The news of the passing of Don Zimmer prompted many across baseball to share memories, stories, and other thoughts about a man who was synonymous with the game.
Zimmer spent six decades as a player, coach, manager, and team adviser.
Vin Scully, part of the Dodgers’ broadcast team since 1950,spent a portion of Wednesday’s game broadcast sharing his memories of Zimmer, who played parts of seven seasons with the Dodgers.
“Don Zimmer, while he was in a Dodger uniform, I would hazard to guess, he was the most beloved Dodger amongst his teammates. There are those who are very popular, there are those who are respected, but rarely do you ever put the title ‘beloved’ on a player, and Zimmer was,” Scully said.
Scully also regaled his audience Wednesday with reflections on Zimmer’s career, on how he lost his job as the Dodgers’ shortstop, and his many nicknames, but a brief personal anecdote illustrated Zimmer’s fun-loving nature best.
“One year, I actually wore a Dodger uniform and sat quietly in the Dodger dugout, they were playing the Chicago Cubs, Zimmer was the Cubs’ manager. And I had asked for permission to do it, and I didn’t think anyone except some of the Dodgers players knew I was even in the dugout,” Scully said. “But I crept in right after the anthem, and I sat there with the cap pulled down over my brow, arms folded at my chest, and I wasn’t going to make a move. And at the end of half an inning, the late John Vukovich, who was the first-base coach for the Cubs, as he ran by the dugout, he hollered, ‘Vinny!’ And I looked up and he threw a ball to me, and I caught the ball and on the ball it said if a fight breaks out, I want you. And it was signed ‘Zimmer.’ And I looked over and the Cubs were just falling down on the bench in laughter.”
Joe Torre, the former Yankees manager, hired Zimmer to be his bench coach from 1996 to 2003 and together they won four World Series titles.
“I hired him as a coach, and he became like a family member to me. He has certainly been a terrific credit to the game. The game was his life. And his passing is going to create a void in my life and my wife Ali’s. We loved him. The game of baseball lost a special person tonight. He was a good man,” Torre said.
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter learned of Zimmer’s passing during New York’s game Wednesday.
“That’s a tough one to swallow. He’s someone that taught me a lot about the game. His stories, his experiences, he was close to my family, he was good to my family. … His attitude, he was always positive, he liked to have fun. This can be a long season. That’s what you’ll miss,” Jeter said.
Former Red Sox shortstop Rick Burleson told MLB.com’s Ian Browne that Zimmer was the “best manager I ever played for.” Zimmer managed the Red Sox from 1976 to 1980.
“Zim was a player’s manager. He knew the game really well. The thing that you knew with him was that you were going to be in the lineup and basically where you were going to hit pretty much every day. We had kind of a set deal there in Boston in those years and he just expected you to go out there and give it your all. And that’s basically what we tried to do and he was outstanding,” Burleson said.
Zimmer was a senior adviser to the Tampa Bay Rays at the time of his passing at age 83 on Wednesday. Former Rays player B.J. Upton, now with the Braves, credited Zimmer with helping him reach the majors.
“I can’t find the words to express how I feel about Zims passing. I wouldn’t be in the big leagues if Zim wasn’t there for me as a young player,” Upton said on Twitter.
The Rays will honor Zimmer with a moment of silence before Thursday’s game and hold a pregame ceremony before Saturday’s game.
“What he brought to this organization, to the Yankees, to the Red Sox, to the Cubs, the Dodgers, every organization that he represented, it was all good. His family has a lot to be proud of, and we have a lot to be thankful for,” Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said.
Roger Craig, a Zimmer teammate on the Dodgers, hired Zimmer to be a coach when Craig was manager of the Padres and Giants.
“He was a great, fiery ambassador for the game. That’s why he worked for so many teams and with so many good baseball people,” Craig told the Chicago Tribune. “He loved the races and he loved baseball. He was a great human being.”
Joe Maddon, the Rays’ manager, explained on Twitter how Zimmer helped his club.
“When the team was struggling like this, I’d sic Zim on a couple guys & he always had great advice. To the family, so sorry for your loss,” he wrote.