Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.

Find him on Twitter

RIP Don Zimmer. Here's my piece on him from Yankee days

Posted by: Jim Souhan under All-Stars and honors, Professional baseball Updated: June 5, 2014 - 9:09 AM

In 1999, I spent a few days in Kansas City doing a story on baseball lifer Don Zimmer, who passed away on Wednesday.

Here's the piece, from his days as the Yankees bench coach:

------

By Jim Souhan

Kansas City

His is the face of baseball, symmetrically seamed and smooth. His

has been a life of baseball, a Forrest Gumpian romp through the

game's history, his mementos ranging from a ball Babe Ruth signed

in 1947 to the ring he won in the House that Ruth Built 51 years

later.



   Don Zimmer earned Ruth's autograph when his American Legion team

won a national tournament. Zimmer, now the Yankees' interim manager

who will direct the defending World Series champions against the

Twins tonight to start a three-game series, played with that

precious artifact on the sandlots of hometown Cincinnati. He would

never again trifle with baseball history.



   "My wife keeps a scrapbook," he said this weekend, sitting in the

dugout in Kauffman Stadium. "We have a cupboard on the floor below

the trophy case. I would say that cupboard is probably as long as

from here to that wall," he says, pointing to the end of the

dugout, 10 feet away.



   "There are doors that open up here, here and here, and she's got

scrapbooks starting in 1948, when I was in high school, all the way

up 'til today. Somebody wants to see something about 1949, all they

have to do is pull it out."



   Zimmer's longevity reveals itself in a couple of his nicknames -

ranging from one of the original, crude, cartoons ("Popeye," given

to him as a young man for the size of his forearms) to a high-tech

special effect ("Yoda," for his posture and mentoring on the

Yankees' bench). His scrapbooks span the same timeline, from faded

black-and-white to florid color.



   "It's amazing what she's done, amazing," Zimmer said of his wife,

Jean, nicknamed "Soot." "I'll get my grand-kids in there and we'll

start looking at '55, '54, '56 when we wore those bloomers. Oh,

they start laughing. `Pops, you didn't really wear those kind of

uniforms, did you?' "



   Zimmer laughs, and those bright blue eyes that have seen

everything from Ruth's wizened grin to Jackie Robinson's glare to

Sandy Amoros' catch to Bucky Dent's homer to a Yankee team winning

125 games emerge from the cheeks and jowls.



   "That's all we wore," he says, laughing, the punch line more in

the delivery - leaning forward, eyes wide - than the line.



   Zimmer's baseball life has spanned from flannels to double-knits,

those tight-fitting pants that today reveal the outlines of a brace

wrapped around Zimmer's right knee. He's 68, and he might have both

knees replaced, which is why his days as interim manager might soon

end.



   Yankees owner George Steinbrenner begged him to run the team

while Zimmer's friend, Joe Torre, recovers from prostate cancer.

Zimmer has defiantly fought off Steinbrenner's meddling attempts,

which has been easy because he has nothing to fear - his knees hurt

so much a firing would be an act of mercy.



   He doesn't take the lineup to home plate or visit the mound to

change pitchers. All the miles he has traveled around the bases and

on buses, trains and planes, playing in a handful of countries and

for teams now defunct and forgotten, and suddenly a 90-foot stroll

is daunting.



   Wednesday, frustrated and pained, Zimmer told the Yankees players

he was "going home." Then Torre told him he couldn't return yet,

and Zimmer agreed to stay on indefinitely.



   When Torre returns, Zimmer will indeed "go home." He hasn't

committed to retirement or returning, only to spending time with

Soot and surgeons.



   "I've had a lot of people tell me, no big deal, I had it done,"

Zimmer said of knee replacement surgery. "I asked, `How long'd it

take?' Six months. I said, `That's nothing?' My days are numbered."



   Someone told Zimmer he might as well get both knees replaced.

"Very good," Zimmer said, nodding. "Put me to sleep and get it

done, and then I'll go dancing."



   And he laughs again, and runs a hand over the face that has

appeared in so many of baseball's climactic scenes, and sighs,

"What a life." It is neither complaint nor proclamation, just a

sigh from baseball's accidental tourist.



   .



   Hey Zimmah!



   Zimmer is sitting on the bench in Kansas City, and Yankees

shortstop Derek Jeter, 30 feet away, calls out "Zim-mah!"



   "You hear him call me that?" Zimmer says with a wink. "He's heard

me tell stories about Boston."



   Zimmer managed the Red Sox in 1978, when they blew a 14-game lead

to the Yankees, then forced the most infamous playoff in New

England history, when Dent's pop-fly homer cleared the Green Monster.



   "I'd take one step out of the dugout to go get the pitcher, and

it would be `You bleeping bum Zimmah!' " Zimmer said. " `You're a

bum! Pahk the cahr! You're still a bum!"



   Were those the toughest fans he has faced? "Well, it's very

easy," he said. "If there are 28,000 in the stands and 27,999 are

booing you, I guess that would be the spot."



