Thursday, June 5, 2014

RIP Don Zimmer 1931-2014

By now, those who follow the game of baseball know that Don Zimmer passed away yesterday. It is said that he died after "undergoing heart-valve surgery and then being diagnosed with fibrosis on his lungs."

There have been many articles that have since been written about him.

ESPN to MLB Network have quickly shown tributes to the baseball lifer.

Here's a guy who has been involved in some capacity with Major League Baseball from the time he suited up with the Brooklyn Dodgers and was named the starting shortstop on July 2, 1954 by Walter Alston in a game against the Phillies. Zimmer went 1-2 that day with a walk, scoring 2 runs. His lone hit was a triple in his first at bat.

He won his first World Series title with the Brooklyn Dodgers in that magical 1955 season. He followed the team to Los Angeles when they moved to the west coast. After six seasons in Dodgers blue, Zimmer was traded to the Cubs in 1960 and was named to his first and only All-Star team as a player in 1961.

He was left available in the 1961 expansion draft and was selected by the New York Mets. He appeared in 14 games for the Mets before being traded to the Reds. He returned to the Dodgers in a trade after the 1962 season, but his second stint in LA was short. After 22 games, he was traded off to the Washington Senators - the team that would go on to be the Rangers - where he finished his finished his playing career in 1965.

His lifetime numbers during this 12-season career include 1095 games played, a .235 average, 91 home runs, 352 rbi's, stole 45 bases and achieved an percentages of .290/.372/.662. Defensively, he appeared in 1000 games, committed 156 errors in 4019 chances (a .961 fielding percentage) with 2222 assists and 418 double plays. Primarily an infielder, he also spent time as a catcher (35 games) and an outfielder for 8.

But his career in baseball didn't end there. He spent the 1966 campaign in Japan, playing for the Toei Flyers, and returned to the US playing for two minor league clubs in 1967. It was after 1967 when he retired as a player and began his second career in baseball as a coach. After toiling in the minors as a minor league coach, he was hired by the Expos in 1971, thus beginning a coaching/managing career that would send him across the baseball map, from Montréal to San Diego, Boston, the Yankees, Cubs, back to the Yankees, Giants, Rockies, a third stint with the Yankees, and then finally the Devil Rays/Rays. In between coaching stints, he managed the Padres, Red Sox, Rangers, and Cubs, helming his clubs to a 885-858 record during his 13-season run as a manager.

That's all great, and he was still credited as being part of the Rays franchise in 2014, making this, if you count his minor league career (1949) year his 65th season in professional baseball. He was the last living member of the Brooklyn Dodgers to work in some capacity in the game.

But for the writer of this humble little blog, he will solely be remembered for the four seasons he took the reins as manager for the Chicago Cubs. From 1988 to 1991, Zim was the manager who guided the Cubs to a 265-258 record and led the team to the 1989 NL East title. For a 12-year-old, just learning the game, watching this club was fun. That 1989 team was special to me (I missed the 1984 version, and only three guys from that team were still around for the 1989 run). Even now, I could probably name a majority of the players on a team that included three future Hall of Famers, and countless (in my mind) All-Stars. Even now, the two guys who finished 1-2 in the NL Rookie of the Year race have become "Fan Favorites" (at least in the minds of The Topps Company).

It was Zimmer, affectionately known as Popeye here, that brought this team together, and although, in true Cubs fashion, they didn't get to the World Series, this team lives on in the hearts of Chicagoans everywhere.

I was sad when the Cubs let him go in 1991. But it looks like he went on to a fine career afterwards as a coach for all of those teams listed earlier.

When I saw the alert on my phone saying that Don Zimmer had died, a bit of my youth had died as well. He is to me what probably Gil Hodges was to some. Maybe Casey Stengel.

A baseball lifer, Zimmer was. And a man, who while not having the numbers for consideration as both a player and a manager, should be considered (in my opinion) for enshrinement into the Hall of Fame. Somehow, in some way, the man should be posthumously inducted into the Shrine in Cooperstown.

My condolences go out to the Zimmer family, the many organizations that welcomed Donald William Zimmer to their franchise, and to baseball fans everywhere.

God bless you, Don Zimmer. Thank you for being a part of my childhood.


JayBee Anama

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