In a saddening move for the baseball word, Tampa Bay Rays advisor Don Zimmer passed away Wednesday night at the age of 83. There are few in baseball who can ever replicate what Zim has meant to the game. He has been a part of baseball ever since 1949, including tenures as a player, bench coach, manager, advisor, and more. Here is a look back on Zimmer’s career as a player.
Zimmer was originally signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949 as an 18-year old. His first breakout season in the minors was in 1950 with the Hornell Dodgers of the Class D (equivalent to Rookie level today) Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League, where he hit .313 and slugged .533 with 23 homers. In 1951, he would marry his high school sweetheart, Jean “Soot” at home plate at Dunn Field, where Zimmer was playing for the Class A Elmira Pioneers. Zim would continue to work his way up through the minor leagues, spending time with the Class AA Mobile Bears in 1952 before playing with the Class AAA St. Paul Saints in 1953 and part of 1954. With the Saints in ’53, Zimmer suffered a serious head injury thanks to being beaned by a pitch (helmets were not worn then). He required emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain, but would recovery soon enough for his major league debut the next season.
In 1954, Zim would see his first big league action, playing 24 games as a fill-in at shortstop for Dodgers legend Pee Wee Reese, an idol of his growing up. Zim would play for the Dodgers from 1954-1959, playing alongside the likes of Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Tom Lasorda, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, and many more. He would be a key member of a Dodger club that won the World Series in 1955 and 1959. With Brooklyn in 1956, he would suffer yet another scare by being hit in the head with a pitch, but once again he was ultimately okay. Zim would then spend two years for the Chicago Cubs, making his lone appearance as an All-Star in 1961. From 1962-1963, Zimmer would play for 4 different teams, including being an original member of the expansion New York Mets, a stint with the Cincinnati Reds, a brief return to the Brooklyn Dodgers, and then time with the Washington Senators. He would finish out his big league career with the Senators, playing for them through 1965. All-in-all Zimmer finished his 12-year big league career with a .235/.290/.372 line and 91 long balls while seeing time at shortstop, third base, second base, left field, right field, and even catcher.
After his big league career was over, Zimmer would spend 1966 playing in Japan as the starting shortstop for the Toei Flyers. He would then return stateside in 1967 to play in the Cincinnati Reds’ minor league system, playing 25 games for the Class AA Knoxville Smokies and 16 games for the Buffalo Bisons. That would be the end of Zim’s playing career. However, as we all know Don Zimmer would go on to do much, much more in baseball. Check back at Rays Colored Glasses today and tomorrow as we continue to honor Zim and his illustrious career.