Since the signings (or almost signings) seems to have slowed, let’s have one of these.
Gregory Owen Zaun | C | 2004 - 2008
Let’s put it right at the top....this is for his playing, not his baseball commentary.
Greg Zaun was born April 14, 1971, in Glendale, California. He is the nephew of former major league catcher Rick Dempsey. Baltimore drafted him in the 17th round of the 1989 draft.
Zaun made it to the majors with the Orioles in 1995. They traded him to the Marlins in August 1996. From there, he was traded to the Rangers in 1998. The Rangers included him in a 9-player trade to the Tigers in 1999. Going to the Tigers were Zaun, Juan Gonzalez, and Danny Patterson. The Rangers got Frank Catalanotto, Frank Francisco, Bill Haselman, Gabe Kapler, Justin Thompson, and Alan Webb. The Tigers traded him to Kansas City in the spring of 2000. After the 2000 season, he signed with the Astros as a free agent. He played for Houston until August of 2003 when they released him. He signed with the Rockies. In the off-season before the 2004 season, the Expos signed then released Gregg. He’s been everywhere. I’d make a joke about no one being able to stand him for long, but it was more a ‘this is the life of a backup catcher.’
Finally, on April 9 of 2004, Gregg signed with the Blue Jays. Kevin Cash started the season as the full-time catcher, with Greg Myers as a backup. The plan was for Zaun to be a backup in Triple-A and help out Guillermo Quiroz, one in the long line of catchers of the future who wasn’t. Myers and Cash each got hurt and Zaun, took over the starting job by the start of May. Zaun appeared in 107 games that year, the most he had played in a season to that point. He did quite well, hitting .269/.367/.393 with 6 home runs and 36 RBI. It didn’t hurt that he hit a home run in his first game and hit .429 in May. Making a good first impression is always a good idea.
In 2005 Zaun played a career-high 133 games. Of course, with Ken Huckaby as a backup, you’d want Zaun out there every day too. He set his career highs in a lot of things that year, plate appearances (512), runs (61), hits (109), RBI (61), and walks (73), to list a few. His 73 walks also led the team. He hit .251/.355/.373 with 11 home runs. It was likely his best season in the majors, despite hitting the DL with a concussion in May. Fangraphs credited him with a 2.0 WAR, but they didn’t like his defense, which cost him. He turned into a ‘Moneyball’ type player for the Jays, taking walks and getting on base while not costing the team much in salary.
Before the 2006 season, the Jays signed Bengie Molina to be the starting catcher, but Gregg still got into 99 games (15 as a DH) and had another nice season with the bat, hitting .272/.363/.462 and setting his career-high in homers with 12. Molina hit .284 himself (though he didn’t like to walk), so we got good offense out of our catchers.
In 2007 Zaun was back to being the full-time catcher. He played 110 games and hit ..242/.341/.411 with 10 home runs and 52 RBI. He spent time in the DL with a hand injury.
In 2008 the Jays signed Rod Barajas to be the starting catcher, but Barajas didn’t hit right-handers well, and manager John Gibbons started platooning, giving Zaun the bulk of the playing time, since, as a switch-hitter, he hit right-handers pretty good. Unfortunately for Gregg (but happily for the team), the Jays fired Gibbons, and Cito Gaston hired to manage. Around the same time, Zaun went on the DL, Barajas went on a little hot streak at the plate, and Cito kept Barajas as the starting catcher when Gregg came off the DL. I’m not a big fan of a player losing his job because of an injury, but when there has been a manager change, and Rod was hitting the ball well, you can understand it. Zaun wasn’t too happy with losing the job and asked to be traded. The Jays didn’t act on his request.
Most of us will remember that Gregg hit a walk-off grand slam against the Rays and closer Troy Percival with 2 outs in the 13th inning, September 6 of that year. That hit pretty much ended Percival’s time as the closer for the Rays. On September 13, he hit homers from both sides of the plate in a game against the Mariners.
In his 5 seasons with the Jays, he hit .255/.354/.399 with 45 home runs in 535 games. He had almost as many walks as strikeouts, 250 to 266. Baseball Reference has him at a 10.7 WAR. We had the best years of his career, they have him at a 13.7 WAR for his 16-year career.
After the 2008 season, Zaun signed with the Orioles to back up rookie Matt Wieters. In August of that year, they traded him to the Rays. You likely remember the home run he hit off Roy Halladay as a member of the Rays. After the season, he signed with the Brewers as a free agent and played 20 games. He signed with the Padres before the 2011 season but retired early in spring training.
Gregg didn’t have the strongest of arms behind the plate, he was often near the top of the league in stolen bases allowed, but his other defensive skills were good, he seemed to handle pitchers well, and he was great at blocking the plate.
Zaun’s name came up in the Mitchell report into PED. He was accused of buying steroids, and a signed cheque from Zaun, apparently for steroids, was included in the report.
The Jays gave him his first (and only) chance at being a starting catcher, and he made it pay off for them. He must have a heck of a collection of jerseys after playing with so many teams. As a player, he was a favorite of mine. He was the type of catcher I liked, a little power, got on base, and being a switch hitter didn’t hurt. He seemed to call a good game. And he was tough, he would block the plate.
After his playing career ended, he became a commentator with Sportsnet. He was, I think the polite way to put it would be, interesting. Personally, I would have preferred if he prepared more and spent less time trying to be the spokesmen for the ‘old school ways’. I think he saw the money Don Cherry was making and patterned himself after Don.
He got himself into trouble on several occasions. One time he told a story of Cal Ripken hazing him in a rather nasty way. Of course, Ripken was quick to say it never happened, it would have hurt his squeaky-clean image. He was fired in November of 2017 after allegations of “inappropriate workplace behavior, including allegations of sexual misconduct and lewd comments.”
Gregg Zaun’s place among Jays batting leaders:
Batting Average (>1500 PA): 39th, .255.
On Base Average (>1500 PA) 13th, .354.
Slugging Average (>1500 PA) 39th, .399.
Games played: 40th, 535.
Runs: 42th, 218.
Hits: 46th, 417.
Doubles: 39th, 97.
Home runs: 49th, 45.
RBI: 38th, 219.
Walks: 27th, 250.