Gregg Zaun’s flameout follows Sportsnet career filled with controversy


TORONTO — The sudden flameout of Sportsnet broadcaster Gregg Zaun caps a controversy-laced career for one of television’s most outlandish personalities.

Zaun was anything but subtle in his colourful stint as an MLB analyst, a platform he used to regularly criticize the Toronto Blue Jays — most recently calling out ace Marcus Stroman and retired catcher J.P. Arencibia with blunt jabs that polarized fans and players alike.

Behind the scenes, it would seem, the former catcher was brazenly offensive in a different way, with reports now emerging of sexist behaviour involving female co-workers.

Rick Brace, the president of Rogers Media, said in a statement Thursday that the company was immediately terminating Zaun’s contract as an MLB studio analyst, leaving a considerable hole in Sportsnet’s baseball broadcast team. The network leaned heavily on Zaun, featuring him in pre-game and post-game segments as well a mid-game updates.

The reason cited was “inappropriate behaviour and comments” toward female employees in the workplace. There were no allegations of physical or sexual assault.

The bombshell follows years of over-the-top antics that branded the 46-year-old as a strident commentator willing — perhaps even eager — to court controversy.

Indeed, his self-appointed nickname as “the Manalyst” seemed to speak to a readiness to take unpopular positions, even if it involved the beloved home team.

And his brightly coloured outfits were tailor-made to go along with his jarring comments — a fashion statement he admitted was inspired by the similarly churlish Don Cherry, the granddaddy of coarse commentary over his own checkered run with “Hockey Night in Canada.”

But it wasn’t always this way.

Zaun himself admits to a relatively unremarkable 16-year run in the big leagues, albeit one that included a World Series win with the Florida — now Miami — Marlins in 1997.

The California-born Zaun was primarily a back-up in the early days of his professional career, starting with the Baltimore Orioles in 1989. He made his major-league debut with the team in 1995.

Then came the Marlins, and then his run with the Toronto Blue Jays from 2004 to 2008, during which time he debuted as a starting catcher and would prove valuable as a switch-hitter.

It was during this time that Zaun began a part-time broadcasting career with Sportsnet, offering his playoff thoughts following the 2006 season alongside Jamie Campbell.

Controversy tainted his baseball career when his name was included in the Mitchell Report — the 2007 document that followed U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell’s 20-month investigation into performance-enhancing drug use in MLB. Zaun denied that he ever bought PEDs.

Zaun signed with the Orioles again in early 2009 and retired from professional baseball in 2011, when he became a full-time MLB studio analyst with Sportsnet.

The move catapulted him to a new sphere of fame and notoriety, and he repeatedly crossed the line with comments both on the air and in social media.

He took heat in 2012 for a Twitter post in which he called women at a Toronto bar “tubby, unfortunately man-ish, and super stuck up.”

He later apologized amid blowback, but it would be far from his last misstep.

This past April, he called out Stroman for “showboating” on the mound, only to double-down when players complained by calling them “thin-skinned.”

“They’re used to mommy and daddy telling them how pretty they are. I have no problem giving them a dose of reality,” he told the Vancouver Province in October.

It would seem reality has hit back with scrutiny into sexist behaviour in the TV sports world — a testosterone-fuelled industry that some say is long overdue for a reckoning.

Zaun is the first high-profile sports media personality to be held to account for inappropriate behaviour amid an ongoing wave of sexual harassment allegations.

Recent giants who have been fired or implicated in other fields include movie producer Harvey Weinstein, comedian Louis C.K., hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and NBC’s “Today” host Matt Lauer.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press