Don Zimmer, who never received a paycheck out of baseball, died yesterday at the age of 83. Zimmer spent 66 years working in professional baseball as a player, adviser, coach, manager. What a life.
Zimmer was a great prospect, but two beanings nearly killed him. From Wikipedia (I edited it a bit, all blockquotes from there).
During a minor league game on July 7, 1953, Zimmer was struck by a pitch thrown by pitcher Jim Kirk, causing Zimmer to faint. He suffered a brain injury that required surgery. He woke up two weeks later, thinking that it was the day after the game where the incident took place. This led to Major League Baseball adopting batting helmets as a safety measure to be used by players when at-bat. Phil Rizzuto was the first player to use the batting helmets.
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 his career was finished at age 22.
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.”
Zim was a major league player from 1954-1965. 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 was a member of the 1955 and 1959 Dodger WS Champs, 1955 in Brooklyn and 1959 in Los Angeles (he was there early in 1963, when the Dodgers won another WS, but wasn’t there at the end of the season, just the beginning). In 1955, he hit only .239, but did have 15 HR and 50 RBI (OPS+ 88) in just 280 at bats. He had a bad 1959, and was replaced at SS mid-season by Maury Wills. Zim hit just .165-4-28, OPS+ 37 in 1959.
He hit .235 in his career. His 162 game average was .235-13-52, OPS+ 77. He primarily played 2B, SS or 3B but did see 35 games at catcher and a few games in the outfield.
He made the All-Star team in 1961, a season in which he hit .252-13-40, OPS+ 82.
Despite being an All-Star in 1961, he was left unprotected and was taken by the Mets in the expansion draft. On April 11, 1962, the Mets lost the first game in their history, 11-4, to the Cardinals. Batting 7th and playing 3b was Don Zimmer. Zimmer only played 14 games for the Mets.
After his playing career ended,
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 (2004–2014). He served as manager for the Padres (1972–1973), Red Sox (1976–1980), Texas Rangers (1981–1982), and Cubs (1988–1991).
Zimmer was 885-858 as a manager, .508. That translates to an 82-80 season. His average finish with these teams was 3rd or 4th place.
As a manager, he’s most famous for managing the 1978 Red Sox, who lost a 14-game lead they had over the Yankees. The AL East needed an extra game to break the tie between New York and Boston, and it was the Yankees who won that 163rd game (the Bucky Dent game) and who went on to win the World Series.
Despite guiding the Red Sox to a 97-64 record in 1977 and 99-64 in 1978, Zimmer and the Red Sox got no postseason play out of it, as the Yanks won the WS in both seasons.
In 1989, Zimmer was named NL manager of the year for guiding the Cubs to a division title with a 93-69 record. They lost the NLCS to San Francisco.
Later, he was best known as Joe Torre’s bench coach during the Yanks’ great run of 1996-2003 (before Boston broke the “curse” in 2004), during which the Yanks won six pennants and four World Series in an eight-year run.
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.
Zimmer’s playing and managing record don’t merit the Hall of Fame, but maybe he should be considered for the Hall as a result of a long history of meritorious service to the game. There are some owners and commissioners in there for that reason, and, for example, who do you think did more for the game of baseball, Don Zimmer or Bowie Kuhn?