Sunday, January 31, 2021

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: The Gregg Zaun Chronicles

 I don't know if you guys have been keeping track, but January I was doing these Topps Cards That Should Have Been posts in alphabetical order. Just a little challenge. Ah, let's see if I can do a Q name, so on, things like that.

So that should explain why I'm posting a ton of customs of switch-hitting backup catcher Gregg Zaun on the last day of January.

......look, it was either him or Todd Zeile.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of things to talk about regarding Gregg Zaun and Topps' gaps in documenting his career on cards. It may be a niche guy to include, but he played throughout the 2000s and was a reliable choice for catcher when other guys wouldn't do. 

As this project starts in 2000, we begin with Gregg Zaun's 2000 season in Kansas City. In 83 games he hits .274, and the starting gig is his for a bit.

Flash-forward to 2003:

Zaun spends 2002 in Houston backing up Brad Ausmus, which he continues to do for 2003, as he hits .217 in 59 games as backup. That doesn't seem to cut it for Houston, and they release him. 

Only for the Colorado Rockies, who need a solid backup option for Charles Johnson, to pick him up. Zaun does miles better with the Rox, hitting .261 with 3 homers in 15 games. 

Then, in 2004, Gregg Zaun figured out that the key to his longevity in the bigs would be playing in Canada. So he signed a minor league deal with the Expos, which would have been an opportunity to play in Montreal in their last season. However, the Expos had Brian Schneider, strike one, and they were going forward with Einar Diaz as a backup, strike two. Which means the Expos had no use for Gregg Zaun, and released him.

About a week into the season, the Toronto Blue Jays realized that their catching options, including Kevin Cash and Greg Myers, were too thin, and they went...not far, and got Gregg Zaun. Zaun quickly became the starting option in Toronto, hitting .269 in 107 games with a 2.3 WAR. Here, Zaun's scorching run in Toronto begins, and the Jays fans couldn't be any more here for it.

Topps, on the other hand, seems to miss the boat. No Zaun cards in Update, which is a foresight, even if it is a low-tier Jays team.

It becomes even more infuriating in 2005 when Gregg Zaun has his best season. Yeah, that's right. Out of all the hitters in Toronto in 2005, including Vernon Wells, Orlando Hudson, Eric Hinske, Alex Rios and Aaron Hill, you know who has the highest WAR? SWITCH-HITTING CATCHER GREGG ZAUN. He only hits .251 with 61 RBIs, but his defensive numbers are so impressive that it propels him to a 3.6 WAR. Which is huge. No longer the backup, Zaun has a beautiful year in Toronto, cements his status as a Canadian legend, and doesn't have to worry about moving around for a bit.

After this season, Topps listens up and makes Gregg Zaun cards in flagship for the next 4 seasons. Zaun is the primary option at catcher for the Jays for the next few seasons, then in 2009 he signs with the Orioles to start. Only problem is that in 2009, the Orioles bring up a guy named Matt Wieters to play catcher, and Zaun's numbers aren't enough to stop him from usurping his playing time. So the O's trade him.

Thankfully they trade him to a decent team that needed catching options behind Dioner Navarro. So Gregg Zaun gets to compete with the Rays. Unfortunately, thanks to a dismal September, the Rays don't make the postseason. Zaun still hits .287 with 14 RBIs in 34 games. The trade happens after the Update cutoff, so no Topps card. In fact, Topps kind of checks out as far as Zaun is concerned.

In 2010, the Brewers sign Zaun to look over the two burgeoning catchers they have, George Kottaras and Jonathan Lucroy. Zaun's 39, he's clearly just doing this to play, not really worrying about numbers. He actually does fairly well, hitting .265 in 28 games. He's still a decent defender but he's...39. On May 20th, he gets injured, sits out the rest of the season...and it's not looking good for him as a defensive catcher. 

Zaun would try one more season, signing a minor league contract with the Padres in 2011. Just to see if anything was left in the tank. He tried his best, but he really couldn't find any of his former strength left, and retired out of camp. Dignified way to leave, but he did it on his own terms.

And he's been a Jays broadcaster ever since, which means, yes, Toronto has been very kind to him. For a guy who was thinking he'd be a backup in different cities, Gregg Zaun sure found a stationary home there, which is nice.

1 comment:

  1. Really, Todd Ziele would have been fine as well. As always, the career recaps are appreciated!