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Don Zimmer was around the game just about as long as a man can be.

What I don't think is well enough known about Don Zimmer is that he's one of the greatest What-If? stories in the game. In the summer of 1953, Zimmer was well on his way to becoming the next great Dodger. Pee Wee Reese was still a fine player, but by 1953 Reese was 34 years old. Meanwhile Don Zimmer was playing shortstop for St Paul in the American Association (AAA level) and just tearing the league apart. He was hitting .300/.347.584 with 23 HRs and 63 RBIs in 81 games. He was 22 years old.

And then, in those dark ages before the batting helmet, Zimmer was hit in the skull with a pitch. He was unconscious for almost two weeks, and when he woke up he could neither walk nor talk. He was told his baseball career was over. It wasn't, but like Paul Blair and Dickie Thon after him, he was never even close to being the same player again. (Another serious beaning, once he'd reached the majors, surely didn't help.)

Vaya con Dios.

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Mike Green - Thursday, June 05 2014 @ 03:45 PM EDT (#287640) #
Zimmer began his major league coaching career with the Expos in the early 70s.  These were the Expos of Ron Fairly, Rusty Staub, Ron Hunt, Boots Day, Coco Laboy, John Bocabella and Bill Stoneman.  Just typing the names brings back very pleasant memories.  He moved on from team to team after that, but there aren't too many people in baseball who were constantly involved and visible in the game for 40 years.

He was involved in some controversial decisions as manager of the Red Sox in 1978, and seemed to me (as a teenager) to be quite obstinate.  Maybe he changed and maybe I did, but in his later years, I thought of him simply as a fixture of the game.

Magpie - Thursday, June 05 2014 @ 06:46 PM EDT (#287666) #
All due respect to the 1989 Cubs (the one team Zimmer actually managed into the post-season) it's the 1978 Red Sox that everyone will remember: a team that won 99 games and nonetheless is remembered as a failure. They did lead the division by 10 games at one point, and they did go 56-25 through the first half. But Zimmer managed that team as if he didn't believe the lead was big enough (well, it wasn't) and ended up running his regulars right into the ground. The pitching, with the exception of Bill Lee, held up fine. But with the exception of Jim Rice, the team just stopped hitting.
jamesq - Friday, June 06 2014 @ 12:24 AM EDT (#287748) #

jamesq - Friday, June 06 2014 @ 12:26 AM EDT (#287750) #
Roger Angell on Zim:

Our universal affection for Zim is complicated, beginning as it does with our childlike joy in his bald cannonball head and stumpy bod and jack-o’-lantern grin, but encompassing as well, I think, a deep trust in and respect for his decades of exemplary competitive service, without stardom or contemporary distraction. He was a baseball figure from an earlier time: enchantingly familiar, tough and enduring, stuffed with plays and at-bats and statistics and anecdotes and wisdom accrued from tens of thousands of innings. Baseball stays on and on, unchanged, or so we used to think as kids, and Zimmer, sitting there, seemed to be telling us yes, you’re right, and see you tomorrow.
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