Don Zimmer, who won a World Series title as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers and later was a manager and coach on a number of teams, passed away Wednesday at age 83. He had been battling heart problems but still was a senior adviser for the Tampa Bay Rays, his final stop in a 66-year baseball career.
Here’s a few reasons why nearly everyone remembers him fondly.
1. He was badly beaned twice as a player, but kept going.
From the New York Times obit:
By the summer of 1953, Zimmer was playing for St. Paul in the American Association, a promotion to the Dodgers in sight. He had good speed and fine power. But he nearly lost his life when he was beaned in a game in Columbus, Ohio. He sustained a fractured skull and fell into a coma. Doctors drilled holes in the sides of his head to relieve pressure on his brain.
Zimmer made his major league debut in 1954, filling in briefly for Pee Wee Reese, the Dodgers’ future Hall of Fame shortstop and Zimmer’s boyhood idol. He hit 15 home runs in 88 games for the Dodgers’ 1955 World Series championship team, but he endured a second severe beaning in 1956 against the Cincinnati Reds. It left his cheekbone shattered and his eyesight damaged.
In his 2001 biography “Zim: A Baseball Life,” Zimmer wrote: “‘The fact is they filled those holes up with what they call tantalum buttons that act kind of like corks in a bottle. ‘I can therefore truthfully state that all of those players who played for me through the years and thought I sometimes managed like I had a hole in my head were wrong. I actually have four holes in my head!”
2. He had three nicknames.
At various times in his career, Zimmer was known as “Popeye,” “Gerbil” (a moniker he disliked) or “Zim.”
3. He was Red Sox manager for the Bucky Dent game in 1978. Then, upon his return to the Yankees, he ended up renting Dent’s house.
Zimmer wrote in his biography: “Everywhere in the place, on every wall, was all this memorabilia, all of it different pictures of that damn home run. I turned every one of ’em around and left ’em that way for the rest of my stay there.”
4. Zimmer vs. Pedro
In Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS between the Yankees and Red Sox, the two teams traded words. Zimmer, then 72 and New York’s bench coach, decided to make a run at Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez. It didn’t go as planned, probably.
5. The army helmet
During a 1999 playoff game, Zimmer was hit in the face by a ball fouled into the Yankees’ dugout by Chuck Knoblauch. The next night, Zimmer sported an army helmet with a Yankees logo on it.