'Zim' (1931-2014)

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

'Zim' (1931-2014)

Donald William Zimmer, who broke into the major leagues with my Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954 and spent more than 60 years in professional baseball, passed away this evening in Dunedin, Florida from heart, lung and kidney problems; he was 83.

Don Zimmer's 1955 Topps baseball card

He had no more chance of beating out 36-year-old Pee Wee Reese, a Dodgers fixture at shortstop since 1940, than did Chico Fernández two seasons later.

But "Zim" was an important piece of the Dodgers first two World Championships ('55, '59) and even when the team traded him to the Cubs just before the 1960 season, one of the players they received in return was lefty Ron Perranoski who anchored the Los Angeles bullpen as the closer for seven seasons.

What I recall most about the man, especially in this era when players have comuter tickets to the disabled list, was his toughness... as a fast rising 22 year old playing for the Dodgers #2 farm team in St. Paul and leading that league with 22 home runs, he was beaned by Columbus righty Jim Kirk and was in a coma for six days.

He subsequently suffered blood clots on the brain re­quir­ing spinal taps two-three times each week, and when he finally regained consciousness, his eyesight was gone. Doctors had to drill four holes in his skull to relieve pressure.

At first written off as a ball player, he gradually recovered his vision and was back at St. Paul the following season before being called up to the parent Dodgers in mid-1954.

As a utility infielder during Brooklyn's only championship season, he finished 1955 with 15 homers and 50 RBI in just 88 games, and never played another minor league game.

The 5-9, 185-pound Zimmer was as tough and determined as they come, the type of player who is rarely seen in the major leagues any more.


1. Malcolm Robertson said...

I always find reading your recollections of famous people who passed away interesting because of the difference geography and generation. While you remember him best as a Dodger, and he was more known to later generations as a coach for the Yankees. In fact, all the recollections of the man in the national sports media center on his career in New York. However, anyone who roots for the team from the North Side of Chicago will remember Zim as the Skipper for the Cubs during the magical season of '89. Everyone seemed to be having fun that summer, and the one leading the festivities was a man called "Popeye." Ryne Sandburg, Andre Dawson, Mark Grace, Lee Smith, Rick Sutcliffe, and two young hurlers named Moyer and Maddux* made up a team that we called "The Boys of Zimmer." Even now, I can remember the man calling for a triple steal with a pitcher at the plate. It was a wild season, and Zim was almost as popular as Sandberg or Michael Jordan that summer.

He was a rare combination fun and class, and time has once again stolen one of the icons of my youth.

*A roster like that should dispel any doubts about there being a curse.

Thank you for sharing your perspective... hadn't heard "The Boys of Zimmer" before. That's a good one.

Here's one for you, another clear recollection of a mutual interest: Zim's first game as a Cub was the season opener in the Los Angeles Coliseum, where he smashed a homer off Don Drysdale, one of Chicago's only two runs of the game. Drysdale pitched all 11 innings for the Dodgers, and was lifted for pinch-hitter Chuck Essegian who promptly hit the game-winning home run. It was notable because in the previous series, the 1959 Fall Classic against the White Sox, Essegian had hit two pinch hit homers, the first to ever accomplish that feat.

2. EastEnd68 said...

His book "Zim" is the best baseball book I ever read – he was an expert and I really valued his opinions.

So did Joe Torre! Too bad the book isn't Kindle-friendly. Perhaps now....

3. EastEnd68 said...

"The Zen of Zim: Baseball, Beanballs and Bosses."

Different book than the one you were praising... do you recommend this one as highly?

4. EastEnd68 said...


Okay... thanks for the recommendation.

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