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.
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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
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
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
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
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.
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?"
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
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."
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.
Twins slugger Chris Colabello is one of those people you cheer for. He's a great guy, generous with his time. He's a great teammate. He's a great story. What he still needs to prove, despite his impressive performance in early April, is that he is a big-league hitter.
On April 23, Colabello went 2-for-6 with a homer and four RBI. At that moment, he was becoming one of the best stories in all of baseball, if not all of sport - a former independent league grinder who had finally found success in the majors.
Since that day, Colabello is 8-for-69 (a .116 batting average) with one double and one home run.
The fear in the Twins' organization is that opposing pitchers, forced to dissect Colabello's swing because of the threat he posed, have found his flaws and are working him over. If Colabello can't adjust to the adjustments pitchers have made against him, he may not last long in the big leagues, even if his RBI total remains impressive.
Maybe he's just in a slump. But he'll have to prove that's all it is if he's going to regain his status as a heartwarming story.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 a.m., and on 1500ESPN in the Twin Cities at 12:15ish tomorrow.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Justin Morneau, a former hockey player, wore what looked like a hockey number and almost got into a brawl on Wednesday night.
Morneau donned No. 66 because the Pirates have retired his traditional No. 33, which belonged to the great Honus Wagner. He came to the plate after Andrew McCutchen hit a home run to left field and didn't run hard to first base.
Brewers pitcher Wily Peralta thought McCutchen was showing hhim up. McCutchen said he lost track of the ball. Morneau seemed to pay for the difference of opinion.
Peralta's next pitch almost hit Morneau in the head. Morneau took the pitch off his shoulder or forearm. Morneau motioned in anger and bewilderment, and the benches and dugouts emptied, although there were no punches thrown.
I asked Morneau if he took offense to that pitch. ``That's an interesting way to phrase it,'' Morneau said. ``It's one of those things where you're not sure. Is it a coincidence that it happened after a home run, or not? It's hard to say. If I hadn't hit the ball hard the other way the first two times I really would have been mad. I believe in pitching inside. The only thing that really gets you is when you get up around that head area, and that's what I took exception to.
``Getting hit is part of the game. When you get up in that danger zone, that's when I think tempers will get a little flared. They said they didn't do it on purpose, so...''
Morneau took note of his teammates rushing to his defense. ``That's a lose-lose situation for us,'' he said. ``I go out there (to the mound) and we get someone hurt or get someone suspended and we're missing guys in a playoff race. You don't go, then you have to let them know that that's not all right, but what do you do? I think it's kind of selfish if you charge the mound in that situation, where you can hurt the team.
``It's strange to say sometimes, but sometimes when crazy things happen that really brings a team together.''
I spent three days in Milwaukee following former Twins Morneau and Francisco Liriano. Liriano pitched poorly Wednesday but has salvaged his career. Morneau, while saddened by the way his tenure with the Twins ended, looks thrilled to be playing meaningful games in September again.
Remember, because of injuries, Morneau has played in only two playoff series, and in seven games - in '04 and '06.
I now have a team to watch in September and October. Morneau is one of the best people I've covered in baseball, and I love the Pirates' story. The lifelong baseball fan in me would love to see him fully recovered from the concussion symptoms that threatened his career, and leading the Pirates to their first World Series title since 1979.
Everytime I write something nice or even neutral on Joe Mauer, I get emails. Oh, I get emails. Mostly from people telling me he's overpaid.
Well, if he is overpaid, it's not by much.
There are two ways of assessing a veteran player's monetary value. One is anecdotal. Talk to people in the game. They said Mauer would have made a killing as a free agent had he become one. Can you imagine what the Red Sox would have paid for a potential Hall of Fame catcher in his prime with a swing that might produce 50 doubles a year off the Green Monster, and who would constantly be on base in front of their sluggers? Probably $25 million a year. And all quality free agents end up being paid more than their actual value, because the bidding becomes a competition between super powers.
So Mauer is certainly worth $23 million anecdotally.
