Don Zimmer was always there. From the very beginning in 1984, when the first sustained baseball memories indelibly etched themselves in my young mind, he was there as the third base coach of the Chicago Cubs. Forever is that group of guys with me, no matter where I wander in the baseball world. I will always hold a soft spot for the Cubs and Don Zimmer, even if at one point he was a part of the New York Yankees. Don Zimmer belonged to baseball and baseball was all the better for it.
Look in the baseball dictionary under perseverance and you’re likely to find Don Zimmer’s picture. Nowhere was that more evident than with the 1989 Chicago Cubs. A sixteen game improvement from the previous year helped propel them to their 2nd division title in five years and only the second time since 1945. It would ultimately earn him manager of the year award, but the Cubs weren’t able to translate the appearance to anything but a quick exit at the hands of the San Francisco Giants. Zimmer’s next two years the Cubs were never able to win more than 77 games and he would be fired. But it really wasn’t a reflection on Zimmmer’s ability as it was the state the Cubs were in at the time. Manager were chewed up and spit out with more frequency in Chicago than sunflower seeds.
The thing you have to admire most about Don Zimmer is that he continued to rebound and no matter how many times he was let go from coaching and managerial positions, his passion never wavered. He is best remembered among Red Sox fans, besides his confrontation with Pedro Martinez, for the team’s collapse during the 1978 season when he was their manager. After leading the American League East by as many as fourteen games, the Red Sox stumbled in August. By the time September rolled around the lead was four games. That lead evaporated in a four-game series against the surging New York Yankees. Zimmer’s Red Sox spent the last month of the season trading first place with the Yankees, forcing a one-game playoff on October 2 and marking one of baseball seminal moments. In that game, light hitting Yankee’s shorstop Bucky Dent hit a home run over the Green Monster in Fenway and a moment of baseball history was born.
For most of us, we remember Don Zimmer as Joe Torre’s right hand man. He joined them in 1996 and was a part of their four consecutive championships. He was as synonymous with the Yankees as quiet honestly Joe Torre, and his confrontation with Pedro Martinez proved his passion for the game never once diminished. Baseball has lost a good guy. He is a shining example of, no matter what, there is always a way up.