Let’s Remember Don Zimmer and His 66 Years in the Game!

Let’s Remember Don Zimmer and His 66 Years in the Game!

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Let’s Remember Baseball Lifer Don Zimmer and His 66 Years in the Game!

“Hey, it’s been a great ride for me, a great life. Everything I have I owe to baseball. Baseball owes me nothin’.  Ain’t nobody has to give me nothin’. I would be embarrassed if I had a day somewhere. I don’t want no day. I want friends, to live my life the way I wanna live it.”  –Don Zimmer

Ah yes…Great words spoken like a true baseball lifer. And when you’ve been in the game for 66 years, you qualify as a lifer!

My recent post on Tommy Lasorda got me to thinking about one of his teammates from the great Brooklyn Dodger teams of the early 1950’s: Don “Popeye” Zimmer.  

Like Tommy, Zim was also a baseball lifer whose career covered a continuous span of 65 years. Claiming he never drew a paycheck outside of baseball, Zim broke in professionally with the Class-D Cambridge Dodgers of the Eastern Shore League in 1949, and was still in the game as an advisor to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2014, the year of his death.

Zim made his major league debut with the Dodgers in 1954, and over his 12-year career played for the Dodgers, Cubs, Mets, Reds, Senators, and Toei Flyers in Japan. Primarily a utility infielder, Zim batted .235, with 773 hits, 91 home runs, and 352 RBI. Zim was regarded as a fine defensive infielder, always willing to fill in at third baseshortstop, and second base when needed. He was a member of two Dodgers World Series championship teams (1955 and ’59); and was selected to the National League All-Star team in 1961.

Following his playing days, in 1967 Zim started on a 47-year coaching and managing career at both the minor and major league levels. In the majors, he managed the Padres, Red Sox, Rangers, and Cubs, compiling a 885-858 (.508) record. In 1989, he managed the Cubs to a division title and was named Manager of the Year. He coached for 11 different major league teams, most notably serving as the Yankee bench coach under Joe Torre (1996-2003) during which time the team won four World Series titles.

Some of memorable moments from Zim’s long career include:

  • In 1953, Zim nearly died after being hit in the temple with a pitch. He suffered a brain injury that required surgery, and was not fully conscious for 13 days. This led to major league baseball adopting batting helmets. He was beaned again in 1956 when a fastball broke his cheekbone.
  • In 1962, Zim became one of the “Original Mets,”choosing him from the Cubs as their fifth pick.
  • Zim was the third base coach in Game Six of the 1975 World Series. The Red Sox had the bases loaded and none out in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied. Zim yelled “No! No! No!” to Denny Doyle on third after a short fly ball. Unfortunately, Doyle thought he yelled, “Go! Go! Go!” and was thrown out at the plate in a crucial play, setting the stage for Carlton Fisk’s dramatic home run.
  • In spite of winning more than 90 games in each of his three seasons as Red Sox manager, but he is best remembered for the collapse of the 1978 season. The Sox led at one point by as many as 14 games, but lost a one-game playoff to the Yankees on Bucky Dent’s dramatic home run. Many fans still blame Zim’s refusal to start Bill “Spacman” Lee – who Zim hated, but who had great success in his career against the Yankees – as the decision that cost the Sox the pennant.
  • Fans remember his “brawl” withPedro Martínez in the 2003 American League Championship Series, when Zimmer ran at Martinez and Martinez threw him to the ground.
  • While sitting on the Yankee bench, Zim was once hit by a sharply hit foul ball. The next game, Zim appeared in the dugout wearing an army helmet with the word “ZIM” painted on the side.
  • From the 2008 season to his death, Zimmer was one of the last former Brooklyn Dodgers (besides pitcher Don Newcombe and announcerVin Scully) still in baseball in some capacity.

Zim’s last baseball job was as a senior advisor for the Tampa Bay Rays. Every year, Zim incremented his uniform number by one to match the number of years he has worked in baseball. During the 2014 season he wore #66, which has been retired by the Rays. One of the most beloved figures in the game, Don Zimmer died at age 83 on June 4, 2014. Zim has been elected to the Red Sox Hall of Fame.

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Gary Livacari

Photo Credits: All from Google search

Information: Excerpts edited from the Don Zimmer Wikipedia page.

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I'm a baseball historian who also loves to write. My forte is identifying ballplayers in old photos, and my specail interest is the Dead Ball Era.

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