Former catcher Gregg Zaun carved out a pretty solid 16-year career in Major League Baseball. Granted, he moved around a lot, playing for nine different teams, and was mostly relegated to backup duties, but 16 years in MLB is a run to be proud of.
Apparently, though, Zaun feels the longevity he achieved and the respect he earned along the way wouldn't have been possible without the physical abuse and public humiliation he claims veteran teammates put on him as he was breaking in with the Baltimore Orioles.
This troubling revelation came while Zaun was speaking with hosts Bob McCown and Ken Reid on Prime Time Sports on Wednesday. Zaun described how it was when he first arrived to Orioles camp looking a bit too comfortable for the liking of veterans like Cal Ripken Jr. and fellow catcher Chris Hoiles, how those players took liberties physically to keep him in check, and how he feels that treatment benefited his career.
I’ll never forget it: I was out in the stretch circle, I played catch with Chris Hoiles every single day, and I lobbed the ball to him — and he was paying attention, but he pretended like he wasn’t. He head-butted the ball and all of a sudden I had what was called “the posse” all over me. Cal Ripken, Ben McDonald, Brady Anderson, Chris Hoiles, all of the above. They beat me on my ribcage, physically abused me on my way to the training table. They taped me spread-eagle to the training table, they wrote “rookie” on my forehead with pink methylate, and they shoved a bucket of ice down my shorts. I missed the entire batting practice, and you know what? Phil Regan, the manager of the Baltimore Orioles, he did not care, because he knew that what those guys were doing was ‘educating me."
The education didn't end there though. When Zaun overstepped other boundaries in the opinion of his veteran teammates, the abuse continued. He says Ripken not only led the charge, but goaded him in.
If I had a dollar for every time Cal worked me over, physically, I’d be a pretty wealthy guy. He still owes me a suit! He told me flat out, he said, ‘You are never to come past this point into the back of the plane, under no circumstances.’ So, I’m in my first suit that I paid for myself as a Major League player, feelin’ real frisky, and Cal says, ‘I need you to come here.’ And all of a sudden I crossed over that imaginary barrier line. He tackled me, wrestled me to the ground. They had just got done eating a bunch of blue crabs in the back of the plane, so there was nothing but mud and Old Bay seasoning everywhere. He throws me to the ground and he tears my suit off of me, and I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ And he goes, ‘Remember when I said that under no circumstances do you come back here?’ I’m like, ‘Well you just told me to!’ ‘I said under no circumstances, and that includes when I ask you to come back here.’
Cringeworthy accounts from Zaun. However, the most troubling part isn't the actions themselves, or even that Zaun accepted that type of treatment. It's that Zaun, who currently serves as a broadcaster for the Toronto Blue Jays, encouraged more of that behavior in today's game.
So, these kind of things don’t happen anymore, but they need to happen more often. And they need to happen with the backing of the management, all the way up to the front office, down to the field manager. You have to allow your veteran players to create the atmosphere that they want in the clubhouse, because at the end of the day, when guys get along and they know their pecking order, and they know the hierarchy, everything seems to work out just fine.
The conversation was born from Zaun's disappointment in Brett Lawrie's development during his time in Toronto. Zaun believes Lawrie, who was traded to Oakland in November, didn't live up to expectations in part because he wasn't taught respect in the clubhouse. He suggests Lawrie felt a sense of entitlement young players haven't earned, and by not sending a message, Jays veterans allowed his ego to run amok.
While there may be some truth to what Zaun is saying about Lawrie, there are obviously better ways to handle it than what he experienced in Baltimore. As many have pointed out, those actions outside a baseball environment are considered bullying and potentially criminal. The destruction of property just for the sake of doing it? That doesn't fly, and it shouldn't be tolerated.
Thankfully, it seems as though Zaun's old school mentality is where it belongs — in the past. While we're sure some hazing goes on, it would be difficult to keep this degree of abuse out of the media. Still, it's disappointing to hear someone as connected to the game as Zaun still is floating these ideas out there as acceptable. The game doesn't need it, and it's something children and impressionable young adults simply don't need to hear.
More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:
- - - - - - -