Gregg Zaun: Physical abuse from Cal Ripken Jr. taught me respect

Gregg Zaun: Physical abuse from Cal Ripken Jr. taught me respect
Toronto Blue Jays catcher Gregg Zaun reacts after a play at home plate against the Angels on May 18, 2006. Zaun claims he was physically abused by Cal Ripken Jr. early in his career. (Francis Specker / Associated Press)

Gregg Zaun played for nine teams over a 16-year major league career, and the former catcher credits at least some of that longevity to the lessons he learned while breaking in with the Baltimore Orioles during the 1990s.

However, Zaun didn't just get advice from the likes of Cal Ripken Jr., Brady Anderson and Chris Hoiles. Zaun claims the Orioles veterans often taught him lessons by hazing or physically abusing him, actions Zaun believed were justified since he made the mistake of "taking liberties with these guys."


During an interview with Sportsnet 590-AM in Toronto on Wednesday, Zaun revealed some troubling aspects of how Orioles veterans allegedly treated him during his first year in Major League Baseball. Zaun's interview was transcribed by

"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."

Zaun went on to describe how Ripken, in particular, treated him. He recalled an instance when Ripken tackled him and tore off his suit:

"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.'

Still, Zaun doesn't want anyone feeling sorry for him. He said he agreed with the approach Ripken and other veteran players took to keep him line.

Zaun, who was born in Glendale and played high school ball at St. Francis in La Canada Flintridge, said respect for veteran players is something that is sorely missing from major league clubhouses these days.

"These kind of things don't happen anymore, but they need to happen more often," Zaun said. "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."

Zaun's description of events is shocking considering the squeaky-clean image Ripken made for himself during his Hall of Fame career. It remains to be seen if Ripken or anyone else from the Orioles mid-1990s teams respond to Zaun's claims.