Donald William Zimmer was born on January 17, 1931 in Western Hills, Ohio and went to the same high school Pete Rose would go to in Cincinnati. Zimmer was an infielder earning the nickname Popeye, getting signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949.
In the minors while playing at Elmira, he got married at home plate before a game to his wife Jean Soot.
In 1953 he was leading the American Association with 23 HRs & 63 RBIs in July when he was hit in the head with a pitch striking his temple and was seriously injured. He was in & out of consciousness for a week, lost vision, then had to have holes drilled in his skull to relieve the swelling.
He was told he was finished in baseball, that playing was too dangerous. But the stubborn Zimmer wouldn’t accept that & made a remarkable comeback.
He was brought up to the Brooklyn Doders club in July of 1954 as a utility infielder, behind the talents of Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson & Jim Gilliam. In his first game he hit a triple to start out his career, batting .182 in 33 at bats on the year.
Zimmer was a member of the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers 1955 Boys of Summer World Championship team. He played well enough to see action in 84 games, batting .239 showing some good power with 15 HRs 10 doubles & 50 RBIs in just 280 at bats.
Post Season: In Game #1 of the 1955 World Series, he drove in two runs with a single & sac fly off Whitey Ford, although Brooklyn lost 6-5. Overall he played in four of the seven games, going 2-9.
In 1956 he was hitting .300 until a June game against the Cincinnati Reds ended his season. He was hit in the face with a fast ball from pitcher Hal Jeffcoat and had to be hospitalized. Once again it looked like his career may be over because of getting hit with pitches. But Zimmer triumphantly returned for an appearance as a defensive replacement on September 22nd of that same year.
He recuperated, and played in 84 games in 1957 batting .219 with 6 HRs &19 doubles. He was at short stop for the Dodgers final game played at Ebbetts Field on September 24, 1957. In that game he got two hits as the Dodgers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-0.
Zimmer was with the Dodgers as they moved west to Los Angeles in 1958. He played in 127 games batting as the clubs main short stop, hitting .262 with career highs in HRs (17) RBIs (60) & stolen bases (14). The 14 steals were 8th most in the league, and he was only thrown out twice all season. He did strike out 92 times which was third most in the NL.
In the Dodgers 1959 Championship season, he shared time at short with rookie Maury Wills, batting only .165 playing in 97 games. He got one at bat in the 1959 World Series against the Chicago White Sox, going 0-1. The Dodgers won the World Series & young Zimmer had two Championships.
In April of 1960 with Maury Wills setteling as the Dodger short stop f the future, Zimmer was traded to the Chicago Cubs for Ron Peranoski & $25,000 cash. That season he played mostly at second base & made his only All Star appearance. On the year he hit .252 with 13 HRs & 40 RBIs.
In October of 1961 he was drafted away from the Chicago Cubs by the newly formed New York Mets as the fifth pick in the premium phase of the expansion draft. He became an original Met, playing as the team’s first ever third baseman, He was in the line up in the first Mets game ever, batting in the seventh position at third, in Sportsman Park at St. Louis.
Don Zimmer got the second hit in Met history, when he singled off the Cards Larry Jackson, in the second inning. He hit safely in his first three games, but his Mets career was to very be short lived. After just 14 games he was traded to his hometown Cincinnati Reds for (one of the two Mets pitchers) named Bob Miller & outfielder Cliff Cook.
In 14 games as a New York Met, Zimmer went 4-52 for a .077 average driving in his only Mets run on April 27th. It was a 6th inning RBI single off Philadelphia's Cal McLish, bringing the score to 11-3 in the Phillies favor.
He finished the season in Cincinnati batting .250 in 63 games. Overall he hit just .213 & then was sent back to the Los Angeles Dodgers in January for a minor leaguer.
In June of 1963 after 22 games as a Dodger his contract was purchased by the Washington Senators, playing there for three seasons. In 1964 he played in 121 games over, 87 as the team's third baseman batting .246 with 12 HRs & 38 RBIs. Zimmer finished his playing career with the Senators in 1965 at age 34.
In his 12 year playing career (1095 games) he hit.235 with 773 hits 91 HRs 130 doubles 22 triples 45 stolen bases 246 walks 352 RBIs & a .290 on base %. He would play 375 games at third base, 294 games at second base, 288 games at short, 35 games at catcher & eight games in the outfield.
Retirement: He managed in the minors and became a Montreal Expos coach in 1971. By 1972 Zimmer began what was to be his long managerial career. His first job as skipper was with the San Diego Padres (1972-1973). He finished sixth both times with those Padres with the bright yellow road uniforms. He then moved on to the Boston Red Sox first as a third base coach.
Post Season: In the Game #6 of the 1975 World Series he was involved in a memorable play at third base. In the bottom of the 9th, Boston had the bases loaded and no one out with the score tied. Denny Doyle was on third base, as a soft fly was hit to left field.
It was too shallow to score the winning run, Doyle tagged, as Zimmer shouted "No! No! No!" but Doyle heard "Go Go Go" he ran & was thrown out at the plate. That play, & Dwight Evans spectacular catch off Joe Morgans would be HR, set up Carlton Fisk's walk off classic, game-winning home run.
Zimmer replaced Darrell Johnson after the Sox pennant year of 1975, after they lost that World Series to the Big Red Machine in seven games.
Zimmer remained in Boston from 1976-1980. He finished third three times, second once & fourth in his final season. In 1978, his Red Sox blew a big August lead with many questionable moves on the manager’s part.
He played catcher Carlton Fisk in 154 games even though Fisk had complained of sore knees. Zimmer kept Butch Hopson playing regularly at third base with floating bone chips in his elbow. Hobson ended up making 43 errors & could not hit for any power.
Zimmer despised "The Space Man" pitcher Bill Lee & kept him out of a key game against the A.L. New York team, even though Lee had dominated them his entire career, winning 12 of 17 decisions against them. Even Carl Yastremski pleaded with Zimmer to start Lee or Luis Tiant, but it did not happen. Lee hated Zimmer as well & would later refer to his manager as “the Gerbil”.
After Boston, Zimmer went to the Texas Rangers (1981-1982) then to the Chicago Cubs (1988-1991). In 1989 his Cubs won 93 games and won the NL East, their first in five years. But Chicago lost to the San Franciso Giants in the NLCS. He was honored with the Manager of the Year Award that season.
In 1991 he was fired after an 18-19 start, ending his 13 year managerial career at 885-858 with a .508 winning percentage. Since then he went on to a long coahing career: Boston Red Sox (1992) Colorado Rockies (1993-1995) A.L. New York club (1996-2003) & the Tampa Rays (2004-2014).
Zimmer has said the only pay checks he ever recieved all came from baseball. He knew no other jobs. He also wrote two baseball books: Zim: A Baseball Life & The Zen of Zim.
In 2008 he suffered a stroke and then served as a senior advisor for the Tampa Rays at Spring Training & home games. He would wear a uniform number that celebrated how many years he had been in major league baseball. He would spend 65 years in the game.
On June 4, 2014 Zimmer passed away from heart & kidney problems, he was 83 years old.