’s go with it.

Anyway, remember Craig Grebeck?

Craig Allen Grebeck was born on December 29, 1964 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. When Craig was young, his family moved to California. Craig attended Lakewood High School (Lakewood, California) and then California State University, Dominguez Hills in Carson. The 5-foot-7, 148-pound shortstop went undrafted, but the White Sox signed him in August 1986.

In 1987, Grebeck started his pro career with Peninsula (class A Carolina League) hitting .280/.343./474 with 15 home runs (hitting home runs is certainly NOT a very scrappy thing to do). From 1988 to 1989 at Birmingham, he settled into the type of hitter he would become, hitting .280 with a .371 OBP and 9 HR, then .287 with a .362 OBP and 5 HR. He was a line drive fastball hitter who hit around .280 with minimal power for the most part.

Grebeck made his MLB Debut on April 13, 1990, a strikeout out while pinch hitting for Scott Fletcher. Playing sparingly, he collected his first major league hit on April 28, a single off Jimmy Key. Craig came off the bench as a fielder, pinch hitter and pinch runner while getting an occasional start filling in at second base, shortstop and third base. He spent a few weeks back in the minors at the end of July and returned in August. On August 10 in Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Rangers, Grebeck participated in one of the more improbable events in baseball history. In the bottom of the second inning, Grebeck hit a three-run homer – the first long ball of his career – off Nolan Ryan. Right after, Ozzie Guillen connected with a homer of his own. It was the only time Nolan Ryan allowed back-to-back homers off 8-9 hitters in his career. What makes this even more amazing is that it was the only home run of 1990 for both Craig Grebeck AND Ozzie Guillen.

Grebeck is on the list of only six players who hit their first MLB home runs off Nolan Ryan, along with Ron Hassey, Will Clark, Tracy Woodson, Ron Gant and Kevin Koslofski.

Craig flied out against Ryan in his next at-bat. But when they met again a week later, Grebeck got plunked then struck out twice. In 14 career plate appearances against the Ryan Express, Grebeck reached base six times (3 hits, 2 walks, 1 HBP), good for a .429 OBP. Pretty decent. 

Also in 1990, Craig’s brother Brian was drafted by the Angels in the 19th round of the MLB Draft. He never reached the majors but did play professionally from 1990 to 2001.

RELATED: Remember That Guy: Greg Hibbard

1991 would be Grebeck’s best Major League season. He played a career-high 107 games and hit .281/.386/.460 with 6 home runs, splitting his time between second, shortstop and third. Despite only accumulating a half-season's worth of plate appearances (268), he was worth 3.1 wins above replacement, making solid contributions with his glove, as well.

In 1992, Grebeck did a fine job as super sub once again, posting 2.3 wins above replacement in 88 games, which calculates to 4.2 WAR per 162 games. He had a respectable .268 average and .341 OBP. Unfortunately, his season was cut short by a foot injury. He was hit by a Randy Johnson pitch on July 31 and reaggravated the injury in early August while running the bases. How much his success in 1991 to 1992 could be chalked up to “scrappiness” is hard to discern. What IS known is that by now, Grebeck earned the moniker “Little Hurt” from Hawk Harrelson because he was the perfect compliment to the 6-foot-5 “Big Hurt” Frank Thomas.

In 1993 to 1994, the two Hurts combined for 80 home runs and two MVP awards; that Frank accounted for 79 of the homers and both MVPs is irrelevant. In 1993, Grebeck slumped at the plate, but he was a valuable part of the team and was involved in a few notable moments. On August 4, 1993, Robin Ventura was hit by a Nolan Ryan pitch and charged the mound. It was Grebeck who pinch ran for Ventura after he was ejected. In 1993, Grebeck saw the only postseason action of his career. He pinch hit for Dan Pasqua in Game 2 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays and ended up a perfect 1-for-1 (single off Al Leiter) in his playoff career. Grebeck missed a chunk of 1994 with an ankle injury but hit .309 with a .391 OBP in 35 games when he was healthy. Following the 1994 season, Grebeck participated along with Jason Bere in the Cuervo World Series of Volleyball in Kauai, Hawaii.

