Tribute to 1992 Donruss - John Mabry

As a prospect, John Mabry was often compared to a young Mark Grace. Looking back, it's easy to see why. Both broke into the major leagues at age 24, both played first base, and both were sweet-swinging, left-handed contact hitters rather than mashers.

For the first few years of their careers, it is difficult to distinguish which stat line belongs to which player. Can you tell the difference between Grace and Mabry? (Furthermore, do you want to? But let's play along anyway and see.)

Age 24 - Rookie Season
Player A - .307 AVG, .405 SLG, 21 2B, 5 HR
Player B - .296 AVG, .403 SLG, 23 2B, 7 HR

Which player is Mabry, and which player is Grace? Too close to call?

Age 25 - Sophomore Season
Player A - .297 AVG, .431 SLG, 30 2B, 13 HR, 234 TB
Player B - .314 AVG, .457 SLG, 28 2B, 13 HR, 233 TB

Again, too close to call? Do you know which is Grace and which is Mabry?

What about their third year?

Age 26 -
Junior Season
Player A - .284 AVG, .371 SLG, 19 2B, 5 HR
Player B - .309 AVG, .413 SLG, 32 2B, 9 HR

Here's where things start to get interesting. Player A is falling behind Player B.

So by now, you might (correctly) guess that Player A is John Mabry, and Player B is Mark Grace.

That being said, let's dig a little further.

Age 26 - Junior Season - First Half
Player A (Mabry) - .295 AVG, .400 SLG, 15 2B, 5 HR
Player B (Grace) - .270 AVG, .342 SLG, 14 2B, 2 HR

Through the first half of the season, you actually have to give John Mabry the edge. In addition to better AVG and SLG, Mabry was more patient at the plate than Grace (and more patient than he himself had ever been) with a solid .372 OBP.

So if you had to make the call at that point, you really might think that John Mabry was destined to be a better player, or at least an equal player to Mark Grace.

And as we know, that's not what happened.

So what did happen to John Mabry, particularly in the second half of his third season?

In short, the Cardinals acquired Mark McGwire in a deadline deal with Oakland.

I have long believed that this wreaked havoc on John Mabry's career. Mabry was no longer the everyday first baseman (as he had been the year before), and the Cardinals started moving Mabry all around the diamond so that Mark could play first base every day. Mabry did have some outfield experience, but now the Cardinals were playing him in LF and RF...across the diamond at 3B...and then CF of all places! One of "the slowest non-catchers in all of baseball" (Bill James) was being asked to play CF. And I have no idea why.

The next season, it was more of the same, with 38 games at 3B and more games at LF and RF -- but just a handful at 1B.

Two years removed from McGwire, Mabry was off to Seattle, where again he was stuck in a positional vortex of sorts. Again he played 3B, 1B, LF, RF, DH...heck, they even put him back at CF for a few games. In 2000, the following year, Mabry even pitched an inning for the Mariners. And it wouldn't be the last time either. Short of 2B, SS and catcher, he was asked to do basically everything on the diamond.

And as we know, from there, the careers of Mabry and Grace diverge very much from each other.

And so I wonder: how would John Mabry's career have gone had the Cardinals not acquired Mark McGwire?


  1. I never made that correlation between Mabry and McGwire before. Quite interesting. I interviewed Mabry once for a story. Maybe if the story was actually about him (it wasn't), then I may have stumbled upon that fact doing research.


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