All the reasons everyone loved Don Zimmer

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You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 2014, Don Zimmer died.

The Rangers were riding a 13-game losing streak when a young beat writer dragged himself into manager Zimmer’s office on yet another scorching Texas day in May 1982.

“What’s wrong with you?” Zimmer said with that famous Zim glare.

“Covering this team isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be,” the writer said.

“Ah, quit complaining!” Zimmer snapped. “Look at you. You’re young, you have your whole life ahead of you. Look at me. I’m old, I’m fat, I’m bald, I’m ugly, I have a plate in my head. And I have this team to manage. I’m the one with the worries.”

The full “On this date …” archive

And then he flashed that Zim smile, that unmistakable, moon-faced smile that could light up a room, especially one in which baseball was spoken. No one, but no one, loved the game more than Don Zimmer. He married his beloved wife, Soot, at home plate in Elmira, N.Y. He wore a uniform for 66 years as a player, coach and manager. He was as tough a player as there has even been. He overcame two horrific beanings. He played for the world champion Dodgers in 1955. He managed four major league teams for 13 years, with a .508 winning percentage. In 1989, he managed the Cubs to an unlikely division title. And, as Joe Torre’s bench coach for many years with the Yankees, he became the game’s grandfather, baseball’s Buddha. In his final job, as a senior advisor for the Rays, he was revered.

The day he died, Zimmer was perhaps the mostly widely loved and respected person in the game.

For Zimmer’s last few years, Jim Leyland, a former Tigers manager, called him on the phone every day, sometimes two and three times, just to check in, and to pick his brain.

“I love Zim,” Leyland said.

Everyone loved Zim. After being fired by the Red Sox, Zimmer became a coach with the Yankees, and rented Bucky Dent’s house in New Jersey. Dent, of course, hit an enormous three-run homer for the Yankees in the famous playoff game that beat Zimmer’s Red Sox.

“Over top of my bed,” Zimmer said with a classic laugh, “there was a framed newspaper story with the headline: SOX DENTED! I went to bed every night with that hanging over my head.”

Other baseball notes for June 4

  • In 1955, Willie Mays hit an extra-inning home run. He would hit 22 extra-inning home runs in his career, most of all time.

  • In 2013, John Mayberry Jr. became the first player to hit two home runs in extra innings, the second being a walk-off grand slam.

  • In 1957, Tony Pena was born. He was an excellent defensive catcher. But he caught the most games of all time (1,950) of any catcher who never caught a no-hitter.

  • In 1964, Sandy Koufax threw his third no-hitter.

  • In 1956, catcher Terry Kennedy was born. Great guy, great historian of the game. And a really big catcher (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) who had some trouble at times with agility behind the plate. “Whenever I needed help, they’d send me a catching instructor who was this tall [roughly 5-8],” Kennedy said. “I’d tell the guy, ‘Thanks, but you can’t help me. The reason I’m having trouble back there is I’m so big.”’

  • In 1990, Ramon Martinez, brother of Pedro, struck out 18 in a 2-0 shutout of the Braves. “Did you look at his forearms? Look at how long they are,” said teammate Eric Karros. So I looked. Ramon had unusually long forearms, which allowed for such great whip action, especially on his breaking ball.



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