Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gregg Zaun Hangs 'Em Up

"O, say can you Z...."
I can't let the week go by without giving a salute to Rick Dempsey's nephew, Gregg Zaun as he announced his retirement on Monday.

Zaun came up through the Oriole system and made his major league debut in 1995. I like him a lot as a backup catcher. He worked the count, had a little pop and was pretty good behind the plate in his younger days.

I remember him having some big hits for those 1995 and 1996 Oriole teams too. Looking up some of his game logs on Baseball-Reference.com, I found that my memory served me well.

On May 24th, 1996, the Orioles were playing the Athletics when Zaun drove in Bobby Bonilla on a two-out, walkoff single in the bottom of the 10th. The win brought the Orioles within a half game of the first place Yankees.

There were other big days for Zaun. He drove in 4 against the Royal during his rookie campaign, almost singlehandedly beat the White Sox that same year and broke a scoreless tie wide open against the Athletics in that same 1996 series.

But he was traded, unceremoniously, to the Marlins on August 27th...as the player to be named later in the Terry Mathews trade. Mathews was a relief pitcher and performed well for the Orioles down the stretch and made six postseason appearances in 1996 without surrendering a run. It was a good baseball decision for Baltimore and for Zaun. In 1997, Zaun got a World Series ring with the Marlins while posting an .856 OPS in his backup role.

The next season, the Marlins gave him more playing time but he failed to perform. He hit .188 with a .566 OPS in 338 plate appearances. After the season, he was traded to the Rangers as part of a conditional deal.

From there Zaun played for Texas, got traded to Detroit who flipped him to Kansas City and then on to short stints in Houston, Colorado and Montreal.

During that nomadic time in Zaun's career, I always wondered why the Orioles didn't bring him back. He would've played for the league minimum and it's not as if the O's were stocked with great catchers at the time. It seems like Zaun would have been an attractive option as a backup instead of the Fernando Lunar, Brook Fordyce and Geronimo Gil rotation Baltimore trotted out during the early aughts.

Instead, it took a division rival to see Zaun's potential as the Blue Jays signed him before the 2004 season and he spent the next 5 seasons playing significant time and being nearly a league average hitter.

In 2009, he returned. He was to be the starting catcher until Matt Wieters was deemed ready and then slide into the role of backup/mentor for the wunderkind. He didn't play half bad and was one of the few players on that team who could work a count. He was traded to the Rays in August and hit even better. He finished up his career with the Brewers and, again, had a pretty decent year at the plate for a catcher.

"I don't have the same enthusiasm. I enjoy the guys and being in the clubhouse each day, but when it came down to the playing end of it, I could take it or leave it," Zaun said....


The next step, Zaun said, is to get back into broadcasting. He has served as a postseason analyst for Rogers Sportsnet in Canada since 2006.


"Broadcasting is the next step," he said.

So again, Zaun follows in the steps of his uncle.

I'll bet he'll be pretty good at that too.

For some fun, visit Zaun's website and get your Z-game on!

(As an aside, the name listed as a contact on Zaun's site is T.R. Lewis, former Oriole prospect and Zaun's teammate at Bowie in 1993. Lewis hit .304 for Bowie that season and hit .296 with an .811 OPS over 11 minor league seasons...hadn't heard that name in years.)

2 comments:

Kevin said...

Interestingly, I randomly posted a T.R. Lewis minor league card on my blog a few years ago. He emailed me when he came across it - he's done some scouting for the D'Backs.

Heath said...

Yeah, I remember him being something of a prospect, pretty sure I had an Upper Deck prospect card for Theodore Roosevelt Lewis myself. Evidently, he lives in the same city as I do now...