A TRIBUTE TO GREGG ZAUN
MLB reports: On March 7, 2011, after sixteen seasons in baseball, Gregg Zaun decided to hang up his spikes for a final time. In spring training with the San Diego Padres, his tenth major league team, Zaun decided that he was not ready to continue in the game. Zaun seemed like a great fit for the Padres, a young team on the rise that could use his mentorship to guide its up and coming pitching staff. But being a man of integrity, Zaun apparently knew that his time had come. After a final farewell to the baseball field, Gregg Zaun joined Sportsnet in Ontario to become a full-time member of the Toronto Blue Jays broadcasting team. After broadcasting with Sportsnet for the last couple of years as a commentator for the playoffs, reports indicated that Zaun would one day become a broadcaster once his career was done. While being highly capable to continue in the game as a scout, coach or future manager, broadcasting has become the fit for Zaun as he starts the new phase of his career.
A nephew of Rick Dempsey, catching apparently ran in the family as Zaunn started his career with Dempsey’s Baltimore Orioles and rejoined the team for a brief stint in 2009. A 17th round pick in 1989, Zaun, a catcher by trade, made his major league debut in 1995 and lasted briefly on the Orioles until moving on to Florida. As a member of the Marlins, Zaun won his only World Series ring in 1997. After two and a half season in Florida, Zaun bounced to the Rangers, Royals, Astros and Rockies over the next several years. While the Gregg Zaun we have come to know and love is cool, collected, knowledgeable and intelligent, the younger Zaun of yesteryear was perhaps not as “together”. Reports I have read indicate that Zaun in his early his career perhaps took his role for granted, apparently having a sense of entitlement based on his famous uncle before him. Being 5’10″ and weighing 170 pounds, Gregg Zaun is not the picturesque baseball player that we would necessarily come to expect. In the age of behemoth 6’3″+ catchers and ball players, a player of Zaun’s stature needs to show hustle and heart in order to have longevity in the game. After several cups of coffee around baseball, the maturation and stability of Zaun finally occurred in 2004.
Gregg Zaun became a member of the Toronto Blue Jays in ’04 and proceeded to spend the best five-year period of his career in Toronto. Zaun transformed himself into a leader on the ball club and became a fan favorite in the city. In 2005, Zaun played in a career high 133 games and had 434 at bats. Career highs of 162 total bases, 61 runs and 61 RBIs were set, but most telling were his 73 walks taken. Zaun, in addition to an outstanding defensive catcher was becoming an offensive catalyst as well. In 2006, despite playing in only 99 games, hit a career high of 12 home runs. Despite reports of Zaun being unhappy about sharing playing time near the twilight of his Jays playing days, Zaun showed up every day without a hiccup and was a team player right until the end of the 2008 season. Obviously Zaun’s time in Toronto was special for both him and his fans, given that Zaun continued to broadcast for the Jays in the off seasons following his departure from the team. A definite sign of things to come.
Over the last two seasons of his career, Zaun played out the string with the Orioles, Rays and Brewers. As the Rays were contending in 2009, Zaun became a stretch-run acquisition. Playing fairly well, Zaun earned a contract with the Brewers going into 2010. Unfortunately injuries cut Zaun’s last MLB season short, to a miniscule 28 games. The thinking around baseball was that despite being 40 years old on opening day 2011, Zaun still had enough gas left in the tank that he would continue playing with his new team, the San Diego Padres. However, as Zaun realized that he would not be able to achieve his personal goals, rather than take up a roster spot for a youngster he decided to call it a career. While the sport lost one of its last true gamers on the field, it gained it substantially back on its television screen.
When J.P. Ricciardi was let go as the general manager of the Blue Jays, not coincidentally Buck Martinez (the former Jays broadcaster that was fired by Ricciardi as Jays manager) returned to the team as its new play-by-play man. Who did Buck replace? Jamie Campbell, who was reassigned to the position of in-game analyst during commercials for the regular season and playoffs. Campbell, who worked with Zaun for five seasons and gave him his first start in broadcasting, is now Zaun’s full-time broadcasting partner . It was a breath of fresh air to have Zaun return to the Jays as a broadcaster. With a new studio set up directly inside the Rogers Centre during the 2011 to boot, fans get to witness the brilliance of Zaun’s work up close and personal during every Jays home game.
The reality of sports is that a player’s time always has to come to an end. Baseball is no different. Whether a young hot-shot prospect like Brien Taylor is a first overall pick that never makes it to the majors, or a Jamie Moyer/Julio Franco type that almost plays into their fifties. Gregg Zaun could have easily gone either way in the game. A World Series ring in his third season in the majors. Having a famous uncle who was a major league catcher for a whopping 24 seasons. Zaun from all accounts came into the game with a sense of entitlement and if his first few seasons had followed suit, Zaun could have burnt out quickly. Without the proportions of a typical star major league player, arrogant/unmotivated type players tend to not last long in the show. But something did click with Zaun and lasted within him to allow him to have a long and productive major league career. Unfortunately for the Gregg Zaun fans out there, that same maturity allowed Zaun to walk away from the game, even though he could have hung on for another season or two. Apparently his time was done and now Gregg Zaun is ready to continue the rest of his career.
I have really enjoyed reading and listening to Gregg Zaun’s analysis and thoughts on the game. In addition to being an analyst on Blue Jays broadcasts, Gregg can be found on twitter under the handle, appropriately enough @greggzaun. In my opinion the game of baseball needs more Gregg Zauns in its ranks. A winner with pure hustle and determination, the Gregg Zaun that I know embodies everything that is pure and great about baseball. The future is unlimited for Gregg Zaun. MLB reports wishes Gregg all the best as he starts the second phase of his career and get ready, you will be watching Gregg on ESPN or the MLB Network before you know it. Remember, you heard it here first.
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