   Was his wife the lone dissenter? "That's it," he said. "But

sometimes I think she was in there, too."



   He got booed again the first time he returned to Boston as the

Texas manager, on Opening Day at Fenway Park. Ralph Houk was the

Red Sox manager.



   "I bring out the lineup," he says. "My players are waiting

because they know I'm going to get booed. I take one step out . . .

`Booooo.' As soon as I got to home plate I took my hat off [he

doffs it]. That's when I said to the umpire, `Tough town. Here's

Mr. Ralph Houk, The General, war hero, and people are booing him."



   With Zimmer, there's not only a tongue-in-cheek story, there's

the story behind the story.



   He didn't just get victimized by Dent's homer - he later rented

Dent's house - and called Dent to tell him he was taking all the

pictures of his famous home run and turning them to face the walls.



   He not only played for perhaps the worst team in history - the

first-year Mets - he served as the bench coach for perhaps the best

- last year's Yankees.



   Zimmer didn't just marry his high school sweetheart, he held his

wedding on the baseball diamond at Elmira in 1951 and his wedding

party strolled under a calliope of crossed bats.



   He was in the dugout when Don Larsen pitched his perfect game,

and in the third base coaching box when Pete Rose, playing third

base for the Reds in the '75 World Series, said, "Zim, I don't know

who is going to win this game, but it might be the greatest game

I've ever played in," and then Carlton Fisk waived his home-run fair.



   He is the last member of the Dodgers who won the World Series in

Brooklyn who's still in uniform, just as he is the last of the

original Mets still active.



   He hasn't earned any money outside baseball his entire life,

except for the one social security check he cashed in '95, when he

thought he was retired. Then Torre called, and the two scripted two

World Series championships.



   His first major league at-bat? A triple off Curt Simmons. His

first American League at-bat? A two-run homer for the Washington

Senators. His first game with the Cubs? A homer off Don Drysdale at

the Los Angeles Coliseum.



   He can take credit for the only World Series the Brooklyn Dodgers

ever won, because Amoros replaced him in the lineup and made maybe

the most famous catch in Brooklyn history.



   One Opening Day at Wrigley, when Zimmer was managing the Cubs,

Mitch (Wild Thing) Williams frightened the faithful before securing

a save, just as he had the previous Opening Day.



   A writer and Zimmer were sitting in Zimmer's office when a TV

crew came in, asking about Deja Vu. Zimmer gave a perfunctory

answer, the crew left, and Zimmer asked the writer, "What's all

this about Ronja Vu? Why don't they ask me about the game?"



   .



   Search engine



   Zimmer doesn't follow baseball's mythical and omniscient "book."

What's the use of spending a life studying baseball, then using a

crib sheet on the test?



   He has hit-and -run with the bases loaded. He walked Kent Hrbek

with a one-run lead in the ninth and nobody on.



   "He was on a home run streak," Zimmer once said. "The next guy

was a good hitter - I forget who - but I didn't want Hrbek to tie

the score. The next guy hits a two-run homer . . . I'm fired."



   But the pitcher came through.



   "It took me a year more to get fired," he said.



   "He was the best manager I ever played for," said Red Sox manager

Jimy Williams, who played for Zimmer in the minors. "He's an

old-school guy - who can communicate."



   One time Yankees right fielder Paul O'Neill popped out, then

started tossing bats and helmets. Zimmer went to him, and O'Neill

yelled, "That's it, Zim, I quit, I'm going home."



   Zimmer put on his Yoda face and said, "That's good, we're both

from Cincinnati, I got a guy in the cement-block business who can

give you a job."



   When Zimmer's status was in doubt last week, O'Neill said, "What,

is Zimmer going home to take my job?"



   Twins bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek, a Chicago guy, never got to

know Zimmer well. "But my Mom did," Stelmaszek said. "She works at

the OTB."



   Ah, off-track betting - Zimmer's second-favorite type of betting,

right behind on-track betting. Once, when Zimmer was in a previous

incarnation as a Yankees coach, he told writers he had experienced

the best day of his life. He had visited three tracks in one day.



   He was asked how much money he had won, to make it the best day

ever. "Nothin'!" he said. "But I got to bet on 37 races!"



   In early April, the trumpeter Chuck Mangione appeared as a guest

on a Cubs broadcast.



   After he played that fanfare heard before every horse race,

Mangione said, "Every time I play that at Yankee Stadium, Zim

levitates off the bench."



   .



   Saintly days



   There's a remote chance Torre could replace Zimmer this week,

raising the possibility Zimmer's last days in uniform could come in

Minneapolis, 46 years after the Brooklyn Dodgers thought their

successor to Pee Wee Reese had played his last game in St. Paul.



   In 1953, Zimmer was playing for the St. Paul Saints, a Dodgers'

farm club, and leading the American Association with 23 homers when

he was beaned.



   He went into a coma for two weeks. His season was over.



