Zobrist in December 2015
|Born: May 26, 1981|
|August 1, 2006, for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 29, 2019, for the Chicago Cubs|
|MLB statistics |
(through 2019 season)
|Runs batted in||768|
|Career highlights and awards|
Benjamin Thomas Zobrist (; born May 26, 1981), nicknamed Zorilla, is an American former professional baseball second baseman and outfielder. He played in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays/Rays, his first MLB club and where he spent the majority of his career, as well as for the Oakland Athletics, Kansas City Royals and Chicago Cubs. Zobrist played in three World Series, winning the last two becoming a two-time World Series champion in consecutive seasons of 2015 with the Royals and 2016 with the Cubs. Zobrist was the 2016 World Series Most Valuable Player. He is one of seven players in MLB history to have won back-to back World Series championships on different teams, the other six being Jake Peavy, Jack Morris, Bill Skowron, Clem Labine, Don Gullett, and Ryan Theriot.
A versatile defender and a switch-hitter with a high walk rate, he played roughly half his innings at second base, and also spent significant time at shortstop and various outfield positions. Thus, he has often been referred to as a "super utility player".
Zobrist was born and raised in Eureka, Illinois, by his parents Cynthia "Cindi" (née Cali) and Tom Zobrist, senior pastor of Liberty Bible Church in Eureka. He grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan.
Zobrist played baseball starting when he was eight years old; he and his friends built their own wiffle ball field behind his house. Zobrist attended Eureka High School, graduating in 1999. After no professional scouts or college recruiters considered him by the time he graduated, Zobrist thought baseball was over for him. "Baseball was not even a thought in my mind", Zobrist said, "When I was done with my last high school game, I was driving around town just thinking I'm done with baseball the rest of my life." Zobrist planned to attend Calvary Bible College in Kansas City, Missouri, but his high school coach encouraged him to spend $50 to participate in an annual summer event that showcased seniors in Peoria, Illinois. He played in the showcase, and was given an offer to play college baseball at Olivet Nazarene University, which he accepted. In his time at Olivet, he pitched and also played at shortstop and second base. In 2002 he was named to both the all-CCAC and all-Region VII First Teams, and received NAIA Honorable Mention All-America status. He was named the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year, first team All-Region VII, and first team NAIA All-America in 2003. He transferred to Dallas Baptist University for his senior year, where he played shortstop and batted .378 with a .590 slugging percentage.
Zobrist played for the Twin City Stars of the Central Illinois Collegiate League (Now Prospect League) in 2002 and then in Wausau, Wisconsin, for the Wisconsin Woodchucks of the Summer Collegiate Northwoods League in 2003. He was voted team MVP and led his team to the League Championship.
Zobrist was drafted by the Houston Astros as a shortstop in the sixth round of the 2004 MLB draft. With right-handed pitcher Mitch Talbot, Zobrist was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays for first baseman/designated hitter Aubrey Huff and cash on July 12, 2006.
Zobrist made his MLB debut with Tampa Bay on August 1, 2006. He exclusively played shortstop in his first two seasons with Tampa Bay.
Zobrist struggled through parts of the 2006 and 2007 seasons with the Rays. One day, he met a "swing mechanic" (batting coach) looking for students. The swing coach was able to help Zobrist, and it was evident to the Rays during the 2008 season. "He added the power component", Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said, "He became a lot more physical."
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Zobrist was for the most part used as a right fielder and a back-up shortstop during the 2008 season. In certain situations where a fifth infielder was needed, he or B.J. Upton (a former infielder himself) would be moved in from the outfield during the season. Zobrist went to his first World Series as a player with the Rays in 2008. His versatility was showcased during Game 3 of the 2008 World Series against the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies when he came in as part of a double switch to play right field. However, Zobrist initially played unusually shallow, in essence becoming a fifth infielder.
Zobrist was placed in right field for the beginning of the 2009 season, and was made the starting second baseman after teammate Akinori Iwamura was injured. Zobrist hit three grand slams in 2009, leading the Rays, and was among the league leaders in slugging percentage. He earned a trip to his first All Star Game in St. Louis in 2009. The Tampa Bay Chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America named him MVP of the Rays for 2009.
On April 23, 2010, Zobrist and the Rays agreed to a three-year contract extension through the 2013 season, with a team option for 2014 and 2015, a deal potentially worth $30 million. In 2010, Zobrist batted .238, with a .353 slugging percentage.
On April 28, 2011, Zobrist collected a Tampa Bay Rays record eight RBIs in a 15-3 rout of the Minnesota Twins. Another game was held during the day to make up for a previously rained out game and Zobrist drove in another two runs, making a total 10 RBIs for the day.
On April 8, 2013, Zobrist became the strikeout victim on the disputed call that led to Joe Nathan's 300th career save. Zobrist was named an All Star for the second time of his career. He finished the 2013 season with a .275 batting average, his highest since 2009.
