Longtime baseball fixture Don Zimmer dies at 83

Published:

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Don Zimmer wasn't a fixture in baseball forever. It just seemed that way.

He played alongside Jackie Robinson on the only Brooklyn Dodgers team to win the World Series. He coached Derek Jeter on the New York Yankees' latest dynasty. And his manager once was the illustrious Casey Stengel.

For 66 years, Zimmer was a most popular presence at ballparks all over, a huge chaw often filling his cheek. Everyone in the game seemed to know him, and love him.

Zimmer was still working for the Tampa Bay Rays as a senior adviser when he died Wednesday at 83 in a hospital in nearby Dunedin. He had been in a rehabilitation center since having seven hours of heart surgery in mid-April.

"Great baseball man. A baseball lifer. Was a mentor to me," teary-eyed Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

Zimmer started out as a minor league infielder in 1949, hitting powerful shots that earned him the nickname "Popeye." He went on to enjoy one of the longest-lasting careers in baseball history.

Zimmer played on the original New York Mets, saw his Boston Red Sox beaten by Bucky Dent's playoff homer and got tossed to the ground by Pedro Martinez during a brawl.

Oh, the tales he could tell.

With the champion Yankees, Zimmer was Joe Torre's right-hand man as the bench coach.

"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," Torre said in a statement.

A career .235 hitter in the big leagues, numbers could never define all that Zimmer meant to the game. He had tremendous success, too -- his teams won six World Series rings and went to the postseason 19 times.

Zimmer's No. 66 Rays jersey had been worn recently by longtime Tampa Bay third base coach Tom Foley in tribute -- the team wanted that, and MLB decided a coach should wear it. Earlier this season, the Rays hung a banner in the front of the press box at Tropicana Field that simply read "ZIM."

"On behalf of Major League Baseball and the many clubs that 'Popeye' served in a distinguished baseball life, I extend my deepest condolences to Don's family, friends and his many admirers throughout our game," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.

Zimmer's biggest admirer was his wife "Soot" -- they were married at home plate during a minor league game in 1951. Two years later in the minors, Zimmer's path took a frightening turn -- he was beaned by a fastball and left in a coma, and doctors had to put metal screws in his head.

Zimmer recovered well enough to wear a lot of uniforms during his 56 years in the majors. He played for the Dodgers, Mets, Cubs, Cincinnati Reds and Washington Senators. He managed San Diego, Boston, Texas and the Cubs.

Zimmer hit 91 home runs and had 352 RBIs in 12 seasons. He started Game 7 when Brooklyn beat the Yankees for the 1955 crown and was an All-Star in 1961.

The next year, he played under Stengel on the 1962 expansion Mets, who famously went 40-120.

Zimmer is survived by his wife; son Thomas, a scout with the San Francisco Giants; daughter Donna, and four grandchildren.

• Basketball

Sterling agrees: Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling agreed Wednesday to sign off on a deal to sell the team he has owned for 33 years to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion, bringing the possibility of a resolution to weeks of rumors, uncertainty and looming legal action.

The agreement hadn't been officially signed Wednesday afternoon, according to an individual with knowledge of the negotiations who wasn't authorized to discuss them publicly. But Donald Sterling's attorney, Maxwell Blecher, said he "has made an agreement with the NBA to resolve all their differences." Sterling gave his consent to a deal that was negotiated by his wife, Shelly Sterling, to sell the team, Blecher said.

Representatives for Shelly Sterling and the NBA declined to comment.

Parker to play: San Antonio guard Tony Parker plans to play in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat on Thursday night.

Parker has been dealing with a left ankle sprain and missed the second half of the Spurs' Western Conference-clinching win in Game 6 of their series against Oklahoma City.

He was on the practice floor with teammates and pronounced himself ready to go afterward.

All-NBA team: Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant capped his MVP season by being the lone unanimous choice to the All-NBA first team.

Durant was a first-teamer on all 125 ballots, and made the top squad for the fifth time. Miami's LeBron James got 124 first-team votes on the way to being selected for the eighth time, while the Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul earned his fourth first-team selection.

Houston's James Harden and Chicago's Joakim Noah are first-time first-team choices.

• Elsewhere

Cubs leave WGN: The Chicago Cubs are ending their partnership with WGN Radio, one of the longest such relationships in broadcast history.

WGN Radio president Jimmy de Castro confirmed Wednesday media reports that the Cubs are leaving the station after this season. The radio station has been the Cubs' radio home for 90 years. The station exercised an opt-out provision in the contract last fall due to falling ratings and revenue. That move followed the Cubs' decision to opt out of their WGN-TV deal to seek better long-term regional TV rights fees.

Kaepernick gets new deal: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has received a new six-year contract extension through the 2020 season.

The team announced the deal Wednesday. The sides had made it a top priority to get a deal done before the start of training camp for one of the NFL's best young quarterbacks.

Since taking over the starting job from Alex Smith midway through the 2011 season, Kaepernick led the 49ers to their first Super Bowl in 18 years after the 2012 season -- losing by three points to Baltimore -- and then to the NFC championship game last season, a three-point defeat to the rival and eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.