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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 AlomarBarry 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.

2010-2019

  1. Robinson Cano (1,695)
  2. Nick Markakis (1,651)
  3. Adam Jones (1,647)
  4. Starlin Castro (1,617)
  5. Miguel Cabrera (1,595)
  6. 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.

2000-2009

  1. Ichiro Suzuki (2,030)
  2. Derek Jeter (1,940)
  3. Miguel Tejada (1,860)
  4. Todd Helton (1,756)
  5. 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.

1990-1999

  1. Mark Grace (1,754)
  2. Rafael Palmiero (1,747)
  3. Craig Biggio (1,728)
  4. Tony Gwynn (1,713)
  5. 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.

1980-1989

  1. Robin Yount (1,731)
  2. Eddie Murray (1,642)
  3. Willie Wilson (1,639)
  4. Wade Boggs (1,597)
  5. 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).

1970-1979 

  1. Pete Rose (2,045)
  2. Rod Carew (1,787)
  3. Al Oliver (1,686)
  4. Lou Brock (1,617)
  5. Bobby Bonds (1,565)

No surprises here, with Rose and Carew atop the list.

1960-1969

  1. Roberto Clemente (1,877)
  2. Hank Aaron (1,819)
  3. Vada Pinson (1,776)
  4. Maury Wills (1,744)
  5. 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).

1950-1959

  1. Richie Ashburn (1,875)
  2. Nellie Fox (1,837)
  3. Stan Musial (1,771)
  4. Alvin Dark (1,675)
  5. 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!



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