Don Zimmer’s Passing Leaves a Huge Void

Don Zimmer, a baseball icon for the past six decades as a player, manager, bench coach and most recently senior advisor for the Tampa Bay Rays, passed away at the age of 83 today in Florida.

Upon learning of Zimmer’s passing, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig issued a statement stating that, “Like everyone in Major League Baseball, I am deeply saddened by the loss of my friend Don Zimmer, one of our game’s most universally beloved figures. A memorable contributor to Baseball for more than 60 years, Don was the kind of person you could only find in the National Pastime.”

My first column for this site was a tribute to the late Earl Weaver. Now it is time to say goodbye to another icon from my past who shaped my earliest memories of the game of baseball and was someone who I was excited to see during my most recent trip to Spring Training.

As a kid collecting baseball cards, there were certain faces that jumped out of the two dimensional cards and showed a life of baseball knowledge behind their eyes.

Don Zimmer spent 66 years in professional baseball as a player, manager and bench coach.
Don Zimmer spent 66 years in professional baseball as a player, manager and bench coach.

While the logos on their hats may have changed as they moved from team to team, Don Zimmer, Lou Pinella, Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, Sparky Anderson, Joe Torre, and Earl Weaver just had the look and sound that one would expect a Major League Baseball Manager to have.

While I never had the opportunity to meet Zimmer as I did with Earl Weaver, both men nonetheless reminded me of what a true baseball manager should be, someone a little rough around the edges who is willing to charge the mound or kick some dirt on an umpire’s shoes when the situation called for it.

In honor of Zimmer, a moment of silence was held before the seventh inning stretch of the Baltimore Orioles versus Texas Rangers game. More celebrations honoring Don Zimmer are planned in the coming days.

The Rays will honor Zimmer with a moment of silence at Thursday’s Rays-Marlins game at Tropicana Field and will conduct a special pregame ceremony prior to the Rays-Mariners game on Saturday.

Don Zimmer (far right) served as a special adviser for Joe Maddon after joining the Tampa Bay Rays when Lou Pinella was the manager.  Photo R. Anderson
Don Zimmer (far right) served as a special advisor for Joe Maddon after joining the Tampa Bay Rays when Lou Pinella was the manager.
Photo R. Anderson

From a player who nearly died following a pitch to the head resulting in a metal plate being placed in his head, Don Zimmer used his 66-years in professional baseball to shape generations of players.

It would take days to recount all of the accomplishments from Zimmer’s career. There is no doubt that his death leaves a larger than life void on the game of baseball.

Once his playing career was over, Zim, as he was known, managed the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs. Zim also managed the New York Yankees for 36 games in 1999, while Torre recuperated from prostate cancer.

A frequent fixture in the dugout as Yankees bench coach, Zim left the Bronx and went home to Tampa to serve first as bench coach under Pinella, and then later under Joe Maddon with the Rays.

The Rays honored Zim in a truly Tampa Bay Rays way when they immortalized him with a Zim Bear giveaway. The Zim Bears were so popular that a second batch of bears was added to keep up with fan demand.

It is a sad fact that all of the baseball icons of my youth will all someday pass away just like Earl Weaver and Don Zimmer have.

Each generation has their favorites. It is always a little sad when they are no longer with us as it can feel like a piece of our own youth is dying along with them.

When we are young looking up at these larger than life figures on the baseball diamond, it can be easy to think of them as almost immortal. As we age we realize that they are flesh and blood just like us.

Thankfully despite their passing away, they will live on in the memories of fans through memories from ballparks and baseball cards that keep them forever young in the minds of the fans who grew up watching them and collecting the cards that bore their likeness.  In Don Zimmer’s case, they can even live on in the form of a teddy bear with their face on it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it is time to reread Zim’s autobiography.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson