White Sox

White Sox

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.

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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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