Saturday, May 18, 2019

Final Card - Don Zimmer

Most people now remember Don Zimmer as the lovable, roly-poly coach for Joe Torre's Yankees, but he was an infielder for the Dodgers and others from 1954-1965. This is his final card as a player.

Zimmer was signed by Brooklyn in 1949, and after 5 ½ years in the minors he made his major-league debut in July 1954. (The serious beaning referred to on the back of his card led to brain surgery.  It was the event that caused MLB to adopt batting helmets.) He backed up Pee Wee Reese through the 1957 season, then finally landed the starting shortstop job in 1958, the team’s first season in Los Angeles.

Don's time as a regular was short-lived, as a young upstart named Maury Wills made his debut in June 1959, pushing Zimmer to the bench.

In April 1960, Don was traded to the Cubs for pitcher Ron Perranoski and infielder Johnny Goryl. What dumb luck! Zim started the first 19 games at 3rd base, but another rookie (Ron Santo) arrived in June to once again take a job away from Zimmer. This time though, he just moved across to 2nd base.


Zimmer was the Cubs' regular 2nd baseman in 1961, starting 108 games while collecting a career-high 512 plate appearances. He was also selected to both All-Star games that season. What was his reward for such a fine season? He was selected by the Mets in the October 1961 expansion draft. (The Cubs had rookie Ken Hubbs on deck for 2nd base, so Zim was expendable.)

Don only lasted 1 month in New York, and spent the rest of the '62 season with the Reds. He returned to the Dodgers before the 1963 season, but was sold to the Senators in late-June.

Don was the Nats' starting 3rd baseman for the remainder of that year, split the job with John Kennedy in 1964, and backed up Ken McMullen in 1965.

***

After playing in Japan in 1966, Don began his managing career in 1967. He was a player/manager in 1967 for a Reds' farm team in 1967, before strictly managing the following season. He managed in the Padres' organization in '69 and '70, then skippered the San Diego club in '72 and '73.

Don was also the Red Sox’ manager from 1976-80, where the team won more than 90 games from 1977-79. The next stop was the Texas Rangers in ’81 and ’82.

He was hired by the Cubs before the 1988 season, but fired 37 games into the 1991 season. His final stop as manager was with the Yankees, filling in for Joe Torre for 36 games.

Between 1971 and 2014, when he wasn’t managing, he was coaching for the Red Sox, Cubs, Giants, Yankees, and Rays.

Zimmer passed away in June 2014 at age 83, in his 11th season as a Rays' coach.

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