In terms of statistical valuation, I always turn to the great site Fangraphs.com, which calculates the obective value of a player.
Here is how Fangraphs values Mauer, year by year, since 2006: $23.1 million, $12.7 million, $26.6 million, $34.5 million, $21 million, $6.1 million and $21.2 million. This year, he is valued, so far, at $21.5 million.
Obviously, when he doesn't stay on the field, he's not worth the money, which is why 2011 was such an abomination.
When he is on the field, he's worth about what the Twins are paying him. Factor in that the Twins signed him in part to keep his contract status from ruining the opening season at Target Field, and he was an incredible bargain from 2006 through 2009, and the Twins and their fans have little to complain about other than the mystery ailments of 2011.
Mauer's real problem is he plays for a bad team. He doesn't have people on base ahead of him, and he doesn't have people who can drive him in batting behind him. He's not as valuable as Miguel Cabrera, but he's more valuable than the great majority of players with big-money contracts.
He's also the Twins' only above-average position player. He's not the guy you should be complaining about.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at noon with Judd & Dubay. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
My list of Twins players who might be traded:
1. Justin Morneau: It makes sense to trade him. The Twins can't make a qualifying offer of about $14 million to an aging player who hasn't regained his power since his concussion in 2010. If they're going to let him walk away and get nothing in return, it makes sense to deal him now.
But how much can be bring in return? He's had a horrible month. I asked Twins general manager Terry Ryan if he would trade a player he expected to lose for the highest bidder, or whether he would have to get something he liked in return. He said, ``The latter.''
At the time of this writing, my impression is that the Twins are trying to deal Morneau but haven't gotten an offer they like.
2. Ryan Doumit: He fits the team well but could be replaced by Chris Herrmann, who has impressed in his limited big-league time as a similar player. He probably wouldn't bring much in return but could be of use to a National League team as a bench player.
3. Jared Burton: Has value as a power righthanded arm, but is signed through next year. It might make more sense to keep him until next year. If the Twins are surprisingly good, he'll be valuable as a pitcher. If the Twins tank again, Burton might be able to reestablish his value and be traded next July.
4. Glen Perkins: They don't plan to trade him. He doesn't want to be traded. They know they can keep him around for a reasonable price in the future, because he wants to keep commuting from Lakeville. I'd trade him only for a front-line pitcher or top pitching prospect, someone who projects to be an ace or a quasi-ace.
5. Jamey Carroll: He's a pro, but the Twins are going to have lots of utility infielders in the future. If you can get something for him, trade him. But that's unlikely.
6. Clete Thomas: Outfield version of Jamey Carroll. If the Twins traded Thomas, they could call up Oswaldo Arcia, who is tearing it up at Class AAA.
7. Mike Pelfrey: Was surging until giving up four runs in the third inning to the Royals on Tuesday night. Might not be a market for him.
8. Kevin Correia: Probably can't get much for him. The key here is whether the Twins think he can provide quality innings next year. If they think he can survive a second year in the American League, it would be wise to keep him around. If they think his recent slump is due to the league catching up to him, then moving him would be smart, if it's possible.
9. Brian Duensing: Pitching version of Jamey Carroll.
10. Samuel Deduno: Keep him. Might be the ace of the 2014 staff.
I've been told by several Twins officials that there isn't a lot of demand for the players they're willing to deal, although that can change quickly. This is why the Twins are having a third straight lousy season: Their roster just isn't very good. The only Twins who could be traded for a franchise-altering player or players are Joe Mauer, who has a no-trade clause, and Perkins, who is an affordable All-Star.
Ryan has excelled at minor deals in the past, landing players like David Ortiz and Johan Santana in trades that didn't draw much attention at the time. But it's hard to replicate miracles.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at noon every weekday. Scott Korzenowski will be my new co-host on Sunday Sports Talk. We'll be at the 3M Championship Sunday, starting with the Ron Gardenhire Show at 9:30, then our shot 10-noon.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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