Zaun breaks silence on Mitchell Report
Catcher says check was for money he owed to Grimsley
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Gregg Zaun got up from his locker on Thursday and headed toward the weight room. Toronto's catcher had just finished discussing various issues facing the Blue Jays pitching staff and was getting ready to wrap up his morning workout.
One thing that Zaun wasn't willing to discuss yet was his being named in the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. As he walked through the clubhouse inside the Bobby Mattick Training Center, Zaun said he'd provide his side of the story when the time was right.
"I'll talk when I'm ready to do it, how I want to do it and when I want to do it," Zaun said.
After two months of silence from the veteran catcher, that time came on Friday -- one day before Toronto's first official Spring Training workout. Zaun agreed to an interview via e-mail with a reporter from the National Post, and his explanation appeared in the Friday edition of the newspaper.
Zaun is well-known for being one of the most accessible and vocal players inside Toronto's clubhouse. When his name surfaced in the Mitchell Report, though, Zaun took an uncharacteristically silent stance, changing his phone number and avoiding media requests. He said he simply needed time to take in what happened and added that he consulted lawyers before opening up.
"I usually have a lot to say about things," Zaun wrote in the e-mail exchange. "But in this case, my breath was completely taken from me at that moment, and I needed time to completely digest it all. I was rendered speechless and completely caught off guard.
"I responded in an uncharacteristic manner because I wasn't at all prepared for some of the things that were written about me."
On Friday, Zaun took some time to elaborate on his silence with reporters in Florida, admitting that he was upset that the media didn't seem to understand his hesitation to speak. Considering that the allegations against Zaun contained in the Mitchell Report dated as far back as 2001, Zaun wanted to take time to try to remember what might have happened.
"The one thing that I didn't understand was with the seriousness of the situation," Zaun said on Friday, "nobody could really say that we understand why Gregg Zaun is taking his time. They were just like, 'Here's our media guy. He's the one that we go to for quotes. He's always got something to say about everything, yet he's unwilling to talk.'
"I think a lot of people misunderstood my silence. All I was trying to do was do the right thing for me and my family by gathering all of the information and getting it as organized as possible, so that when I did decide to do this, and the time was right for me, that I had all of the information that was possibly available to me so I could give it to you."
According to the Mitchell Report, which cited the testimony of Kirk Radomski, a former Mets employee who aided the investigation by providing names of players as part of a plea bargain with the federal government, Zaun sent him a check worth $500 to purchase steroids when he was with the Royals in 2001.
Included in the Report is a scanned image of the check, which Radomski said was used to obtain Deca-Durabolin and Winstrol -- two specific types of anabolic steroids. The check bears Zaun's signature, and Radomski said the drugs were delivered to Kansas City's clubhouse.
Radomski also indicated that he believed Zaun was referred to him by former pitcher Jason Grimsley, who purchased more than $35,000 worth of steroids and human growth hormone from Radomski between 2001 and '05, according to the Report. That's where Zaun's explanation comes into play.
The 36-year-old catcher said that he owed Grimsley $500 -- possibly for losing a bet on a basketball game -- and he gave the check to the pitcher without penning Grimsley's name on the document. From there, it's Zaun's belief that Grimsley scribbled Radomski's name on the check and used it to buy steroids.
"You're talking about one check of thousands that I've written over the last seven years," Zaun said on Friday. "I'm supposed to recall why and when and to whom and where? That was nearly impossible for me to figure out, but when I went through the document and I looked at it, I could tell right away that the only parts of the check that were mine were my signature and possibly the $500 in the box.
"I knew right away there was something wrong. I wanted to at least offer up an explanation for how my name ends up in that report. Maybe people come away from this and think there's a possibility that this could've happened, because that's the way I remember it happening."
In the Mitchell Report, there are numerous copies of checks submitted to Radomski by Grimsley. Some of the writing on the check bearing Zaun's signature resembles writing on checks written by the former pitcher. By now, Zaun said he would've shredded his personal copy of the check.
"I would gladly produce the check if I knew where it was," Zaun said. "The photocopy in the Mitchell Report is clear enough. I knew right away I hadn't finished writing that check when I saw it."
As for why he'd write a check without making it out specifically to Grimsley, who was a teammate and close friend of Zaun's in Kansas City, Zaun said he's done that before "dozens of times." In all likelihood, if Zaun owed the money over a lost bet, the catcher said he probably wrote the check quickly and tossed it in disgust at the pitcher.
"I can't say with certainty whether I owed him, he was borrowing from me or that it involved a bet on a basketball game," he continued. "It's more than likely I was still mad about losing the bet, so I wrote $500 in the box, signed it, then flipped it at him in disgust."
Zaun said that he was not personally contacted by Sen. George Mitchell about discussing the allegations. The investigators approached the players' union and didn't provide a clear indication of Zaun's involvement in the Report. Zaun declined to meet with Mitchell, but said he would've acted differently had he known the extent of the accusations against him.
"Had I known anything about the Radomski situation, you can believe I would have met with them to discuss it," Zaun said. "But they wouldn't tell me or any of the other guys they named in the report or anything. I would have told them what I've told you and maybe avoided this mess."
Initially, Zaun said he believed his part in the Mitchell Report stemmed from an incident involving Luis Perez, a former bullpen catcher for the Montreal Expos. In 2002, Perez was arrested after trying to convince a Marlins employee to bring a duffel bag containing marijuana back to Florida.
Perez told investigators from the Commissioner's Office during an interview in January 2003 that he personally supplied Zaun, and seven others, with anabolic steroids. The report claims that Perez spent time as a bullpen catcher in 1998, when Zaun was with the Marlins, but Zaun said he doesn't remember him.
"If he was there, and selling stuff to players on that team, it's news to me," Zaun said. "Our bullpen catcher was a kid named Marcelino Lugo. We went through a few that year because most of them couldn't throw the ball back to the pitcher. If Perez was an employee, it wasn't in the bullpen, by my recollection."
Zaun said he believes that the former bullpen catcher gave names to investigators simply to avoid jail time. Zaun cooperated with investigators when he was named in 2003 and -- before baseball's mandatory drug testing program took effect -- even volunteered to undergo random testing for steroids and recreational drugs. Zaun said he passed every test he was given.
"His mother is sitting across the table, telling him he better give up someone," Zaun said. "What would you do? My guess is that he made up eight names of guys he could remember that were probably still playing. Active players are obviously juicier targets.
"[The Mitchell investigators] were unwilling to tell me why they wanted to talk, just that they wanted to talk. They would not share any information with me. I didn't feel the need to rehash the Perez situation, so I said 'No, thank you.'"
Zaun's version of the events that led to his inclusion in the Mitchell Report would undoubtedly be aided by corroboration from Grimsley. Even so, the catcher said he doesn't plan on asking Grimsley to address the subject and Zaun also said he has no intention of pursuing legal action against the former pitcher.
"I'm not upset with him. I'm not upset with anybody," Zaun said. "I just want to say it one time. I didn't buy drugs from Luis Perez. I didn't buy drugs from Radomski -- not directly or through Jason Grimsley. I offered up the best explanation I could for the check and that's it. Now, all I want to do is just get on with the business of playing baseball."
When the National Post obtained word of the apparent check mishap from an unnamed source, the newspaper approached Zaun about the matter. It was at that point that Zaun decided the time had come to offer his side of the story.
"I decided now was the time to act," Zaun wrote. "I'm sorry it took me so long. I know people misunderstood my silence."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.