Friday, June 6, 2014

I've Got Til 5! - Don Zimmer

In April Don Zimmer had surgery to repair a leaky valve in his heart, and since then spent his time at a rehabilitation clinic in Florida. Unfortunately Zim wouldn't fully recover, and along with kidney issues, he passed away on Wednesday.

I, along with many baseball fans, will never forget that picture of Don. He'd just been hit in the head with a sharply hit ball off the bat of Chuck Knoblauch, but was able to find humor in the whole thing and make us laugh.

Not only was he a fine player, manager, coach, but he also served as a member of the advisory board of the Baseball Assistance Team, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to helping former Major League, Minor League, and Negro League players through financial and medical difficulties.

We lost a special person, but he left us with some amazing memories.

1. As a player, Don Zimmer won the World Series with the 1955 and 1959 Brooklyn Dodgers. He was lucky enough to play alongside greats like Sandy Koufax, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Don Drysdale, and Jackie Robinson.

Along with being a two-time all star, winning the National League Manager of the Year award in 1989, and coaching the Yankees to their four World Series titles between 1996 and 2000, Mr. Zimmer had one heck of a career in baseball.

2. While playing for the St. Paul Saints for the AAA American Assocation, Zimmer was hit in the head with a pitch. He was knocked out, had to have brain surgery, and didn't wake up for two weeks. Doctors actually had to drill holes in Don's skull in order to relieve the pressure of swelling.

This led to Major League Baseball adopting batting helmets. Phil Rizzuto was actually the first MLB player to use a batting helmet.

3. Years before Don Zimmer was a bench coach for the Yankees, he was trying to cause the Red Sox to lose.

It was Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, and Zim was the third base coach for the Red Sox. The game was tied in the bottom of the 9th inning, and the Sox had the bases loaded with nobody out. The next batter hit a shallow fly ball to left field that was easily caught, but not deep enough to tag. Unfortunately for Boston, instead of hearing Zimmer yelling "no, no, no", the runner on third heard "go, go, go" and was easily thrown out at home plate.

Carlton Fisk would later hit that classic home run to win Game 6, but the Reds would win Game 7 and take the series.

4. That wasn't the only time Zimmer helped hurt the Red Sox. As the manager for Boston in 1978, he helped the Sox build a 14 game lead in the American League East. But by early September that lead fell to only four games before the surging New York Yankees swept the Red Sox in a four-game series known as "The Boston Massacre".

Later that season, after the Sox and Yankees went back and forth for first place, resulting in a one game playoff, Zimmer pegged rookie Bobby Sprowl to start over Bill "Spaceman" Lee... a very unpopular decision. Sprowl gave up four walks, one hit, and one run in the first inning of the game, which the Bombers ended up winning.

To be fair, though, Zimmer led the Red Sox to some of their best seasons. Boston would actually win more than 90 games in each of his three full seasons as manager (1977-1979). In fact, Zimmer's 1978 Red Sox won 99 games, which is the fourth-best record in franchise history.

5. What some people, myself included, find most incredible about Don Zimmer is the fact that the only paycheck he ever received came from baseball. He never held a job in any other profession. How awesome is that?

To further show you how much the game meant to Don Zimmer, in 1951 he married the girl he'd been dating since the 10th grade, at home plate before a game he played for a minor league team in Elmira, NY.

Thank you, Mr. Zimmer.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)