Zaun tells his side of Hillenbrand saga
Comments by former teammate prompt catcher's response
TORONTO -- Gregg Zaun didn't want to get involved. When he was approached in Toronto's clubhouse on Wednesday night and asked about Shea Hillenbrand, the typically vocal catcher decided he didn't want to comment on the situation.
When Hillenbrand began to include Zaun's name in published reports about the clubhouse incident that took place before Wednesday's game, though, the catcher wanted to step up and defend himself.
Yes, he was involved to a certain extent. No, he wasn't the anonymous teammate of Hillenbrand's who called him a "cancer" in a column that appeared in a Toronto newspaper. Zaun just wants his side of this story to be heard -- now that Hillenbrand's story has him right in the middle of it.
"If he wants to drag me into this and point fingers at me, let him," Zaun said on Friday. "It would've been extremely easy for him and for everybody had he just taken the stance that this was a mutual parting of ways -- that it was a postive thing for all included -- and left it at that."
The Jays officially parted ways with Hillenbrand by completing a three-player trade with the Giants on Saturday morning. Toronto sent Hillenbrand and right-handed reliever Vinnie Chulk to San Francisco in exchange for pitcher Jeremy Accardo.
During Wednesday's game against Texas, Toronto designated Hillenbrand for assignment after he went on an angry pregame tirade, attacking the organization. Prior to the game, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons angrily confronted Hillenbrand in a closed-door meeting about a message that the player wrote on a dry-erase board in the clubhouse.
Hillenbrand admitted that he wrote part of the message, but in an article in the Toronto Star on Friday, he said that Zaun was also involved in the incident. In the story, Hillenbrand also suggested Zaun may have been the voice behind a pair of anonymous quotes that were in print.
According to Zaun, Hillenbrand had written, "Play for yourselves," on the board -- a message that the catcher believes was meant as a joke, but one he didn't feel was appropriate. At that point, Zaun went to the board and added, "Or your paychecks." He then turned to Hillenbrand and said, "Isn't this what you really mean?" before erasing the words.
"I completely and 100 percent believe him when he says he was trying to be funny," Zaun said. "But taking everything into context, I just didn't think it was the right time and I didn't think it was productive.
"When somebody who's been truculent with the media and with the front office and coaches about his own personal position and his own personal role on his ballclub," Zaun added, "when he writes something down with that kind of sentiment on the board, it is very hard to believe that he is joking."
Hillenbrand has denied writing the third message, which read, "This is a sinking ship." Zaun couldn't confirm that Hillenbrand had written that part of the note, either, but Gibbons said that was what caused him to confront the designated hitter.
"Yeah, [he wrote that]," Gibbons said on Thursday. "That's a fact. That's how the whole thing got started anyway. I just thought the timing of it all and the meaning of it -- the circumstances -- either you're with us or you're not."
Gibbons wouldn't say how he heard about the note, and Zaun wanted to let everyone know he wasn't the messenger.
"I did not go to John Gibbons and say, 'Guess what Shea's writing on the board?'" Zaun said. "I did not do that. Nor am I the anonymous quotes that identified Shea as a 'cancer' or that his entire personality was dictated by whether or not his name was in the lineup."
Zaun said that he addressed the entire team in the closed-door meeting before Gibbons entered the room. He insisted that his message to his teammates was not directed at any one individual.
"I did tell the entire group, 'Do not let your personality be dictated by whether or not you're in the lineup every day,'" Zaun said. "One of my teammates used the words that I said in that players-only meeting that was supposed to have been kept private, hid behind the anonymity, and used my own quotes. Of course Shea is going to think it was me."
Zaun said he gave his message to the whole group because the Blue Jays have a number of players who have split roles, including himself. Zaun entered this year with the belief that he would be Toronto's No. 1 option behind the plate, but the club signed catcher Bengie Molina in February.
"I've tried to set an example for this ballclub, using my own personal situation as an example of how to handle things the right way," Zaun said. "I've been around for a long time and I've made several mistakes in the past out of immaturity.
"I've learned that trying to wage a war with the coaching staff or front office through the media is a no-win situation for a player," Zaun said. "All it does it make you look like the bad guy. I've had personal talks with [Hillenbrand] in the past, where I've asked him, 'Please, for the good of the team, put your feelings aside and embrace the situaton. We need you on the field out there.'"
Zaun said that despite the fact that Hillenbrand has involved him in the aftermath of Wednesday's events, he'd be willing to talk to his former teammate again to clear up any leftover issues.
"He's got my phone number. He can call me," Zaun said. "We have the same agent. He knows how to get in touch with me. It's an unfortunate situation. It's unfortunate that we're still talking about this."
After all, Zaun didn't want to talk about it from the start.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.