I like Zaun. I honestly do. That doesn’t mean I don’t know what he is, or how he is, it just means that, all things being equal, I do respect what he’s done in the game and find him personable, honest, and—despite what anyone might think considering his comments on hazing—a caring guy.

Sure, he’s rough edged, gritty, blunt, and matter-o-fact on air. He can also be that way in real life. My point being: what you see is what you get with Zaun. He comes off on air as a blue collar, hardworking, “this is how you play the game” sort of chap because that’s what he is, and, quite frankly, that’s what most fans enjoy about him. He’s the right bit of commonsense, critical, and controversial that makes for good sports entertainment. He’s not always correct, but at least he knows the game, and his opinions are strong, genuine, and forceful. Commoners like his critiques, and high-brow fans like to bash him, and that’s about all you can ask for in the broadcasting racket—a polarizing figure.

But, for better or worse, Zaun is also an example of an old adage: you can take the player out of the game, but you can’t take the game out of the player.

I have no doubt that what Zaun said happened to him while with the Orioles actually happened. I’ve seen similar things happen myself, and heard tales of worse from the baseball men I’ve known in my day. But something I’m very intimately acquainted with is how dangerous it can be for former players to talk about real things that happened inside of baseball when outside of baseball, unless they are ready to condemn it, or are so famous their word is automatically accepted as self-evident truth. That’s because, once you’re outside of the baseball vacuum, things you once did or witnessed without objection, suddenly look disgusting, abhorrent and incriminating, even if they are truthful recitations.

Lots of rookies are or have been physically abused. Talking about it happening is not odd. It happening beyond rookies is not odd, either. In fact, I can tell you that, even just last year, I had big league player friends who, after winning, would surrounded the player who go the winning hit and rip their jersey off and smack them on the back and ass  and head so hard it left welts and bruises. This, according to my source, was not questioned, but encouraged. Even by the clubhouse guys who had to replace the jerseys.

If I named the name and team, what happens next? Am I an attention whore? Do I know what I’m talking about? Are they crazed animals? Is it just boys being boys? 

If anything, the casual way in which Zaun has always dispensed his baseball world view should really clue you in to the fact it was genuine. He’s not the type of guy that needs to lie to be relevant, he just needs to be himself and someone’s ears will inevitably perk up—he’s good for a headline splash at least once a year.

Yet I also know why those individuals involved in his tale would say he was lying. I mean, if you were a legend on a pedestal being accused of abuse from a backup player with nowhere near the social clout you have, wouldn’t you say he was full of *#@$? Even if he was thanking you for the abuse?

But the finger pointing and denial is not the disappointing thing—that’s to be expected. It’s that Zaun thinks that a culture of bare knuckle instruction still needs to happen in the game, or that, it is somehow virtuous in the face of all the other methods of instruction and team building a multimillion dollar organization has access to.

If you talk about beat downs to build up inside the closed circles of the game, the logic makes sense. It’s not questioned. Boys will be boys. They will do crazy things. You get your education through abuse and embarrassment until you learn how to play the game the right (contextually speaking, always) way. That kind of treatment might work in environments were you either endure or give up your dream, but it can also do a lot of damage, especially to youth trying to follow in the footsteps of their heroes.

Even so, these acts have been, for all my baseball life, unquestioned tenants by which the game operates. Ironically, most of it even goes unquestioned by fans. Think of how many rants have have flooded the internet on how the Puigs and Harpers of the world should get the hell beaten out of them to show them their place.

My goodness, if you don’t think players, both legends and scrubs a like, endorse physical violence as a way of teaching lessons, think back to how many times you’ve heard one or the other endorse bean balls and brush backs as a solution. Think of how many fans encourage it to happen to A-Rod now!

Men beating other men to show rank and position is not a some fantastic concoction, it’s one of competitive sports inherent principles. It’s one of history’s inherent principles. And most of the time it’s justified after the fact as a learning tool. Rarely ever is it owned as an extension of ego or arrogance.

Many people think Zaun is a jerk for pulling the great Iron Man into a tarnishing tale, he’s not. And if Ripken did what Zaun says, it doesn’t make him a bastard, but one of many men who thought they played the game “the right way.” I don’t judge them for that, but I do find it unnecessary to promote the behavior further.

Indeed, it’s that vacuum that bothers me most of all. Many think baseball needs to operate inside of some protective shell, where acceptance of depraved behavior is the either the cause of, reward for, or way to teach success.

It’s not.

Then there are those who think that without such behavior the game would implode.

It won’t.

As Hemingway wrote, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”