Gregg Zaun On Playing The Game The Right Way And Physical Abuse At The Hands Of Cal Ripken Jr.


They needed a few more grinders in that clubhouse. A few more guys that are going to hold their teammates accountable and expect people to play the game the proper way and play it hard for six months straight.

That was Gregg Zaun, speaking with hosts Bob McCown and Ken Reid about the 2014 Blue Jays in the first segment of the 6 PM hour (audio here) of Prime Time Sports on Wednesday on Sportsnet and the Fan 590.

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The Jays’ between-inning analyst has a few ideas on this subject, it turns out.

The topic came up in a discussion of Brett Lawrie, the now-former Jays’ third baseman who was praised for having huge potential and physical gifts, but about whom Zaun said, I think fairly, that “his attitude towards the game, and his go-go-go have me four Red Bulls before the game and just put the pedal to the metal and no finesse whatsoever, it was holding it back.”

McCown suggested that sort of stuff was wearing on his teammates, too, and then off Zaun went…

Well, there’s no doubt about that. And you know what? They made their own bed with that situation, because when you’ve got a kid — I don’t care who he is — yeah, you need all 25 guys to win, but at the same time, young kids come into the clubhouse, they need to be made to respect the game, the clubhouse atmosphere, their elders. And when you allow a kid like Brett Lawrie to dictate what’s being played on the radio in years one or two, you’re creating a monster. You cannot allow these kids to go running amok. You allow them to be themselves, personality-wise, to some degree, but if their personality becomes a distraction or a detriment to the ballclub itself, nip it in the bud. And the guys who are at fault here for creating that situation are the veteran players in that clubhouse.

It would have never in a million years happened on my watch, or if Matt Stairs was in the clubhouse, or a Troy Glaus, or a Scotty Rolen. That kind of thing would have never — we would have had that kid under our thumb and he would have made a heck of a lot more progress a heck of a lot faster with the guidance and the tutelage of some firm and respectable veteran players. The game’s changing to the point now where guys just go and they show up and they do their job and go home. They’re not going to give you anymore than they have to, and the guys that do are special.

Cue, at this point, noted 75-year-old man Ken Reid asking about “things you can’t measure with numbers” and how important it supposedly is to have a clubhouse in order, which… actually I shouldn’t disparage him here, because he provoked a fascinating (albeit kinda terrifying) answer from Zaun.

Oh my goodness, I can tell you a prime example of what happened to me, myself. I grew up around the game — my uncle Rick played 24 years in the big leagues. He was a Baltimore Oriole; I grew up with the Orioles. Cal Ripken Jr.’s first roommate in the big leagues was my uncle — I used to go to lunch with the guy. Every time they came to Anaheim, I’d be in the car with Cal Jr. He gave me a glove. So when it came time to become a Baltimore Oriole, I went to the instructional league with Brady Anderson and Ben McDonald and Chris Hoiles — I was exposed to all these veteran guys who were veterans, but I was exposed to them when they were on their way to the big leagues. So when I got to the show I took liberties with these guys. And you know what? As much as they liked me, as much as they wanted me to be successful, they nipped it right in the bud, and they clipped my wings from day one.

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.’

I had taken liberties with some of the veteran players. I had become a little bit too mouthy. And, I’m sure this comes as a shock to you guys — I was a little bit chatty; a little bit talkative as a young player, yeah. But I learned how to stifle myself. I learned how to show these veteran players respect and give them their room, and all the while close my mouth and be the guy who listened.

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.’

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.

Some notes.

First) Holy shit!

Second) Cal Ripken kiiiiiiiinda seems like a real dick.

Third) Holy shit!

Fourth) About everything working out “just fine.” Um… Phil Reagan was the manager of the Orioles for one season, 1995. Those Orioles, thanks I’m sure in no small part to their insistence on respect and playing the right way, finished 71-73 (in 144 games due to the season’s late start coming back from the strike), and 15 games out of first in the AL East.

Fifth) Should I mention anything about the colour of the skin of all the play the right way veterans cited here? Nah. Probably not. (Though I suppose I should at least say here that I bring this up only because it’s unsurprising and because that seems to be the way such things are viewed within the culture of the game (i.e. the old white guys are always the stewards of the “right” way to do things) — nothing personal about Zaun).

Sixth) OK… so… even if you take out the hazing bit, because that is obviously just completely twisted — which… maybe Rogers should think twice about having one of their employees preaching on the radio to impressionable young bros that the kind of physical abuse he details (his words!) needs to happen more often — and still, I’m sorry, it’s all just such. utter. bullshit.

