Monday, November 2, 2020

1998 Topps All-Star Rookie Outfielder Ben Grieve


Many profiles of our next Topps All-Star Rookie want to know "What happened to Ben Grieve?" If you follow the trajectory of many phenoms / "can't miss" prospects, his story is probably a familiar one. Grieve had an MLB lineage (his father was a first round pick, too), to go along with a stellar prep career that had the scouts ready to fall all over themselves. Grieve backed up the hype in his rookie season with the A's - he set a franchise record for hits by a rookie, and made the MLB All-Star team en route to Rookie of the Year honors in the AL. Of course, that made him an ideal candidate for the Topps All-Star Rookie squad as well.

To give some perspective about how highly the A's thought of Grieve, he had more plate appearances that season than Rickey Henderson. Grieve's 41 doubles led the A's, as did his 168 base hits. Just 22 years old, Grieve was ready to take his place in Oakland A's history. 

The Oakland A's selected Grieve #2 Overall out of high school in Arlington, TX. He grew up with his father Tom Grieve as a 9 year veteran MLB pitcher and later coach and GM. Ben's older brother Tim was also a talented pitcher, and Ben even got the chance to face off against him in the minor leagues. The MLB connection included getting hitting instruction from the then Texas Rangers hitting coach Tom Robson while Ben was in high school. 

As prospects go, few were hotter than Grieve - he was the 1997 Minor League Player of the Year, have forced his way onto the MLB roster to finish the season. He slugged .610 with 24 homers in double A, then surpassed that with a SLG north of .700 in a handful of games in AAA Edmonton. He had already made an impression in 1996, hitting .356 for the season in Modesto. There was little doubt that Grieve was on his way to star status.

Despite the fact that Grieve's 1998 season was his only All-Star Appearance, his entire A's career was a success. Grieve follow up his Rookie of the Year campaign with a career high 28 homers. In 2000 he once again reached 40 doubles, this time with 27 homers, making it the highest slugging of his MLB career to date. He also topped 100 RBI for the first time, finishing the year with 104. That season marked his first appearance in post season play, where he struggled with a 2-17 with 7 strikeouts performance in the ALDS against the Yankees. Over the first 3 full seasons in the big leagues, Grieve was averaging 35 doubles, 25 homers, and over 90 RBI. 

Before the 2001 season began, Grieve was traded to Tampa in a wild three team deal that sent Johnny Damon to Oakland, Angel Berroa and Roberto Hernandez to Kansas City, along with several other players flipping between Oakland and KC. Grieve was the lone player coming to Tampa Bay, and they certainly thought they were getting a steal. It's about this time when people started the "what happened to Ben Grieve" narratives, with his first season with Rays just 11 homers and a 100 point drop in his slugging percentage. After the trade, Grieve had gone from second banana behind Jason Giambi to top dog in Tampa. He was hitting 5th in the order after an older Fred McGriff and Greg Vaughn. He was making less contact in Tampa (certainly the roof in St. Pete was less inviting than California sun), setting a career high with 159 strikeouts. The positives? He still rattled off a pair of 30 double seasons, and his walk rate had improved considerably. Maybe the opposition was willing (and able) to pitch around Grieve now that he was the main focus of the lineup? 2003 added injury to insult, as a blood clot in his shoulder required surgery. He would play in just 55 games that year, his last in Tampa. 

He was entering a free agent season after the injury, and was left with fewer options than a former ROY would normally expect. He landed in Milwaukee, where he was used in platoon situations for 108 games. He was on the move again the next year, taking a brief tour of the NL Central division. While the Pirates signed him initially, he would end up playing for the Cubs for a handful of games in 2004 and 2005. He moved to the south side after that, playing minor league ball for the White Sox for two more seasons. 

Do you have any Ben Grieve memories? I'd love to read them in the comments below. 

Thanks for reading!


  1. As an A's fan, I have a pretty solid Grieve collection. I definitely stocked up on his autographs and inserts. Kinda lost track of him after he was traded away... but will always wonder what might have been had he stayed in Oakland his entire career.

  2. In the early days of interleague, this guy tore the Rockies to shreds.

  3. I remember when the Rays acquired him and I was excited. I thought the lineup of Grieve, Vinny Castilla, Greg Vaughn, and Jose Canseco was going to hit a ton of Homers, but they were all either old or inconsistent.
    Me and a friend went to the Rays fan fest and I was so excited to get his autograph. I got him to sign his 1999 Upper Deck Holographyx card, which was really shiny. I ended up selling most of my autographed cards, so I don’t have it anymore, but I’ve been hoping to add another autographed Grieve card to my collection, perhaps he has one as a Devil Ray.