SARASOTA, Fla. - Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. and others today have disputed recent remarks made by former catcher Gregg Zaun that detailed alleged rookie hazing in the Orioles clubhouse. And Zaun is backing off those claims, which upset some of his ex-teammates who insist that the stories were greatly exaggerated or fabricated.
Zaun said today that accusations he made on a Toronto radio station last week of harsh treatment supposedly led by Ripken actually was nothing more than “a little horseplay, a little tomfoolery,” that is common throughout the majors.
Zaun softened his stance considerably while we spoke this afternoon and expressed regret that the remarks, posted on a Toronto blog, portrayed Ripken and others - including current vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson, catcher Chris Hoiles and pitcher Ben McDonald - as condoning bullying tactics. He remains friends with many of his old teammates, speaking by phone to Ripken today and exchanging text messages with Anderson after the article was posted.
Currently a Blue Jays analyst, Zaun was appearing on “Prime Time Sports” with hosts Bob McCown and Ken Reid. According to the blog entry, he spoke of being struck repeatedly in the ribcage during one incident with the Orioles and being taped “spread eagle” to the training table. He also recounted how Ripken wrestled him to the floor in the back of the team charter because he dared to cross an imaginary line.
“I talked to him because he’s a friend of mine. I consider him a good friend,” Ripken said today. “I don’t know how it got all out of whack. He apologized and said he used the wrong words. There was no abuse, there was no hazing. It doesn’t do anything for team unity. He knows that and everybody who knows me knows that.”
I spoke to other veterans on those teams who stated that rookie hazing never took place and Ripken never drew an imaginary line at the back of the plane to prevent young players from entering. In fact, he would invite them to the rear of the charter to learn how to clean blue crabs, which he’d occasionally provide on flights.
I’ve also been told that the horseplay that did occur wasn’t confined to rookies. Teammates would try to pin Ripken, Anderson and others on a table, with former pitcher Rick Sutcliffe usually an instigator, but never with the intent of hurting or humiliating anyone.
When rookie reliever Armando Benitez refused to wear the outrageous clothes provided by veterans in 1995 as part of the traditional rookie pranking - throwing a tantrum in the clubhouse because his suit was missing - Ripken calmed him down and stayed with him. That’s one example of his disdain for the ritual.
As for Anderson, he’s known for being, as he described it, an “anti-hazer.”
“I never did that to anyone,” Anderson said. “I don’t believe in rookie hazing or status based on tenure and that nonsense. Hated it then and wouldn’t put up with it as a rookie, and certainly didn’t carry on a tradition I thought was absurd.
“I didn’t do it and wouldn’t allow it done to me. I’ve always felt that it’s hard enough to feel comfortable as a rookie and a veteran’s job was to include them and make them feel a part of the team. We want them to perform and help us win games and I never understood how being dismissive of them or dressing them up in silly costumes was a logical path to that desired outcome.”
During the radio interview, Zaun mentioned how he met Anderson in instructional league. However, Anderson came to the Orioles via a trade with the Red Sox in 1988 and never played in the instructional league.
Zaun later wore Anderson’s No. 9 and sought the outfielder’s advice on hitting when he’d fall into a major slump. Their relationship remained strong through the years.
Zaun said he was trying to convey on radio how veterans with the Blue Jays need to take charge of the clubhouse if they feel that changes are required and attitudes need adjusting.
“Basically, I’m on with Bob McCown and I was asked about perceived problems with the (Blue Jays) clubhouse atmosphere and some issues spoken about by the media in Toronto, and I said veteran players are in charge of that and if they have an unsatisfying clubhouse atmosphere, it’s on them,” said Zaun, the nephew of former Orioles catcher and current MASN analyst Rick Dempsey. Zaun played in Baltimore from 1995-96 and again in 2009.
“I said I was lucky enough to have been mentored by guys like Cal, Brady, Chris Hoiles, Ben McDonald, Kevin Bass, etc. You name them and I was there with those guys. I was telling stories about tomfoolery, a little roughhousing on planes and whatnot, and I guess some of the phrases that I used may have rubbed people the wrong way or painted Cal especially in a light that was unfair. It was one of those things where a blogger here in Toronto took quotes from a radio interview and completely eliminates the enthusiasm and gratitude I was trying to show toward having been mentored by these guys - guys like Cal Ripken, who had a ton of things going on in his life with The Streak and everything.
“It’s not a prerequisite that veteran players take the time to teach young players what to do and not do. I’m not trying to suggest anything but positive things about former teammates like Cal. I’m thankful and lucky to be part of the Orioles clubhouse at that point. Don’t know if I would have lasted as long as I did without them.
“It was nothing more than a little horseplay, a little tomfoolery, nothing that doesn’t happen in any other clubhouse. It’s sad that Cal would even have to address it. I was trying to pay respect to him and the time he spent with me, guys way younger than him. I always looked up to him since I was a 10-year-old kid and he was rooming with my Uncle Rick. I’m thankful these guys even took the time out of their day and it was flattering that they were trying to show me what I should be doing.”
Zaun also described the atmosphere as “boys will be boys.”
“I was respectful of the clubhouse atmosphere, but I made mistakes and I took liberties with guys I knew since I was 10 and they reminded me that I wasn’t there yet,” he said. “If veterans (in Toronto) are unhappy with the clubhouse situation that’s going on, I feel like it’s their fault and you reap what you sow. You want young players to be respectful of the game. My storytelling was out of respect about being mentored by guys who were the best to ever play the game. I will always be grateful for those lessons.
“I’m a storyteller and I was trying to be funny. I never felt that I was excluded. I felt part of the team, not ostracized. I apologize for any drama that I caused.”