On January 10, 2015, Zobrist was traded to the Oakland Athletics with teammate Yunel Escobar in exchange for John Jaso, Daniel Robertson, and Boog Powell. On opening day with the Athletics, Zobrist hit a two-run homer in his first at-bat. On April 25, 2015, it was revealed that Zobrist had a torn medial meniscus in his left knee, putting him on the 15-day disabled list. The knee required surgery, keeping Zobrist out of action for 4-6 weeks.
On July 28, 2015, Zobrist was traded to the Kansas City Royals for Sean Manaea and Aaron Brooks. He played 59 games in the regular season for Kansas City and finished with a batting average of .284, with 7 home runs, 37 runs scored, and 23 RBIs.
The Royals won the AL Central Division and played the Houston Astros for the ALDS with Zobrist starting in all five games. The Royals advanced to the World Series after defeating the Toronto Blue Jays in six games to become the American League Champions. The Royals won the 2015 World Series after defeating the New York Mets in four of the five games played. Zobrist played second base and batted second in every game of the 2015 Royals postseason. He hit .303 in the 2015 postseason with 66 at bats, 15 runs scored, 20 hits, 2 home runs, and 6 RBIs.
On December 8, 2015, Zobrist agreed to a four-year, $56 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. The signing reunited him with Joe Maddon, his manager when he was a member of the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2016, he batted .272/.386/.446 and led the major leagues in walks-per-strikeout at 1.17.
In Game 4 of the 2016 National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants with the Cubs having a 2-1 series lead, Zobrist drove in Kris Bryant to score the first run in the top of the ninth and later scored the tying run on a two-run single by Willson Contreras. The Cubs scored another run later that inning, sending them to the National League Championship Series. Following the Cubs' Game 7 victory in the 2016 World Series, after driving in the first of two go-ahead runs in the top of the 10th inning, he was named the World Series Most Valuable Player and received his second World Series ring.
In 2017, Zobrist played in 159 games, batting .232/.318/.375. Playing five different positions, he committed only three errors and had a fielding percentage of .991. He was a finalist for the Gold Glove Award at second base, along with Dee Gordon and winner DJ LeMahieu.
In 2019, Zobrist started the season playing in 26 games before being placed on the restricted list on May 6 to deal with a family matter. Following rumors throughout the next months, Zobrist announced his return in late July 2019, and began rehab assignments with the South Bend Cubs and Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Zobrist also had his first Major League pitching appearance in September 2019, striking out Yadier Molina. In 2019 he batted .260/.358/.313 with one home run in 150 at bats.
In February 2020, Jon Heyman reported that Zobrist was not planning to play in the 2020 season. Zobrist confirmed his retirement on March 6, and said he was open to joining the Cubs in a non-player capacity "down the line".
Zobrist was an above-average hitter with a career slash line of .264/.354/.429 and a wRC+ of 118. He accomplished this with a patient, contact-based approach; his swing rate was one of the lowest in the league, leading to a walk rate of 12.5% and a contact rate of 85.3%. He was also an above-average baserunner, who had 102 stolen bases at a success rate of 74%.
Zobrist was noted for his defensive versatility. He played over 4,200 defensive innings at second base, over 2,200 in right field, over 1,700 at shortstop, and over 500 innings at other outfield positions. Zobrist was rated by UZR as a significantly above-average defender at second and in right, and a marginally below-average defender at shortstop.
His nickname, "Zorilla," was given to him by his manager Joe Maddon while playing for the Rays in 2009. Zobrist chose "Zorilla" as his nickname for the Players Weekend during the 2017 season.
Zobrist lives in Franklin, Tennessee. He and his ex-wife, singer Julianna Zobrist, have three children, one of whom was born five days after Zobrist's Royals won the 2015 World Series. Julianna gave birth to Blaise Royal the day after the Royals World Series parade. In May 2019, Ben Zobrist filed for legal separation in Tennessee on the same day that Julianna Zobrist filed for divorce in Illinois.
Zobrist is a former counselor for Camp of Champions USA, a Christian summer day camp in central Illinois. He speaks at church events about his early life and success, which he credits all to God. Zobrist often talks about his Christian faith, saying God helped him realize that he was supposed to play baseball. "I just felt like everything fell into place so much, that this is what I was supposed to do. This is what I was made to do." He and former teammate Gabe Gross have talked about how they organize Bible studies with their teammates.St. Pete Times writer Mark Topkin wrote Zobrist "doesn't judge or proselytize, refraining from forcing his beliefs on anyone, though willing to get involved if asked."
In the 2013 film Ring The Bell, released by Provident Films, Zobrist plays himself in a cameo role alongside Rick Sutcliffe, John Kruk, Mark Hall (also playing themselves), Ryan Scharoun, Ashley Anderson McCarthy, and Casey Bond.