Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Don Zimmer

Donald William Zimmer (born January 17, 1931, in Cincinnati, Ohio) is a former infielder, manager, and coach in Major League Baseball (MLB), currently serving as a senior advisor to the Tampa Bay Rays baseball organization. Zimmer has been involved in professional baseball since 1949.

Zimmer signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers as an amateur free agent in 1949. He played in MLB with the Dodgers (1954–1959, 1963), Chicago Cubs (1960–1961), New York Mets (1962), Cincinnati Reds (1962), and Washington Senators (1963–1965). He also played for the Toei Flyers of Nippon Professional Baseball in 1966.

Following his retirement as a player, Zimmer began his coaching career. He worked in minor league baseball, before coaching the Montreal Expos (1971), San Diego Padres (1972), Boston Red Sox (1974–1976, 1992) New York Yankees (1983, 1986, 1996–2003), Cubs (1984–1986), San Francisco Giants (1987), Colorado Rockies (1993–1995), and Tampa Bay Devil Rays / Rays (2004–present). He served as manager for the Padres manager (1972–1973), Red Sox (1976–1980), Texas Rangers (1981–1982), and Cubs (1988–1991).

Zimmer, nicknamed "Zim" and sometimes "Popeye" because of his facial resemblance to the cartoon character, began his career in 1949 with the Cambridge Dodgers of the Class-D Eastern Shore League. He then played with the Hornell Dodgers of the Class-D PONY League in 1950, the Elmira Pioneers of the Class-A Eastern League in 1951, the Mobile Bears of the Class-AA Southern League in 1952, and the St. Paul Saints of the Class-AAA American Association in 1953 and 1954. Zimmer 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.

Zimmer made it to the Major Leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954. 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 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 the holes drilled in the surgeries following the 1953 beanball 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. In 1960, the Dodgers traded Zimmer to the Chicago Cubs for Johnny Goryl, Ron Perranoski, Lee Handley and $25,000. After the 1961 season, the expansion New York Mets chose Zimmer from the Cubs as the fifth pick in the premium phase of the 1961 Major League Baseball expansion draft, costing the Mets $125,000. In May 1962, the Mets traded Zimmer to the Cincinnati Reds for Cliff Cook and Bob Miller. He returned briefly to the Dodgers in 1963, when the Reds traded him to the Dodgers for Scott Breeden. The Washington Senators purchased Zimmer from the Dodgers in June 1963. The Senators released Zimmer after the 1965 season, and he played for the Toei Flyers of Nippon Professional Baseball in 1966.

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 career batting average, Zimmer was regarded as 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.

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 fourteen games, the Red Sox stumbled in August. By early September that lead was reduced to four games. That lead evaporated in a four-game series against the surging New York Yankees which is 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), a heavy workload for a catcher. 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 the Red Sox lost the playoff game on home runs by Dent and Reggie Jackson.

He is also remembered for mixing it up, at the age of 72, with Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez during game 3 of the 2003 ALCS playoff game. Zimmer ran at Pedro, who shoved him aside, Zimmer tumbling to the ground.

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