Donald William Zimmer (January 17, 1931 – June 4, 2014) was an American infielder, manager, and coach in Major League Baseball, currently serving as a senior advisor to the Tampa Bay Rays baseball organization. In December 2008, he suffered a stroke, causing loss of speech for a week.
Zimmer, nicknamed "Zim" and sometimes "Popeye" because of his facial resemblance to the cartoon character, began his career in 1949 at Cambridge of the (Maryland) Eastern Shore League. He then played in Hornell, New York, Elmira, New York, Mobile, Alabama, and finally St. Paul, Minnesota before making it to the Major Leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954. At home plate before an Elmira night game in 1951 Zimmer married Soot (Jean), the girl he started dating in 10th grade. Beginning in 1954, his career included 12 seasons in the big leagues. He was a utility infielder with a great team, the 1955 World Series champion Brooklyn Dodgers, and with the 1962 New York Mets, who lost a record 120 games. Zimmer's rise to the Major Leagues was amazing considering he nearly died after being hit with a pitch in the temple while with St. Paul in 1953. He was not fully conscious for 13 days, during which holes were drilled in his skull to relieve the pressure of swelling. His vision was blurred, he could neither walk nor talk and his weight plunged from 170 to 124. He was told he was finished at 22. He was beaned again in 1956 when a Cincinnati Reds fastball broke his cheekbone, but he persevered. Because of these beanings, it has been widely reported that he had a surgically implanted steel plate in his head. This rumor is false, although in 1953 he did have four small holes drilled into his skull to alleviate swelling, which were later filled with four tantalum metal corkscrew-shaped "buttons."
In the major leagues, Zimmer remained with the Los Angeles Dodgers after their move west in 1958, then playing for the Chicago Cubs, the first New York Mets team in 1962, and the Cincinnati Reds; he returned briefly to the Dodgers in 1963, before finishing his career with the Washington Senators.
In 12 seasons, Zimmer played 1095 games. He compiled 773 hits, 91 home runs, 352 RBI, 45 stolen bases and a .235 batting average. He played in the World Series with the Dodgers in 1955 and 1959, and was selected to the National League All-Star team in 1961.
Although he had a low batting average, Zimmer was a fine infielder, willing to fill in at third base, shortstop, and second base. He also caught 33 games in his final season with Washington in 1965. In 1966, his last year as an active player, Zimmer played in Japan with the Toei Flyers.
Coaching and managing careerEdit
After his retirement, Zimmer managed in the minor leagues until 1971 when he joined the Montreal Expos as third base coach. He took a similar job with the San Diego Padres in 1972, but after only 11 games he was called on to replace Preston Gomez as manager.
After being fired by the Padres at the close of the 1973 campaign, he served as the third-base coach for the Boston Red Sox for 2½ seasons. Working under skipper Darrell Johnson, Zimmer's tenure included a memorable event during Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Boston had the bases loaded and none out in the home half of the ninth inning. The score was tied. A soft fly to left field was too shallow to score the winning run, but baserunner Denny Doyle thought Zimmer's shouts of "No! No! No!" were actually "Go! Go! Go!" He ran for home, and was thrown out at the plate. That play, and Dwight Evans' brilliant catch off Joe Morgan in extra innings, set up Carlton Fisk's classic, game-winning home run.
The 1976 Red Sox never got on track under Johnson, and he was fired in July. Zimmer was named acting, then permanent, manager and he led them to winning record, but a disappointing third-place finish in the AL East. The Red Sox would win more than 90 games in each of Zimmer's three full seasons (1977-79) as manager, only the second time they had pulled off this feat since World War I. His 1978 team won 99 games, still the fourth-best record in franchise history.
However, he is best remembered among Red Sox fans for the team's dramatic collapse during the 1978 season. After leading the American League East by as many as 14 games, the Red Sox stumbled in August. They recovered long enough to build a four-game cushion on the surging New York Yankees. However, in a four-game series in early September, that lead evaporated; the Yankees blew out the Red Sox in a series still known as "the Boston Massacre."
The Red Sox spent the last month of the season trading first place with the Yankees, forcing a one-game playoff on October 2. In that game, the Yankees took the lead permanently on a legendary home run by Bucky Dent over the Fenway Park Green Monster.
During this stretch, Zimmer made several questionable personnel moves. He never got along with left-handed starting pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee. As a matter of fact, his outright hatred of Lee (who had nicknamed Zimmer "The Gerbil.") ran so deep, that he gave the starting assignment in the last game of the "Massacre" to rookie Bobby Sprowl, who had only been called up from Triple-A Pawtucket a few days earlier. Reportedly, Carl Yastrzemski pleaded with Zimmer to start Lee, who, along with Luis Tiant, had dominated the Yankees during their careers. (Lee, for example, won 12 out of 17 decisions against the Yankees in 10 years with Boston.) Sprowl allowed four walks, one hit and one run in the first inning before being pulled and made only three more major-league starts.
Zimmer also penciled Fisk, the team's longtime starting catcher, into the lineup 154 times (out of a possible 162). Fisk complained of sore knees for much of this stretch and missed most of the next season with a sore arm. Finally, Zimmer kept third baseman Butch Hobson in the lineup, even though Hobson's elbow miseries (he had floating bone chips which he frequently rearranged before coming to the plate) made it impossible for him to hit for power or average, or throw accurately. Hobson made error after error, until finally Zimmer called on Jack Brohamer to replace him; with Brohamer at third, Boston won its last eight games of the regular season to force a tie with the Yankees. But they lost the playoff game on home runs by Dent and Reggie Jackson.
Zimmer then managed the Texas Rangers, coached three stints with the Yankees, then coached for the San Francisco Giants. In 1989, Zimmer managed the Chicago Cubs to a division title and was named Manager of the Year. Later, he returning to Boston for one season as a coach (under manager Hobson) in 1992. Overall, Zimmer won 906 Major League games as a manager.
Zimmer was on the first coaching staff of the expansion Colorado Rockies in 1993. In 1996, he joined the Yankees as their bench coach for their run of four World Series titles. In 1999, Zimmer filled in for Manager Joe Torre while Torre was recuperating from prostate cancer. Zimmer went 21-15 while guiding the Yankees during Torre's absence. This record however, is credited to Torre's managerial record. Many fans know him for his "brawl" with Pedro Martínez in the 2003 American League Championship Series. He was also once hit by a sharply hit foul ball batted by Yankee second baseman Chuck Knoblauch. The next game, Zimmer wore an army helmet with the word "ZIM" painted on the side and the Yankees logo stenciled on the front. Currently, Zimmer is a senior advisor for the Tampa Bay Rays. His role includes assisting the team during spring training and during home games. Every year, Zimmer increments his uniform number by one to match the number of years he has worked in baseball. During the 2008 season he wears #60, , as seen on the Rays' official site.
From the 2008 season, Zimmer was one of the last former Brooklyn Dodger serving on the field in some capacity.
On March 24, 2015 the Rays announced they were retiring number 66 in honor of Zimmer.
- Collecting Zim: A Don Zimmer Tribute
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube
- Baseball-reference.com – Major league career managerial statistics
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