Today is Gregg Zaun’s 52nd birthday.
I have to separate Zaun, the player, from Zaun, the analyst, in my mind. I liked Zaun, the player. Zaun, the analyst I didn’t like. The former was a pretty good catcher. He had some good seasons for the Blue Jays. The latter was a mess of old-school silliness and over-baked macho man stuff. There is a place for old-school voices, but I’d like them to be a little grounded with the understanding that the world has changed.
Anyway, Zaun the player:
Zaun made it to the majors with the Orioles in 1995. The O’s 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. Then he signed with the Rockies. In the off-season before 2004, the Expos signed and then released Gregg. He’s been everywhere. Once a catcher gets that backup-catcher union card, he has a life job. And it didn’t hurt that Zaun was a switch hitter (one of those few switch hitters who hit about the same from both sides of the plate).
Finally, on April 9th 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, who we thought to be the future catcher (how many times have we been wrong about who the catcher of the future would be?). Unfortunately, Myers and Cash each got hurt, and Zaun by May took over the starting job. Zaun appeared in 107 games that year, the most he had played in a season. Gregg was pretty good, hitting .269/.367/.393 with 6 home runs and 36 RBI. Of course, 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 backup, you’d also want Zaun out there daily. 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 then they didn’t like his defense, so that 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 as 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 from 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. Those are pretty good numbers for a catcher. Unfortunately, he spent time in the DL with a hand injury.
In 2008 the Jays signed Rod Barajas as the starting catcher, but Barajas could have hit right-handers better. Manager John Gibbons started platooning, giving Zaun the bulk of the playing time since, as a switch-hitter, he hit right-handers pretty decently. Unfortunately for Gregg (but happily for the team), the front office fired Gibbons and Cito Gaston was hired to manage. Around the same time, Zaun was injured, and 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 there was a manager change, and Rod was hitting the ball well, so you can understand it. Zaun wasn’t too happy with losing the job and asked to be traded, but the Jays didn’t work anything out.
Some 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 6th of that year. Then, on September 13th, he hit homers from both sides of the plate in a game against the Mariners.
After the 2008 season, Zaun signed with the Orioles to back up rookie Matt Wieters. In August of that year, he was traded to the Rays. He homered 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.
Behind the plate, Gregg didn’t have the strongest of arms, he was often near the top of the league in stolen bases allowed, but his other defensive skills were good. He handled 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 on several occasions, and a signed cheque from Zaun, apparently for steroids, was included in the report. Gregg also had a drinking problem when he was younger, but he had it beat by the time he joined the Jays.
Zaun is 29th on our All-Time list for bWAR at 10.7. The only Jays’ catcher above him on the list is Ernie Whitt, but I don’t think many would call him the second-best catcher in our history. He’s 40th on our list in games played and 27th in walks.
In his career as a Blue Jay, he hit .255/.354/.399 with 45 home runs in 5 seasons, 535 games. Overall, he played 1232 games and hit .252/.344/.388 with 88 home runs.
As an analyst, for me, he was too over the top. I know that’s what he was shooting for. He saw Don Cherry’s success and tried to copy him. I’m not saying he wasn’t being true to himself, but he played it up because he saw how famous Cherry was. And really, who wouldn’t pattern themselves after someone who makes that much money and has been doing the job for that long? In particular, I had to miss his ‘Sunday Roasts’.
And, like Cherry, Zaun had more than his share of controversies. For example, Zaun told us that Cal Ripken hazed him in (my view) terrible, rather sick ways, which got a quick response from Ripken and other members of that Oriole team saying that Gregg’s account wasn’t accurate.
If you don’t remember, Zaun said that (among other things) Cal and teammates stripped him, tied him with tape, spreadeagled on a trainer’s table and poured ice into his shorts. Zaun also told a story about how Cal once, on a flight, invited him to the back of the plane and then physically beat him for, you guessed it, going to the back of the plane. And there was this:
“ If I had a dollar for every time Ripken worked me over physically. I’d be a wealthy guy.”
“I talked to him because he’s a friend of mine. I consider him a good friend,” Ripken told MASN’s Roch Kubatko. “I don’t know how it got all out of whack. He apologized and said he used the wrong words. There was no abuse. There was no hazing. It doesn’t do anything for team unity. He knows that, and everybody who knows me knows that.”
Zaun’s point was that putting rookies in their place makes for a better team. I said, at the time, that if Zaun hadn’t framed this as ‘this is what should be done to rookies,’ I’d feel sorry for him.
Zaun tried to walk it back, saying he thought he was telling ‘amusing stories’.
And Zaun was fired for ‘inappropriate behaviour’ towards female employees. To his credit, Zaun didn’t try to say these things didn’t happen.
Anyway, happy birthday Gregg. I hope it is a good one.
It is Greg Myers’ 57th birthday.
Myers was one of many of the Blue Jays catchers’ of the future who didn’t turn out. He was a left-handed hitting catcher the team hoped would take over Ernie Whitt’s role in a platoon at catcher. Instead, he ended up having two stints with the Blue Jays.
He was brought up for a ‘cup of coffee’ in 1987 and again in 1989. In 1990 he started the season as our primary catcher. He played 20 games in April. He was injured in May and missed three weeks but continued in a platoon with Pat Borders for the rest of the season. He played 87 games and hit .236/.293/.332 with 5 home runs.
In 1991 he played in 107 games, hitting .262/.306/.411 with 8 home runs.
He started 1992 slow, had some injuries and spent some time in the minors. At the end of July, he was traded, along with Rob Ducey to the Angels bringing back Mark Eichhorn to Toronto. Myers played for the Angels through the 1995 season.
From there, he went to the Twins, Braves, Padres, back to the Braves, Orioles, and A’s and then back to the Blue Jays.
In 2003, at 37, he had his best MLB season, hitting .307/.374/.502 with 15 home runs in 121 games, good for a 2.4 bWAR (his best bWAR before that was a 1.1 back in 1996 with the Twins). Unfortunately, in 2004 he had a bad ankle injury, sliding into second base at the Metrodome at the end of April, and missed the rest of the season. He played a few games at the start of the 2005 season and then retired.
As a Jay, he hit .258/.314/.400 with 29 home runs in 375 games, spread over eight seasons. Career, he hit .255/.313/.395 in 18 seasons.
Happy Birthday, Greg, I hope it is a good one.
Also, having birthdays today:
- Paul Hodgson was the second Canadian-born player to play for the Blue Jays. He played in 20 games in 1980 as an outfielder. He turns 63 today.
- Mark Bomback turns 70. Mark was a right-handed pitcher who games to the Jays in a trade with the Yankees for Charlie Puleo. Bomback pitched 20 games, 11 starts, in 1981, with a 5-5 record and a 3.89 ERA. In 1982 he pitched in 16 games, 8 starts with a 1-5 record and a 60.3 ERA.
Happy Birthday to both.