Getting to know Gregg Zaun, from the plate to the left field

One of the most popular baseball figures amongst Canadian baseball fans, Gregg Zaun is 1 of the most popular Toronto Blue Jays to ever suit up for the franchise. A catcher known for his hitting prowess, Gregg Zaun played 5 seasons for the Toronto Blue Jays, spending the majority of the time as the Jays starting catcher and 1 of the top hitters.  In a mere 5 years playing in the Ontario capital, Gregg Zaun has made a life long impact on Canadian baseball fans across the country.  Aside from his baseball abilities, Gregg Zaun is also known for his persona both during his playing career, and in his current role as a baseball analyst with Rogers Sportsnet. He has established himself as 1 of the most well known, and favourite, sports analysts on Canadian TV.

Born in 1971, Gregg Zaun’s father owned a glass business and later became a police officer. Zaun’s mother, like her son, was also an accomplished athlete, having been a professional golfer on the Ladies Tour.  Gregg Zaun’s maternal uncle is Rick Dempsey, who played 24 seasons as a catcher in the Majors.  Just as his uncle was, Gregg Zaun was groomed to be a catcher from the time he was growing up in Glendale, California, a city in Los Angeles County.  Zaun would attend Saint Francis High School in nearby La Canada, California, where he’d play on the school’s baseball team and was a teammate of feature Major Leaguer, Mark Loretta.  Graduating high school in 1989, Gregg Zaun would turn pro immediately after being drafted in the 17th round of the 1989 MLB Draft by the Baltimore Orioles, the same team his uncle starred for from 1976 to 1986.

Jumping to the Baltimore Orioles organization immediately as opposed to playing college baseball, Gregg Zaun would spend the next 4 and a half seasons in the minors at various levels, ranging from the Rookie League to AAA. Gregg Zaun’s minor league stops included the likes of Bluefield Virginia, Wausau Wisconsin, Kane County Illinois, Frederick Maryland, Bowie Maryland and Rochester New York before spending part of the 1995 season as the Baltimore Orioles backup catcher.  The first season in which Gregg Zaun saw Big League action.  Gregg Zaun’s first MLB season saw him appear in 40 games, recording an RBI of 14 and 3 homeruns while catching in 283 innings.

Partway through the 1996 season, Gregg Zaun’s 2nd with the Orioles, he would be traded to the Florida Marlins for Terry Matthews.  Gregg Zaun would appear in a total of 50 Major League games between the Orioles and Marlins organizations in 1996, recording 2 homeruns and 15 RBIs.  The following season marked Gregg Zaun’s first full season with the Florida Marlins.  In his role as a backup catcher to Charles Johnson, Zaun started 38 games throughout the season as catcher, while appearing in 58 total games.  Gregg Zaun finished the season with a batting average of .301, the second highest of his career.

In the fall of 1997, the Florida Marlins, despite being in only their fifth season of existence, went to the World Series, facing the Cleveland Indians. The World Series battle between Marlins and Indians would require extra innings in the 7th and deciding game.  The Florida Marlins ultimately won the 1997 World Series on an Edgar Renteria single, and Gregg Zaun earned the first and only World Series Championship ring of his career.

