Donald William Zimmer, known to the world as Don Zimmer, Zim, ‘Popeye’ and a litany of other nicknames he earned over the years he spent in Major League Baseball, passed away on Wednesday at BayCare Alliant Hospital in Dunedin, Fla. He was 83 years old.
He was a “baseball lifer” according to, well, everyone. Generations upon generations of baseball fans knew of Zim. He was involved in the game for six of the eight decades in his life. His most recent position was as a senior adviser to the Tampa Bay Rays but he started out as a player in 1949.
According to MLB.com’s Marty Noble, over the span of “12 seasons and 3,283 at-bats with the Dodgers, Mets and four other teams, he produced a .235 batting average, 91 home runs and 352 RBIs. He was a one-time All-Star, with the Cubs in 1961, and participated — barely — in the two World Series with the Dodgers, in Brooklyn in 1955 and in Los Angeles in ’59. The teams he managed — the Padres, Red Sox, Rangers, Cubs, and on an interim basis, the Yankees of 1999 — produced a composite .509 winning percentage in 1,780 games and one first-place finish in 14 seasons. Interspersed with his seasons as a manager were 26 years of coaching that began with Expos in 1971, took him to Denver, San Diego, San Francisco, Boston, the North Side of Chicago, the Bronx and ended in 2006 in Tampa Bay.”
He played with Jackie Robinson, was managed by Casey Stengel and even played the part of Derek Jeter‘s personal good luck charm for eight seasons. The words it would take to describe the expansive history the man had with baseball could go on forever.
Zimmer seems to be described by everyone who knew him as an extraordinarily unique man who was genial and funny but also a serious baseball man who had a love for the game that few can rival.
Zimmer was a long-time side kick and best friend of Joe Torre who is now MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations. Torre talked to the press about his friend saying,
“I hired him as a coach, and he became like a family member to me. He has certainly been a terrific credit to the game. The game was his life. And his passing is going to create a void in my life and my wife Ali’s. We loved him. The game of Baseball lost a special person tonight. He was a good man.”
Yankees’ general managing partner/owner Hal Steinbrenner issued a statement.
“Don spent a lifetime doing what he loved. He was an original — a passionate, old-school, one-of-a-kind baseball man who contributed to a memorable era in Yankees history. The baseball community will certainly feel this loss.”
And so did Rays’ principal owner Stuart Sternberg who called his friend Zim a “national treasure.” Zim touched the lives and hearts of so many people – players and fans alike – that loved the game as much as he did. His presence in the baseball world will leave a true void that may be impossible to ever fill. Torre once talked of the unique person that Zimmer was saying,
“So many things about him are different and when you put all the differences together in one body, you’ve got someone a little odd … and very special.”
Zimmer is survived by his wife Jean, their children Thomas and Donna, and their four grandchildren. Rest in peace Zim. You will be missed but certainly never forgotten.