For the past two nights I have had the pleasure of listening to Gregg Zaun do color commentary for the Boston Red Sox-Toronto Blue Jays games on the New England Sports Network (NESN). Zaun filled in for Jerry Remy who has been out of the broadcast booth due to pneumonia.
Zaun played sixteen seasons in the big leagues for nine different teams as a catcher. He retired back in March while in spring training with the San Diego Padres (what would have been his tenth big league team.) Zaun was subsequently hired by Rogers Sportsnet as studio analyst for Toronto Blue Jays games. He had actually performed that role for Rogers Sportsnet over the past several post-seasons and I had heard good things about him from my father. But I think this might have been the first time he was actually in the broadcast booth for a game.
Too often when I watch baseball on FOX, ESPN or the MLB Network, the broadcasters will tell stories at the expense of what is happening out on the field. Sometimes they don’t even talk baseball. New York Yankees TV broadcaster Michael Kay is notorious for this approach. So it’s refreshing to hear someone like Zaun talk about what is happening right in front of us.
For instance, in last night’s game when Blue Jays infielder John McDonald went from second to third on a fly ball by Corey Patterson, Zaun talked about how the Red Sox defensive alignment would change its approach to Jays slugger Jose Bautista.
Or in tonight’s game, Zaun talked about how Red Sox starting pitcher John Lackey kept throwing Patterson inside pitches. Now there’s a school of thought in baseball that a pitcher throws a batter a pitch he can’t handle until he proves he can hit it. Zaun noted that while Patterson isn’t good at hitting that pitch if he sees five or six of those pitches in a row he will make an adjustment. Indeed, Patterson did just that and drove in a run with a single. Zaun said that pitchers need to keep the batter’s eye level moving by varying the ball’s speed and location. Of course, I hear about pitchers needing to change speeds and move the ball around the plate to keep the hitter off balance but I’ve never heard anyone talk about the batter’s eyes when discussing pitch selection. Given that I have watched thousands of baseball games in my lifetime it is rare when I actually learn something new.
Zaun also has a low-key, self-deprecating sense of humor and would be the first to tell you he wasn’t any great shakes as a player. But I think Zaun’s ascent in baseball has only just begun. If given the chance he might turn out to be the best announcers or analyst in the game. Not one of the best but the best. Zaun also has the knowledge and skill to be a scout, a director of player development or a big league manager should those pursuits be of interest him. Whatever Zaun does in baseball from here on out he will be in the zone. Or should I say in the Zaun?