Gregg Zaun retired today. He was going to be 40 years-old in April and had logged parts of sixteen seasons in Major League Baseball. He caught in 1,067 games, played second base twice and first base twice. That was after playing five years in the minors, mostly as a catcher, though he did play some second and third base in the minors and he even pitched in one game. He was a professional baseball player for 21 years. That's a long, long time.
Drafted right out of high school way back in 1989 by the Orioles in the 17th Round, Zaun beat a lot of odds just to make it to the majors. Granted, it's a little bit easier if you are a catcher, but still. The thing about Gregg Zaun is that he was only a starting catcher for five of those sixteen years in the big leagues. He was never an All Star. He never won a Gold Glove. He was just a catcher that grunted it out year after year. His best batting average came in 2001 in Kansas City when he hit .320. He also hit .301 for the Marlins in 1997. But he hit .188 for the Marlins the following year. Such was the career of Gregg Zaun.
Like most catchers that aren't among the elite, Zaun has been everywhere. He played for nine different teams. He was released twice, traded five times and was a free agent nine times. How's that for a transaction wire junkie? His longest tenure was in Toronto, where he played for five years, He started four of those seasons and was in a platoon situation his fifth. It would be the most stable time in his career.
Zaun finished with a 91 career OPS+. He finished a season above 100 only seven times. He was a pretty good at taking a walk and showed occasional power, especially during the Toronto years. He wasn't particularly adept at throwing out base steal attempts and finished at only a 24 percent success rate. He was better early in his career. But early in his career was a long time ago. But he rarely gave up passed balls. Fielding metrics never showed him a whole lot of love and he finished in the negative numbers, but not terribly negative. He was better behind the plate than a lot of catchers around today.
But of course, none of these stone cold facts can ever tell the story of all those back fields, bullpen sessions, Spring Training drills, bruised hands, black and blues and smothered balls in the dirt that tally up in the course of catching 21 professional seasons. Being a catcher is hardly glamorous and it's often painful. Zaun has seen it all. And for his troubles, he made $18 million in salaries over the years. That seems like a pretty good trade off to this Fan.
Gregg Zaun was never great. He was never among the best at his position. He never got to stay around too long in one place. He often had to earn his job in Spring Training. He always found a way to do it. And he would have done it again in 2011 if his shoulder wasn't killing him. Odds were that he would have made the Padres this season. But it was time for Zaun to put it away. After playing for nine different major league teams and thirteen different minor league teams, Zaun has had a run he probably wouldn't trade for anything. He's earned every penny.