PEORIA, Ariz. — Concerned that his surgically repaired right shoulder wouldn’t hold up all season, catcher Gregg Zaun decided to retire after a 16-year big league career that included a World Series championship.
The 39-year-old Zaun, in the San Diego Padres’ spring camp on a minor league contract, caught his first game Sunday since a June 15 operation to repair the labrum in his throwing shoulder.
"I feel great but my arm is a question mark," Zaun said Monday. "I feel like my health would have been a concern for me all year long. I would have spent another year in the training room all year long and that’s not baseball to me. I still have a romantic image of the game in my head but my body’s telling me it’s time to quit."
Zaun was competing for a job backing up Nick Hundley.
After Sunday’s game, Zaun said he was pleased with his physical progress but was concerned about his shoulder’s stamina and wasn’t sure when he would be ready to play.
"I’m not Pudge (Ivan Rodriguez) or Carlton Fisk or one of the game’s great catchers but I do have a certain amount of expectation when it comes to my level of play," Zaun said. "I didn’t think based on what I’ve felt and seen so far that I would be ready to catch every day by opening day if something happened to Nick."
Zaun hit .265 with two homers and 14 RBIs in 28 games with the Milwaukee Brewers last season. He had surgery for a tear in his right shoulder last June.
He made his big league debut with the Baltimore Orioles in 1995 and played for nine teams. Zaun had a .252 career average with 88 homers and won a World Series title with the Florida Marlins in 1997.
"You think about how well he did for himself," Hundley said. "I mean, you ask anybody in this room if they’d take a 16-year career with a World Series championship. I bet every one of them would say yes. I know I would. You’re just happy for him, proud of him that he went out when out when he wanted to go out. It takes a lot of courage. It was my pleasure to get to know him for a couple of weeks."
Hundley started 73 games last year, his second full season in the bigs.
Manager Bud Black thinks Hundley is beyond needing a veteran such as Zaun as a backup or to share time. The Padres had Henry Blanco in that role two years ago and Yorvit Torrealba last season.
"We think Nick is past that point," Black said. "We’re hoping that in the next year or two he becomes that guy that can help a younger catcher. The two guys we’ve had the last couple years have been very solid. Henry was outstanding. Yorvit and Nick worked great together. Both were very unselfish.
"We’re hoping that Nick takes that step forward where he can catch a lot of games."
Two other catchers with big league experience in camp are Rob Johnson, acquired in an off-season trade with Seattle, and Guillermo Quiroz, signed as a minor league free agent.
Johnson said his thought process hasn’t changed with Zaun’s retirement.
"Obviously you give a guy like that credit. To have that long of a career is amazing," Johnson said. "But as far as I’m concerned, you’ve got to take care of yourself, you’ve got to get your own work in, control the things that you can control."