Grebeck played his final season for the White Sox in 1995, hitting .260 with a .360 OBP in 53 games. One thing White Sox fans might be shocked to know is that he had 12 home runs during his career with the team… and only two stolen bases.

In 1996, Grebeck signed with the Marlins and then with the Angels for 1997. He spent 1998 to 2000 with the Blue Jays. In 1999, Grebeck hit a stunning .363 (41 for 113) in 34 games. On June 9, 1999, Grebeck was at the center of one of the more memorable moments in MLB history. In the 12th inning of a game at Shea Stadium, Grebeck reached first base on catcher’s interference (he was facing Pat Mahomes), as Mike Piazza stepped too far forward to make a play. Mets manager Bobby Valentine argued the call and was ejected… and later returned to the dugout wearing sunglasses and a fake mustache. But it was a Grebeck at-bat that started it all!

In 2001, Grebeck closed out his MLB career with a 23-game stint for the Red Sox filling in for Nomar Garciaparra, who was out with a wrist injury. At each stop along the way in his post-White Sox baseball journey, from Miami to Anaheim to Toronto and down to Boston, you can be sure Grebeck displayed maximum scrappiness.

In 12 MLB seasons, Grebeck played in 752 games, hitting .261/.340/.356 with 518 hits, 19 home runs and four stolen bases.

Following his MLB career, Grebeck had a few jobs within baseball, serving as hitting coach for the A’s rookie league ball team in Arizona in 2005 and then in the Angels system at Rancho Cucamonga from 2006 to 2007. Craig’s son Austin was drafted by the Mariners in the 21st round in 2016.

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MLB rumors: Marcus Stroman a potential White Sox target come free agency?

MLB rumors: Marcus Stroman a potential White Sox target come free agency?

In this jumbled-up baseball calendar, it shouldn’t be surprising that free-agent rumors are starting to fly before the 2020 season has even started. In May.

Free agency could be one of the many things that looks way different than we’re used to due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With teams expected to see a steep decline in revenue without paying customers in the stands this year, free-agent spending could take a hit.

But there are certain to be free agents, nonetheless, and after a busy round of free agency last offseason, could the White Sox be active again? That will depend a great deal on how a 2020 season plays out and whether it exposes any needs as the team attempts to make its leap into contention mode.

Already, though, they’re being speculated as a team that could jump into the bidding for free-agent-to-be Marcus Stroman, starting pitcher for the New York Mets.

Jim Bowden, the former general manager now working for The Athletic and CBS Sports, said he "wouldn't be surprised" if the White Sox ended up as one of the teams, along with the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Angels, with interest in Stroman when he hits the market after the 2020 campaign.

Now, the White Sox just inked Dallas Keuchel to a big free-agent contract last winter and hope they can fill out the rest of their rotation with some of the high-ceiling arms at both the major league and minor league levels.

Lucas Giolito figures to have a rotation spot on lockdown for the foreseeable future after emerging as an All Star and the ace of the staff in 2019. The team has high hopes for Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech, who have made only a combined 18 big league starts. Reynaldo Lopez remains an option if he can solve his issues with consistency, and Carlos Rodon, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert are all on the mend from Tommy John surgery and could factor into those starting-pitching plans.

RELATED: Top 20 MLB Draft prospects: Who will White Sox pick at No. 11?

The 29-year-old Stroman, though, could offer some more security — and certainly some more big league experience — should those unknowns stay unknowns once the White Sox get to the offseason. His results have fluctuated somewhat from season to season. He was excellent for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2017, with a 3.09 ERA and 164 strikeouts in 33 starts, winning a Gold Glove and finishing in the top 10 of the AL Cy Young vote. The following season, in just 19 starts, his ERA was up over 5.50.

But last season, he bounced back again, making the All-Star team thanks to a sub-3.00 ERA in 21 starts with the Blue Jays before being dealt to the Mets, where he posted a 3.77 ERA in 11 starts.

