Don Zimmer, who died yesterday at eighty-three, was an original Met and an original sweetie pie. His sixty-six years in baseball were scripted by Disney and produced by Ken Burns. (Grainy black-and-white early footage, tinkly piano, as he marries for life at local home plate in bushy, front-porchy Elmira, New York; smiling baggy-pants young teammates raise bats to form arch.)
As a stubby, earnest third baseman and utility infielder, he compiled a .235 batting average over twelve seasons for six teams, including the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, the Chicago Cubs, those 1962 ur-Mets, and the Washington Senators. In the off-seasons, he played ball in Puerto Rico and Cuba and Mexico.
Turning coach, he was hired eleven times by eight different teams (there were three separate stints with the Yankees) and along the way managed the Padres, Red Sox, Rangers, and Cubs. Two championship rings as a player with the Dodgers, four as a coach with the Yanks. He finished up with the Rays, in his home-town Tampa: a coach, then a local presence.
But never mind Disney: only baseball could have produced a C.V. like this, and it’s not likely to happen again. I think Zim is best remembered as the guy right next to manager Joe Torre on the right-hand side of the Yankees dugout in the good years: a motionless thick, short figure, heavily swathed in Yankee formals.
The bulky dark warmup jacket and the initialled cap neatly and monastically framed his layered white moon-face, within which his tiny, half-hidden eyes remained alive and moving. He could also run and yell, of course. Boston fans—no, fans everywhere—will not forget the night he charged Pedro Martinez on the mound in that Fenway Park playoff fracas in 2003—and instantly wound up on his back, like a topped-over windup toy.
Zim burned hard, and the hoots and yells and laughter that ran through the fiercely partisan Back Bay stands were familial and affectionate.
Postscript: Don Zimmer, 1931-2014