Baseball and the Rockies lose a legend as Don Zimmer passes away

Hulton Archive

Involved with the game for the better part of seven decades, including a relatively brief stint with the Rockies, baseball lost a great one when Don Zimmer passed away yesterday at the age of 83.

Don Zimmer was a baseball lifer in every sense of the word, playing, coaching and managing for 66 seasons, all but a few of those in the Major Leagues, signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers not long after his 18th birthday and working with the Tampa Bay Rays until he died yesterday at the age of 83.

The Rockies were one of a dozen franchises Zimmer was associated with throughout his career. To put that career in perspective, he broke into the big leagues playing alongside Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider and ended it mentoring Evan Longoria and Wil Myers.

He came to Colorado at the dawn of the Rockies franchise as Don Baylor's bench coach in 1993, more than 20 years into his coaching career. He remained with the club, serving at times as the bench coach and the third base coach, before moving on midway through the 1995 season, with nearly 20 years of his coaching career left.

To the current generation of fans, Zimmer is probably best known for his attempt to take on Pedro Martinez in the midst of a Red Sox-Yankees brawl during the 2003 American League Championship Series, but would do well to remember that was near the end of an eight-year stint for Zimmer as Joe Torre's right-hand man that saw the Yankees win six pennants and four World Series titles.

Zimmer made his MLB debut as a player on July 2, 1954 as a shortstop for the Dodgers against the Phillies at Connie Mack Stadium (formerly known as Shibe Park.) He tripled in his first big league at bat in the third inning of a game the -Dodgers would eventually lose, 7-6, with Hall of Famer Robin Roberts earning the save.

In his second season, Zimmer played in 88 games and had 280 at bats for the World Champion Dodgers. It was the first of six World Series wins in Zimmer's career. Zimmer also played for the Dodgers' World Series champions in 1959, but would not win another title until he was a bench coach for the Yankees in 1996.

Zimmer had his best season as a player with the Cubs in 1961, getting 477 at bats and hitting .252/.291/.403 with 13 home runs and earning the lone All-Star appearance of his career. The next season he would wind up on the '62 Mets, only the worst team in MLB history. He was back with the Dodgers to start the 1963 season before being traded to the second iteration of the Washington Senators (the one that is now the Rangers), where he finished his Major League playing career after the 1965 season. He wrapped up his playing career with a season for the Toei Flyers in Japan in 1966 and a season as a player-manager in the Reds system in 1967.

Zimmer re-surfaced in the big leagues in 1971 as a coach with the Expos, before moving to the Padres in 1972 where he was named manager 20 games into the seasons. The first of five managerial stints in Zimmer's career did not go well, as he went 114-190 before being fired after the 1973 season.

He was then hired as third base coach for the Red Sox in 1974 and was part of a baseball rival in Beantown in the mid-to-late '70s. He was there to greet Carlton Fisk as he rounded third on his iconic walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.

Midway through the 1976 season, Boston fired manager Darrell Johnson and handed the job to Zimmer, who would go on to win more than 90 games in each of his first three seasons as Red Sox manager. Yes, Zimmer was in the dugout when Bucky "Effin'" Dent knocked the Red Sox out of the playoffs with a three-run home run over the Green Monster in 1978. Of course, Zimmer was on the other side of things when Aaron "Effin'" Boone did the same thing in the ALCS a quarter century later.

Zimmer was fired by the Red Sox near the end of the 1980 season and was hired by the Rangers, managing the strike-shortened 1981 season in Texas before being fired midway through the 1982 campaign. He spent most of the '80s bouncing around as a coach between the Yankees, Cubs and Giants before being hired by Chicago as manager to start  the 1988 season.

After a fourth-place finish season in 1988, Zimmer managed the Cubs to 93 wins and an NL East title in 1989, taking home NL Manager of the Year honors despite losing to the Giants in the NLCS. The Cubs fell back to fifth place in 1990 and stumbled out of the gate in 1991, resulting in Zimmer again being fired.

Zimmer spent a season as Boston's third-base coach in 1992 before joining Baylor and the Rockies in 1993, spending three seasons in Colorado before his hugely successful eight-year tenure as Yankees bench coach under Joe Torre.

For the last 11 seasons of his life and career, Zimmer moved back to the Tampa area that he and his wife Soot had called home since the '50s, working as a senior advisor with the Rays, helping at spring training and at home games before his death yesterday.

Tributes to Zimmer have poured in from all over baseball, from Johnny Bench to Vin Scully to Longoria and, of course, the Rockies.

Rest in peace, Zim, you'll be missed.

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