Bowden pointed out that the Mets likely wouldn’t being willing to pay Stroman, much like they let Zack Wheeler walk last offseason. The White Sox attempted to bring Wheeler aboard on a big-money free-agent deal, but he turned down their richer offer to pitch closer to home with the Philadelphia Phillies.

If the White Sox were interested in Stroman, they might be smart to run it by star shortstop Tim Anderson. The two had a tiff of sorts during a 2017 game, with Anderson stepping out of the batter’s box during an at-bat, ruffling Stroman’s feathers and leading to some on-field jawing that caused the benches to clear on the South Side.

“Just the way he carried himself, I felt like I felt disrespected,” Anderson said. “I had to do what I had to do. Just, when I stepped out when he was going slowly, he said a few words. I kind of let it go, and then after he struck me out, he mumbled something else.

“He’s going to try to throw me off, so why not step out and try to throw him off? It was one of those things, I stepped out and he just complains and cries like he always does. That’s what it led to.”

But winning has a way of dissolving any bad blood, and if the two ended up teammates on a team with the ability to win a division and compete for a World Series, it seems something like that could be easily forgotten.

Depending on how things shake out this year, and what state the starting rotation is in come winter, maybe Stroman could be a consideration for Rick Hahn’s front office.

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Royals' Brad Keller expected boos from White Sox fans but heard 'crickets'

Royals' Brad Keller expected boos from White Sox fans but heard 'crickets'

White Sox fans aren’t too fond of Royals pitcher Brad Keller, not after he intentionally hit Tim Anderson post-bat flip last season.

In the weeks following the bat flip, the plunking and the benches clearing, Keller caught tons of heat from South Siders on social media. But he was surprised he didn’t get a more negative reaction the next time he came to Guaranteed Rate Field.

Keller drilled Anderson on April 17 and pitched at the corner of 35th and Shields a month later, May 28. He was expecting White Sox fans to let him have it. But apparently he didn’t hear much.

“I get tagged in everything (on social media,” Keller said during an appearance on The Charity Stripe podcast. “I got called every name under the sun after that, cuss words that I didn't even know what they were. They were just ripping me to shreds.

“But what was so funny is when we went back to Chicago, I didn't get booed, I didn't get called anything when I ran out to the mound. Nothing happened. For them being so passionate and loyal on social media, there was nothing at the game. I was expecting full-on (cursing and screaming). I was ready for it.

“In the visitor's bullpen (at Guaranteed Rate Field), there's a bar like underneath us just to the right. There's like a screen. You can't see in it, but they can see you. I was fully expecting, because everyone's drunk down there — it's kind of a sick place to watch a game — I was fully expecting for people to just wear me out. And there was crickets.

“One dude said one thing, and the girl he was with smacked the shit out of him, like I could hear it from the bullpen. It was hilarious. So I was fully expecting everything to come out. Nothing really happened.”

RELATED: Tim Anderson and the Royals stir up baseball's never-ending debate: 'You want him to not do that? Get him out'

Now, while this is almost sure to rev White Sox fans’ engines even more for the next time they’re able to greet Keller on the South Side, it also serves as a nice lesson in treating your fellow human beings with respect, especially online. Keller didn’t get the same treatment at the park he did on social media because the things people say on social media are things they’d rarely say to someone’s face. And that’s as good an indication as any that they shouldn’t be said at all.

Keller, too, could maybe use a reminder, not for what he said but what he did: throwing a projectile at another person because he didn’t like the way he celebrated. It goes all ways.

However, such lessons are unlikely to completely spare Keller the next time he pitches in front of fans at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Under Major League Baseball’s proposed altered schedule for a shortened 2020 season, the White Sox would face the Royals 13 times. That’s fewer games than during a normal season, but it’s a much greater percentage of the schedule. Almost 16 percent of the White Sox games would come against the Royals.

But it’s also expected that those games will be played in empty stadiums. So Keller will likely hear those same “crickets” if he pitches on the South Side this season.

As for 2021? It will probably be a little louder.

 

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