Gregg Zaun would return to the Florida Marlins for the following 1998 season, appearing in 106 games, at that point a career high for Zaun. Following the 1998 season, Gregg Zaun would bounce around the big leagues for a period, spending the 1999 season with the Texas Rangers, before spending the next 2 seasons (2000, 2001) with the Kansas City Royals before joining the Houston Astros for the 2002 season.  For the 2003 season, Gregg Zaun split the season between Houston and the Colorado Rockies before joining the Montreal Expos for spring training in 2004.  After failing to make the expos out of spring training, Gregg Zaun signed with the organization with who he is most commonly associated with, the Toronto Blue Jays.  Signed on April 10th 2004, shortly into the MLB regular season, the Blue Jays original intention for Gregg Zaun was to be a backup catcher for their AAA affiliate in Syracuse, New York, which meant no guaranteed playing time at the MLB level.  However, after appearing in 7 games with the Syracuse SkyChiefs, Gregg Zaun was summoned to the Toronto Blue Jays to replace injured catcher Kevin Cash.   Taking advantage of the new opportunity, Gregg Zaun immediately became 1 of the Blue Jays’ most consistent hitters while blocking the plate like no other Blue Jays’ catcher had done in a very long time.  As a result of Gregg Zaun’s outstanding start to the season and tenure with the Toronto Blue Jays, manager Carlos Tosca, who had previously served on the Florida Marlins’ coaching staff during Zaun’s tenure there, named Gregg Zaun starting catcher for the Blue Jays.  This marked the first time in Gregg Zaun’s MLB career that he was a starting catcher.  Gregg Zaun would appear in 107 games, at that point a career high.  The following 2005 season would be a career season for Gregg Zaun, appearing in 133 games while setting career highs with 434 at bats, 161 total bases, 61 runs as well as 61 RBIs.  The offensive prowess Gregg Zaun displayed was evidently scary for opposing teams, as Zaun also accumulated 73 walks taken during the 2005 season.  Zaun would remain a key figure in the Toronto franchise until 2009, when he would return to the Baltimore Orioles.  Gregg Zaun would split the 2009 season between the Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays, before spending the 2010 season with the Milwaukee Brewers.  Zaun’s tenure with the Brewers proved to be his last in MLB regular season, as Gregg Zaun decided to retire from playing shortly into spring training with the San Diego Padres in 2011.

Gregg Zaun has stayed to Canadian baseball in retirement, and remains 1 of the most recognized baseball figures in Canada. Realizing his playing career was winding down, Zaun began his broadcasting career in the 2006 Major League postseason.  Zaun’s acquired love for Toronto and Canada became increasingly evident when he continued to broadcast for Rogers Sportsnet in the MLB postseason even after his tenure with the Toronto Blue Jays, as he was wrapping up his playing career with other organizations.  Immediately after retiring, after a brief spring training with the San Diego Padres in 2011, Gregg Zaun’s part time broadcasting gig became a fulltime job when he signed with Rogers Sportsnet.  Zaun, who has been partnered with fellow Sportsnet commentator Jamie Campbell since he started broadcasting while still an active player, is frequently heard by Canadian baseball fans on all baseball related programing.  These include before, during and after Toronto Blue Jay games as well as other Major League games Rogers Sportsnet airs.  In addition to color commentating MLB games, Gregg Zaun is also frequently heard on Sportsnet Radio Fan 590, the Blue Jays Radio Network and maintains a blog on his website, www.zauntourage.com.

Zaun had long envisioned a career with Rogers Sportsnet, stating in the press release “Sportsnet is exactly where I saw myself landing after life in the major leagues.  This network is where I always wanted to be and I couldn’t be more ecstatic.  It’s like coming home.”  Part of what makes Gregg Zaun a popular figure on the air amongst Canadian viewers is his analytical style.  Zaun is often very honest when addressing the performance of current players, coaches and teams.  When asked about his honesty and how it may upset some players and organizations in a 2014 Globe and Mail interview with Brad Wheeler, Zaun responded, “I really don’t care what they think.  If they’re a mature ball player, they’ll understand what my job is. The older guys, the Jose Bautistas and the Adeam Linds of the world, they get it.  They know I’m holding them accountable, in the same way I was when I was playing.”  In that same 2014 interview, characteristics Zaun identified himself as included “opinionated” and “brutally honest.”  In addition to his on air personality, another trait of Zaun that wins over Canadian baseball fans is his wardrobe.  Known for his stylish suits, Zaun told Sean Fitz-Gerald of the Toronto Star in a recent interview that he tries to keep up with the modern fashion trends in terms of tailoring and colours.  Since first coming to Toronto in 2004, Gregg Zaun has truly embraced both the city of Toronto and Canada.  Raised in sunny Southern California, Zaun now lives in Canada 12 months a year, is now a permanent resident of Canada and he plans on becoming a Canadian citizen.  Since retiring from the Big Leagues and being released from his contractual obligations not to partake in other high risk sports, Gregg Zaun has taken up and thoroughly enjoys Canadian past time sports, namely skiing and hockey.  Gregg Zaun has truly embraced Canada the same way sports fans in Canada have embraced him.
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Written By: Chris Cunneen