Remembering Popeye: Don Zimmer, 1931-2014
My first reaction to the passing of former Brooklyn and Los Angeles infielder Don Zimmer is how long the Ohio native lived after the last rites were administered at the hospital — 61 years.
As a minor leaguer with the Dodgers’ St. Paul affiliate on July 7, 1953, Zimmer was nearly killed when struck in the head by a pitch thrown by Jim Kirk of Columbus. Surgeons drilled four holes in Zimmer’s skull to relieve the pressure. He woke up two weeks later, thinking it was the day after the ballgame. The holes were later filled with tantalum, a metal used in nuclear reactors.
Zimmer never showed fear in the batter’s box upon his return, even when struck in the face by a pitch from the Reds’ Hal Jeffcoat in 1956. And he continued to battle for everything, even though it seemed luck wasn’t always on his side. When the Dodgers were struggling in late May of 1959, Zimmer was platooning at shortstop with Bob Lillis. It was supposed to be Zimmer’s chance at a full-time job after the retirement of veteran Pee Wee Reese.
During batting practice at the Coliseum, Dodger general manager Buzzie Bavasi noticed a hole in Zimmer’s baseball shoe. He was trying to hide a broken toe. Bavasi promoted Triple-A journeyman Maury Wills from Spokane, and Zimmer was soon a reserve again.
But Zimmer loved to have fun, and his highlight on the West Coast was betting Duke Snider whether Snider could throw a ball out of the Coliseum. Snider ended up hurting his arm in the attempt, drawing the ire of manager Walter Alston and a fine from Bavasi. When the surviving members of the 1959 Dodgers returned to the Coliseum for a reunion in 2008, the Snider throwing contest was the most popular topic. With delight, Snider and Zimmer recalled how Zimmer hid in the large locker, which was designed for college and pro football players, so Alston wouldn’t find him.
The Dodger family joins the rest of Major League Baseball in mourning the passing of one of our own, Don Zimmer: pic.twitter.com/Nmn2mUihiL
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) June 5, 2014
— Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590) June 5, 2014