Don Zimmer passed away on June 4th, 2014 due to kidney and heart ailments at the age of 83. A baseball lifer, Zimmer’s career in professional baseball lasted an astounding 66 years, from 1949 up until his death. He served as a player, a manager, and a coach for 13 different organizations. During his lengthy career, Zimmer was a two-time National League All-Star, a six-time World Series Champion, and the N.L. Manager of the Year in 1989. Most sports fans my age will remember Zimmer for his famous scuffle with former Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez, but Zim’s life and times inside the game of baseball serves as a time machine into the fabric of American history.
Zimmer’s baseball career began at the ripe age of 18 as he was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers to a minor league contract. While pursing a chance to play in the big leagues in the pre-batting helmet era, Zimmer suffered a near fatal injury after being hit in the head by a pitch in 1953. It was such a severe injury that doctors had to drill holes in Zimmer’s skull to relieve the swelling. This traumatic event would have been more than enough for most people to consider a new line of work, but Don Zimmer wasn’t like most people, he was a baseball lifer in training.
Zimmer eventually recovered from his near brush with death and resumed his playing career, making his major league debut in 1954 and was a member of the historic 1955 Brooklyn Dodger World Series Championship team that defeated the cross-town rival New York Yankees in an epic seven-game series. It would be the only championship ever won by the Dodgers while still located in Brooklyn.
From getting married to his high school sweet heart at home plate in between games of a double header to traveling to Japan just to continue his playing career for one more season, Zimmer’s passion for America’s pastime was unmatched. Zimmer’s old-school sense of humor and charisma also endeared him to the younger generation of fans. I personally recall during his time coaching the Yankees, Zimmer once wore a World-War II style army helmet with a Yankee logo on the front of the helmet during a game. Rather than being embarrassed about his age, Zimmer wore it like a badge of honor and was not ashamed to goof around about it. A grand sense of humor certainly kept Zimmer young at heart.
As a 32-year old myself, I am too young to have seen Zimmer as a player, and I am also too young to have seen or remember much of his managerial career. However, his remarkable contributions to the game of baseball transcends generations and can bridge any age gap. It is completely mind-blowing to know that the same man who played along side the likes of immortals Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, and Duke Snider was also the same man who was able to coach up our very own Evan Longoria. Zimmer played a major role in helping Longoria make the transformation from a fresh-faced baseball phenom into a bona fide franchise player before our very eyes. While Don Zimmer is physically gone, his spirit is alive and well within the baseball community. Zim has certainly left an indelible mark on the game he loved, and his influence will carry on forever.