Zaun, thankfully, concedes near the end of the hit that teams can win if they just “out-talent” their opponents. Yet so much of his belief system seems to be based on the opposite, and — and here’s the important part — quite literally on absolutely nothing. He is simply regurgitating tropes passed down for generations that maybe feel enough like they should be true that nobody ever seems to bother to ask how or why. Asking questions and flaunting the stupidity of playing the game the right way isn’t playing the game the right way, it seems — and apparently grounds for beatings and humiliations in some folks’ books.

And not that this is remotely the point of the “don’t be an abusive dickhead” argument, but to what end?

That ’95 Orioles team? That was the twelfth straight season without playoff baseball in Baltimore (the 1994 club didn’t have playoffs to make, but were 6.5 games out at the time of the strike), and Ripken was there for every single one of them. So what good did all the physical abuse do??? What was it all about other than power and vanity and passing down the “right” to young players to one day exert their own sadistic vainglorious power over the next generation? Because it sure as shit wasn’t about helping a baseball team win baseball games — or if it was, it appears to have been hopelessly, hopelessly misguided.

Clearly there is value in helping young players become better professionals and to learn to listen and respect their teammates and their elders (though respect is a thing that very, very obviously should be mutual) and having a healthy culture among people working together. Nobody is suggesting a locker room should be a total free-for-all. But this here? This here is insanity. Wonderfully, refreshingly candid and oblivious insanity, but insanity nonetheless. And not just the actions, but the fact that it’s being remembered fondly, endorsed, encouraged, hollowly raised as some kind of pillar in the temple of success (which it in absolutely no way is), and agreed with.

“I’m with you 100%. I’m that guy,” said McCown after Zaun finished imploring for a wholesale, top-down, organization-wide embrace of hazing, basically.


UPDATE: Gregg has responded to this post! Read it here.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

  • ice_hawk10


    I’m all for some light-hearted practical jokes, and even nipping bad behaviour in the bud if it’s warranted, but what Zaun describes is kind of despicable on the part of the veteran players. Very bush-league. In no way can that ever contribute to a winning environment.

    Zaun probably remembers those days fondly, as he also counts the number of times he was able to forcibly instill that culture in the next generation. Alas, baseball is largely a self-perpetuating community of egotistical white males who mostly don’t have two brains to rub together. The insecurity of younger players and their willingness to please the old fucks is the only thing that keeps it going. O, and the parroting ways of sports media.

    The clubhouse should only demand effort and respect (and not the bullshit “carry around (insert white, veteran player)’s jockstrap” variety).

  • Berba

    Hard to imagine this old white dude beating up kids in the clubhouse…

  • Berba

    Great piece by the way, Stoeten. I know we live in a country that worships a sport in which extremely large men try to concuss each other in front of a raucously cheering audience, but… this is just repugnant.

  • Red Eagle

    On the plus side, rants like this should keep any team from hiring Zaun.

    • Pudge72

      …unfortunately for us Jays fans.

  • isabellareyes

    Hazing is horrible and Zaun is a Neanderthal and bla bla bla. But just to point out that the Orioles post-season drought is nothing compared to our 22-year-and-counting waltz around the wilderness. Maybe just maybe a little non-hazing but forceful discipline in the clubhouse might have had some effect and turned Lawrie from an out-of-control nightmare into a decent player. Might have helped a couple of the others as well. (Hi JPA!)

    • Erin Carr

      When did anyone insinuate the orioles drought was worse then ours? Also Lawrie’s already a pretty decent player…

      • isabellareyes

        Lawrie is the guy who was so hung up on his own incredible acrobatic ability that he went down a camera well and was out for months. He is also the guy that showed-up another player on his team right out for everyone to see. He has amazing ability and no discipline. Would have been good if he’d learned some. I think team accountability has been lacking here. Hazing isn’t the answer. But it’s good if the new vets set a different tone in the clubhouse. Chemistry or not. Something’s been lacking there.

        • mktoronto

          But Lawrie did learn. Since the camera well incident he toned it down and didn’t take risks like that again. And after he showed up Lind he was spoken to right away and didn’t do it again. I fail to see where there was lack of accountability.

  • passamore

    Lawrie seemed like he was so tightly wound and wired, everything he did was as if he wanted to pound something into the ground and obliterate it into subatomic particles. From the way he gripped the bat, fielded and wired a bullet to the first, etc. I liked him as a player, but the way he played didn’t seem to leave a lot of room for relieving the day to day grind of an infielder

  • fred2

    It’s basically Stockholm Syndrome. The abused ends up identifying with the abuser. What Zaun is describing is just as illegal in baseball as in any other form of employment. The fact that there is a code of omerta that prevents players from complaining* is not any kind of defence.

    *Or coming out as gay, or – for Pete’s sake – “reading books” was a serious criticism levelled at both Brandon Morrow and Eric Thames, while “writing books” nearly got Dirk Hayhurst hospitalized.

