Todd Zeile is a “Gnarls Gnarlington.” What does that mean? I couldn’t tell you. Just add it to the plethora of things to come out of Charlie Sheen’s mouth lately that are completely staggering.
Charlie Sheen has become pop culture in the last couple weeks. He really did all the work for me in coming up with the ideal player to return with when he mentioned his three favorite sports personalities were Zeile, Reggie Jackson and Mark Cuban. He also mentioned he would like to be Brian Wilson for a few minutes (who wouldn’t want to become one with THE BEARD?), and that the Reds need more starting pitching; so he obviously isn’t that out of it.
That said, let’s take a look at the man who has beguiled Mr. Sheen so much.
Zeile broke into the majors in 1989 as a catcher and the Cardinals’ most anticipated prospect. St. Louis manager Joe Torre wanted to make room for catcher Tom Pagnozzi and believed Zeile would be a more productive hitter with a longer career if he moved from behind the plate. Zeile would spend the majority of his career at third base, where he wasn’t exactly good, and at first base, where he wasn’t much better.
Zeile lead his league in errors by a third baseman on four separate occasions, and had the lowest fielding percentage in the NL in 2002 (.942). And if that weren’t enough, he led all MLB players in errors for the decade of the 1990s. These are the types of things Eric Hinske and Mark Reynolds only wish they could achieve at “the hot corner.”
Despite his obvious defensive shortcomings, and the fact that his offensive output was really just average (his 1997 and 1999 offensive lines were pretty darn good, but not really the stuff of legend, especially considering it was the late 90s), Zeile got the reputation of being a good “team guy”, being “scrappy,” and having “veteran presence”. So he never had any trouble landing work; he just had trouble keeping it.
Zeile also has the proud distinction of having played for 11 major league teams over the course of his career, and he managed to hit at least one home run for each of these 11 teams. This gives Zeile the illustrious accolade as the only player in major league history to have hit a home run for over ten teams. This is the baseball equivalent of dating the entire third string of a college football team. It’s impressive, but not for the right reasons.
Zeile also has the claim to fame of being one of only 41 players ever to hit a home run in his final at-bat, which he did on October 3, 2004 as a New York Met against the Montreal Expos’ Claudio Vargas. Zeile’s home run actually made him the last person ever to hit a home run off a Montreal Expos pitcher, as the Expos moved to Washington the following season. So yes, he did manage to kiss the second string quarterback at a party.
Considering his 253 round trippers rank him currently 189th all-time — in between such players as John Olerud and Bret Boone (expect both of them to eventually make an appearance here) — it’s really amazing he managed these feats.
In 1999, Zeile was part of the historic Texas Rangers “Z-Unit” (no one has ever called them that). Along with, the newly retired, Gregg Zaun and Jeff Zimmerman, he was one of three players on the team whose last names began with “Z”. Not since the 1916 Chicago Cubs had this occurred, when Joe Tinker assembled the all-star cast of Heinie Zimmerman, Dutch Zwilling, and Rollie Zeider. My sources indicate that Cubs team somehow managed to miss the World Series. I will have to get fact checkers on that.
I find it interesting that one of the most underrated second basemen in the game today, Kelly Johnson, has Zeile as his number two batting comp through age 28 (according to baseballreference.com). Johnson could do a whole lot worse (like his number 4 comp Kelly Gruber. Ewww). That being said, Johnson would undoubtedly hope to be remembered for more than an excessive amount of trivia about playing for losing teams.
You have to wonder if Sheen too just has a love of strange baseball players that are almost forgotten. Maybe he just assumes Zeile’s bizarrely historic dingers were as a result of the ultimate PED: tiger blood.
If you have any suggestions for future Obscure Players, drop them in the comments.