Because it’s inevitable that you either already did, or were about to, check out the Pedro Martinez-Don Zimmer scuffle during the 2003 ALCS after you discovered that Zimmer died Wednesday night at the age of 83, well, there it is. It’s easily one of the oddest moments I’ve ever witnessed on a baseball field, and perhaps unfortunately for a generation, is the lasting legacy of a man whose veins oozed baseball.
To claim baseball was the definition of any one man is clichéd, unless you’re talking about Don Zimmer, who was as integral to the ballpark as chalk lines and left field wall dimensions. Bill Lee hated him. Derek Jeter loved him. In his four full seasons managing in Boston, Zimmer won 97, 99, 91, and 82 games in 1980, when he was fired and hired by the Texas Rangers. He had a successful run in Chicago, and a bench coach position with the Yankees and Joe Torre, who never hid his admiration for Zimmer.
“I hired him as a coach, and he became like a family member to me,” Torre said. “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.”
“He was my best friend in life,” said Jim Leyland, former Tigers manager. “I called him three or four times a day. He took a liking to me years ago when he was a coach with the Yankees and we became fast friends.
“There is no better person in life than Don Zimmer was.”
He was, after all, indeed a regular-skinned kind of guy. Some would say the thick skin he wore during his time in Boston thinned out as he got older. He played 12 seasons in the majors, hitting only .235 for his career, and won a pair of World Series with the Dodgers.
By the time the Pedro incident rolled around, Zimmer was so genuinely apologetic about the whole ordeal that it seemed he’d break down and cry in the press conference room at Fenway Park following the game.
But Zimmer’s best moment? It may very well have been inspiring the song that accompanied “The Boys of Zimmy,” a recount of the Cubs’ season of 1989 (The magic begins at 6:07).
Zimmer would have hated that song, and would have probably apologized for hating it so.
“We are saddened to hear of the passing of former Sox manager Don Zimmer. One of the great colorful gems in baseball. You will be missed Zim,” the Red Sox said in a statement.
“They have a thing out there in Yankee Stadium that usually they play once a day or twice a day,’ Zimmer said in a Tampa Bay Tribune profile from 2007. “You might have seen it, about Lou Gehrig giving his speech, being a lucky man. Well, I’ll never be up on that JumboTron, but I’m as lucky as he’s ever been. To be in this game as long as I have and do what I’ve done. Everything that I own is from baseball. That’s what it’s done for me.”