Don Zimmer was just a teenager when he started his professional baseball career by signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers as an amateur free agent in 1949
During his 66 years in pro ball, Zimmer played, coached and managed. He won six World Series. And he was one of the most popular people in the game.
Zimmer, who was still working in baseball as a senior advisor for the Tampa Bay Rays this year, died at the age of 83 at a hospital in Florida on Wednesday. He had heart surgery in April and had been in a rehabilitation center.
“I hired him as a coach, and he became like a family member to me,” said Joe Torre, who was the New York Yankees manager when Zimmer was his bench coach.
“The game was his life. And his passing is going to create a void in my life and my wife Ali’s. We loved him. The game of baseball lost a special person tonight. He was a good man,” Torre said.
Playing for the Dodgers in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, the Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds and Washington Senators, Zimmer hit 91 home runs with 352 RBIs in a major league career that spanned 12 years from 1954-65. He played shortstop, second base and third base, along with a few games in the outfield.
Zimmer played in two All-Star Games, both in 1961 when he played for the Cubs. In 1989, Zimmer was the NL Manager of the Year when he guided the Cubs to the playoffs. He also managed the San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers. Guiding the Red Sox from 1976-80, Zimmer went 411-304 for a .575 win percentage.
Rays third base coach Tom Foley recently wore Zimmer’s No. 66 jersey in tribute. After Wednesday’s game, the team hung Zimmer’s jersey in the clubhouse.
“We lost a good buddy tonight,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “I’m going to miss his advice…his feistiness and fire. He was about winning, doing whatever it takes to win.”
Zimmer won six World Series rings, two as a player with the Dodgers and four as a coach with the Yankees. The teams he played for, coached for or managed reached the postseason 19 seasons.
He earned the nickname “Popeye” when he hit powerful shots in the minor leagues.
“On behalf of Major League Baseball and the many clubs that ‘Popeye’ served in a distinguished baseball life, I extend my deepest condolences to Don’s family, friends and his many admirers throughout our game,” Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.
Zimmer also played on the original 1962 expansion Mets team that lost 120 games and was thrown to the ground by Pedro Martinez in a brawl. He started Game 7 of the 1955 World Series for Brooklyn, when the Dodgers beat the Yankees.
Zimmer was still teaching and advising players during his time with the Rays.
“He taught me a lot of things, and those days of sitting in the dugout with him will be missed,” Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said.
StatsWatch: Here are the top five leading batters for the Cardinals and the Cubs, and how they compare (180 or more at-bats) –
- Matt Adams, Cardinals, .325
- Anthony Rizzo, Cubs, .282
- Matt Carpenter, Cardinals, .297
- Starlin Castro, Cubs, .270
- Yadier Molina, Cardinals, .293
- Emilio Bonifacio, Cubs, .265
- Matt Holliday, Cardinals, .264
- Junior Lake, Cubs, .244
- Allen Craig, Cardinals, .249
- Nate Schierholtz, Cubs, .220
Note: The Cardinals are hitting .251 as a team compared to the Cubs’ .233.
Diamond Notes: Not only was Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel drafted by the Cleveland Browns of the NFL, but now the San Diego Padres have selected him in the Major League Baseball draft on Saturday. The Padres picked Manziel as the 837th player taken in the draft. Manziel was listed as a shortstop for Texas A&M, but he never played baseball in college. Manziel visited the Padres in May 2013, taking batting practice and throwing out the first pitch…Pete Rose, who is serving a lifetime ban from MLB for betting on games while playing and managing for the Cincinnati Reds, will manage the Independent League Bridgeport Bluefish for one day. The team announced that Rose will manage on June 16 in a game against Lancaster. “I’m doing this because I love baseball,” Rose said…Mariano Rivera’s son, Mariano Rivera III, was drafted by the Yankees with the 872nd pick. He is 2-5 with a 5.40 ERA as a sophomore pitcher at Iona College.
Copyright © 2014 Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.