   "And then the next year, I got to go back to St. Paul, because

the Dodgers have to see if I can play, if I'm afraid of the ball,"

Zimmer said. "Real quick I hit 17 homers, and I got called to the

Dodgers and stayed."



   In '56, he had his cheekbone fractured by Hal Jeffcoat in

Cincinnati. He missed the rest of that season, too. Two beanings,

and his promise as a future star faded. He once stole home 10 times

in a minor league season, but never got to recreate those heroics

in the majors.



   He outlasted Reese, but lost the shortstop job to Maury Wills.



   With more luck, Zimmer could have been a star, could have become

part of the Dodgers' pantheon with Campy, Hodges, Reese, Snider.



   Zimmer treats regrets the way he has treated tobacco chaws,

spitting them anywhere there aren't white shoes. This weekend, as

he limped about and told stories, someone asked Zimmer if he has

spent time thinking about his life in baseball.



   "Tremendous," he says, those eyes emerging again. "Tre-men-dous.

How lucky can a guy be, to be in the game all of his life?



   "It boils down to this: Anything and everything I have I owe to

baseball. I owe the game everything. I've had a great ride."



   .



   .



   Donald William Zimmer



   - Age: 68



   - Birthplace: Cincinnati



   - Residence: Treasure Island, Fla.



   - Married: Jean Carol Bauerle (nickname: Soot)



   - Teams played for: Brooklyn Dodgers, Los Angeles Dodgers

(twice), Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Washington

Senators, Toei Flyers (Japan)



   - Teams coached for: Yankees (three times), Boston (twice),

Giants, Rockies, Cubs, Expos



   - Managed: Padres, Red Sox, Rangers, Cubs, Yankees (interim)



   - Managerial record: 885-858



   - Notable: Stole home 10 times in one minor league season. . . .

Hit 23 homers for the St. Paul Saints in 1953 before being beaned,

and he hit 17 homers for the St. Paul Saints in 1954 before being

called up to the Brooklyn Dodgers. . . . Career .235 major league

hitter, as he so often reminds people.



   - Plans: "Going home," meaning he will go to his home in New

York, visit his grandchildren, probably have knee surgery and

recuperate. It might also mean retirement, but nobody knows for

sure but Zimmer - and maybe Soot.
 

ADVERTISEMENT

Toronto - LP: D. Hutchison 2 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Tanaka 5
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 2 FINAL
Miami - LP: N. Eovaldi 1
NY Mets - WP: J. deGrom 10 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: E. Santana 2
Boston - WP: J. Kelly 3 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: M. Gonzalez 2
Milwaukee - LP: W. Peralta 0 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 1
Chicago WSox - WP: J. Danks 10 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: N. Karns 5
Cleveland - WP: C. Kluber 7 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: A. Swarzak 2
Detroit - LP: R. Porcello 2 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: J. Guthrie 5
Seattle - LP: H. Iwakuma 3 FINAL
Houston - WP: C. McHugh 8
Los Angeles - WP: C. Perez 8 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 5
Texas - WP: S. Tolleson 2 FINAL
LA Angels - LP: H. Street 1
Philadelphia - LP: M. Gonzalez 6 FINAL
Oakland - WP: S. Doolittle 8
San Francisco - LP: R. Vogelsong 2 FINAL
San Diego - WP: I. Kennedy 8
Arizona - LP: W. Miley 3 FINAL
Colorado - WP: C. Bergman 8
Cincinnati - WP: A. Simon 7 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: L. Lynn 2
San Diego 22 FINAL
Buffalo 10
Dallas 34 FINAL
St. Louis 31
Washington 34 FINAL
Philadelphia 37
Houston 17 FINAL
NY Giants 30
Minnesota 9 FINAL
New Orleans 20
Tennessee 7 FINAL
Cincinnati 33
Baltimore 23 FINAL
Cleveland 21
Green Bay 7 FINAL
Detroit 19
Indianapolis 44 FINAL
Jacksonville 17
Oakland 9 FINAL
New England 16
San Francisco 14 FINAL
Arizona 23
Denver 20 FINAL
Seattle 26
Kansas City 34 FINAL
Miami 15
Pittsburgh 37 FINAL
Carolina 19
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Columbus 4 FINAL
Carolina 3
Buffalo 0 FINAL
Washington 1
St. Louis 3 FINAL
Columbus 4
Calgary 1 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Edmonton 0 FINAL
Calgary 1
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(12) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(9) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
(23) East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(20) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
(14) Miss State 34 FINAL
(17) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(13) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(21) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(25) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(12) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(9) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(22) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(13) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
North Carolina 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Clemson
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(17) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(8) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(21) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(18) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Chivas USA 0 FINAL
Toronto FC 3
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 15 FINAL
Montreal 31
Ottawa 32 FINAL
Saskatchewan 35

ADVERTISEMENT

Advertisement
Golden Gavel by Star Tribune

Countdown to great deals

Bid Sept. 21-29

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Grade the Vikings offense

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT