We spend a lot of time here on DRaysBay talking about statistics, transactions, news, and rumors, but throughout this season I want to implement something else; history. The Rays have a short one, but just in a single year there are tons of events worth covering. History extends beyond simply the organization on the field as well; many of the people who work around and on the team have baseball geneses beyond the creation of our team.
What personnel member fits the bill the best to start this new focus on the historic aspect than senior advisor Don Zimmer.
Born in 1931 Zimmer began his pro career in 1954 as a middle infielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers, hitting .182/.270/.242 in 24 games. Despite not getting much better Zimmer would play for the Dodgers through their relocation to Los Angeles in 1958 and winning a World Series with the Dodgers in 1959.
Zimmer would be traded in 1960 to the Chicago Cubs for Ron Perranoski, Johnny Goryl, and minor leaguer Lee Handley, plus $25,000. The New York Mets would select Zimmer in the 1961 expansion draft from the Cubs, but trade him months later to the Cincinnati Reds for Bob Miller and Cliff Cook. Zimmer would return to the Dodgers in January 1963 in exchange for Scott Breeden, but six months later would wind up with the Washington Senators after having his contract purchased.
In November of 1965 Zimmer would be released and end his career with 91 homeruns, 45 stolen bases, .235 batting average, .290 on-base percentage, and .372 slugging percentage. Zimmer would immediately join the coaching ranks and toil in the minors until 1971 taking the Montreal Expos third base coaching spot.
A year later Zimmer would join the San Diego Padres in the same capacity, but early in the year would take over as manager after Preston Gomez was fired, in 1973 the Padres would fire Zimmer and he'd move to the Boston Red Sox again as the third base coach, spending two and a half seasons there. Zimmer would be involved in the play that saw Denny Doyle thrown out at home in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and one out, his commands of "No!" confused as "Go!"
Zimmer would become manager of the Red Sox from the midpoint of 1976 until 1980. The team would win at least 90 games in each of his first full seasons, despite a collapse in 1978. In 1981 Zimmer became manager of the Texas Rangers through the 1982 season and after numerous Yankee coaching jobs would become manager of the Chicago Cubs. In 1992 Zimmer would become a coach for the Boston Red Sox, in 1993 he'd join the Colorado Rockies, and in 1996 he'd head back to the Yankees - this time as the bench coach alongside good friend Joe Torre.
While Torre was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer Zimmer managed the team in 1999, although his 21-15 record is credited to Torre. After numerous blowups over owner George Steinbrenner's treatment of Torre Zimmer would leave New York in 2003 and join the Rays' as a senior advisor in 2004.
Since he's been quoted as saying how grateful he is to the organization for allowing him to be around in such a loose capacity, seeing him in uniform for all spring games and as a pre-game coach during the regular season for all home games.
2008 marks the 60th season of baseball for Zimmer, but the amazing aspect is that none of this came without near tragedy. In 1953 Zimmer was hit in the head by a pitch from Jim Kirk and would spend six weeks without the ability to talk - two of those unconscious. He would be pegged in the face in 1956 that fractured his cheekbone.
Amazingly Zimmer has a steel plate installed in his head; something that has been the object of many jokes and jabs towards Zimmer, including Pedro Martinez' throwing the charging Zimmer to the ground in 2003.
Despite being 77 Zimmer hasn't slowed down. He's seen the game in nearly every on the field capacity possible, he's lived the highs and nearly died because of the game, for all purposes Don Zimmer is baseball.
Photo courtesy of James Houser