  • Bobby Boogs

    I’m confused as to why Zaun even brought up the Baltimore story. The story of hazing and bullying by Cal and the gang is an example of a bad and unprofessional clubhouse. You don’t command respect with abuse and disrespect. It seems like someone needed to set the veterans straight in that case. What a good team such as the Jays needs among it’s players is unity, respect for each other, discipline, professionalism (maturity)and hard work, not the shit spewed from Zauns mouth.

  • Danny Middaugh

    5 More years!

  • Phoenix

    It seems that people closer to this ballclub than any of us (including those who run it) think that a change in clubhouse culture is important – something Stoeten has scoffed at in the past – and have set about trying to change that. Group dynamics – the interplay of character, personality, ability etc. – is vital to success in most organizations and it isn’t always huggy huggy, I respect you and laugh at your jokes kind of comaraderie. The military figured that out a long time ago. Measuring success by stats alone, as important as they are, ignores this important element. Can it be quantified? No. But like going to a party that works or doesn’t. You sure as hell know when it doesn’t.

    • Incredulous

      Yes let’s pretend we’re in the fucking army and forget we’re playing a goddamn children’s game. Jesus Christ.

      • Phoenix

        Didn’t say let’s do it like the military. Better read again. Let me simplify so you understand. Focusing on a goal and being disciplined and consistent in achieving that goal is something the whole group should buy into to maximize success. If they don’t you lessen chances of success. Each individual in the group has to understand it is not about any single individual or his personal stats that matter but success of the entire group. The military understands that very well. The Jays seem to understand that with the personnel they have brought in and in who they let go.

  • Psmith

    Inyersting ol cal wrote a book being anti bullying…

  • So everyone’s got there twitter pitchforks ready to eviscerate Zaun now?

    Good good, glad the world wide web is running smoothly.

  • George

    Need I mention that Zaun was speaking while wearing a pink tuxedo jacket, black pants, a lime green shirt, and an ascot? ‘Nuf said.
    As for Lawrie, if the guy is a dickhead, no amount of abuse is going to change that. One thing not being mentioned under “improvements” is that AA cleaned up the clubhouse attitude last year.

  • The Real Slim Peachy

    Zaunie, you can’t physically assault guys like that anymore. Forget it now, guys getting taped to tables and having ice put down their shorts. NFL learned very publicly about physical hazing leading go players getting depressed and feeling singled out. Stars not vets rule the games now in all sports, you’re value to the team is related to how good you are, not how long you have been around. Veterans prerogative died slowly as guys got paid more and more money, and now teams are loyal to the guys who put butts in the seats, and are at the top of the payroll. The day of a mediocre vet being the top dog on a team are long over. If Zaunie doesn’t realize that then he is out of touch with today’s lockeroom.

  • Psmith

    Weirdly, this is what sticks out the most for me from the espn story, written two years ago. “Anything you do that is demeaning to someone else is wrong,” said
    Ripken, who played 20 years all with the Orioles. “I don’t believe you
    can build a team with that attitude.”

  • Psmith

    I would also point out the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation recently was part of an anti bullying promotion…. (Recognizing that Sr was his father). Really does not parlay with the image that JR, has tried to portray of himself.

  • Gumbo

    I can think of one non-white ‘Play the Right Way’ veteran ballplayer…Don Baylor of the 1986 Red Sox. But other than Baylor… I’ve got nothing. Note the Sports Illustrated article from 1986 —

  • Mike Anderson

    Ripken and his posse were poison for the Orioles during those days. Cal with his streak, letting his need to play every day dominate what was best for the team. Cal traveling apart from the team, saying he couldn’t take the media attention. Brady saying that if Cal traveled apart, he would do so as well. And now the hazing. I hope some of the O’s before Cal respond, was this the culture of the Orioles? I think not.

  • PXDX

    Zaun: “Here’s a bunch of unfathomable, unprofessional, immature, straight-up abusive events that a Hall of Famer put me through. It created a totally terrible pecking order that doesn’t exist in any other workplace because there would be 800 million lawsuits, and we are all making millions by playing a childrens game anyway, so acting like high school bullies comes with the territory.”

    Me: “Wow, that’s horrible.”

    Zaun: “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.”

    Me: “What in the F_CK!”

    Side note: Buster Posey has been the Giants team leader since his first day on the job. Zaun is a stockholm-syndromed idiot.

  • Emily

    Stoeten, just had to say you struck exactly the right tone with this piece. Awesome stuff.

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  • Der Mac

    Get off your high horses, self-righteous wannabes trashing Zaun for telling it like it is. The world wasn’t made for arrogant pinheads like yourselves.

    Did you morons ever think for a moment that you are actually the conformists and not Gregg Zaun? You should have, because it’s true.