Sunday, February 22, 2015

Thoughts on Rookie Hazing

A disturbing article in Yahoo Sports and other outlets this morning reports a recent interview given by former MLB catcher and current Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster Gregg Zaun describes in detail hazing he experienced as a young player with the Baltimore Orioles that reached levels of what any reasonable person would classify as physical abuse, even torture.  Zaun went so far as to name the ringleader of the hazing, none other than Cal Ripken Jr., one of the saints of major league baseball.

In one reported incident, Zaun was playing catch in warmups with backup catcher Chris Hoiles and apparently lobbed the ball a bit too softly for Hoiles liking.  Hoiles head-butted the ball which was the attack signal.  Zaun was rushed by several veterans led by Ripken and pummeled around the ribs.  He was then carried into the clubhouse, taped spreadeagled to the training table and had ice poured into his shorts then left alone.

In another incident, Zaun had purchase a suit, his first as a major leaguer.  On the team plane flight, Ripken warned him to "under no circumstances" cross an imaginary line in the aisle leading to the back of the plane.  Ripken later ordered Zaun to come to where Ripken was sitting in the back of the plane.  When Zaun complied, he was attacked by Ripken and multiple veterans who ripped the suit off and smeared it and Zaun with the remains of a blue claw crab meal completely ruining the suit.  The pretense for the attack was Zaun disobeying the first order to not cross the line, while obeying Ripken's second order.

What is even more disturbing is that Zaun goes on to credit this treatment with making him a better ballplayer and to decry the lack of such hazing in the game today.  He specifically singles out Brett Lawrie as a young player he thinks would have benefitted from similar treatment, blaming Lawrie's disappointing MLB career so far on a sense of entitlement that Zaun feels would be eradicated by the hazing process.

For one thing, I am not so sure that Zaun really feels like his own hazing experience was a such a good thing.  The whole story reeks of disingenuousness with Zaun's endorsement of the practice thinly veiling what I suspect is his true mission, striking back at his tormentors from long ago.  By naming a revered former player like Cal Ripken Jr. as a perpetrator then going on to describe the abuse in detail, he may be unintentionally or intentionally releasing years of pent up anger and humiliation, finally getting his revenge by naming names.  I mean, Zaun has to know that bullying and abuse are currently the hottest of hot button topics.  Regardless of his own opinions he has to know that a revelation like this will bring down the wrath of the universe on Ripken, possibly permanently damaging Ripkin's reputation and not in a small way.  Zaun most certainly does not offer any evidence except his own opinion that his experiences as a rookie in Baltimore made him a better player, nor does he offer any evidence other than his own opinion that such treatment would have made Lawrie a better player.

The encouraging part of this story is that Zaun, by decrying the lack of such behavior in today's game, does give evidence that these types of incidents no longer occur, or at least not as often and not as blatantly crossing the line into physical abuse.  After the World Series, the Giants, who were helped immeasurably by several rookies who joined the team during the season, made it a point to emphasize that the rookies were not hazed.  Contrary to the opinion expressed by Zaun, the lack of hazing not only did not make the rookies soft or feel entitled, it actually helped them perform better and was directly responsible for the overall team success.  Hazing of the type described by Gregg Zaun has no place in today's society, and is in no way necessary for the development of young players.  I hope the Giants continue to be leaders in the no-hazing trend and continue to show that respect and fair treatment produce better results on the field than hazing and physical abuse of fellow players.


  1. Lost a longer response, so I'll just say: Great post Dr B.

    And an underrated part of rookie hazing is the financial costs (new suits, dinners for teammates) put on fringe players.

  2. Do any of you remember Gregg Zaun's personal webpage? It was a trip of black, neon, and had a soundtrack/club music that played, I think.

  3. I agree, it's primitive, tribal, immature and childish - physical attacks, or gloating over some player's lack of nutritional discipline, or belittling another (major or minor league) player's on-field struggles, by fans or players.

    A player may be over weight, out of shape, making a lot of money, costing my team a chance to greatness - and I shake my head at it - but life is great than that. And that's our contribution to the we fans respond.

  4. I played HS football & baseball. Hazing was just a way to bully younger and smaller people on the team. It never made anyone a better player. It certainly didn't 'bring out the best' in the bullies or the victims.

    It did cause some people to quit sports. Or to have a negative view of team sports they've carried forward in their lives.

  5. Excellent post. Certainly does diminish my impression of the sainted Ripkin. It will be interesting to see if anyone asks Ripkin about it. More interesting to see how he views his conduct today.

  6. Ripken never was a saint. I've never really understood the extreme infatuation fans have had with him. Solid player, with HOF credentials. I certainly don't want to diminish his accomplishments. But nothing extra special with cheese. He always kind of struck me as Captain Vanilla.

    The trouble with Hazing is it can be a lot of things. If performed by sadistic types, the effect is wildly negative, very destructive. The intent is to harm and establish dominance. But if it is done in the spirit of team-building, I believe it can be a very positive, bonding experience. Having been on the receiving end of both types, there is a definite difference.

    Things like demanding rookie relievers to carry supplies out to the bullpen in a pink My Little Pony backpack is very different from giving someone conflicting orders (putting him into a no win situation) and then physically punishing him for whichever one he violated.