Truth be told, when the Yankees hired Joe Torre and Don Zimmer in 1995, I didn’t know much about either guy. The extent of my knowledge came from my baseball card collection, and borrowing baseball almanacs from the library.
I quickly fell in love with both of their styles — Torre making more tactful, tacit comments, and Zim with his blunt, “old school” remarks. I’ve always tried to be a straight shooter, and Zimmer was the epitome of that.
In this republished Esquire article from 2001, Scott Raab has a great passage about him.
Zimmer managed Tom Yawkey’s Red Sox from 1976 to 1980. Between parties, the Boston media and fans roasted him without mercy.
“Every day,” Zim says. “I left the ballpark one night, and sittin’ right by the dugout is my wife and my daughter–she lives up in New Hampshire, but it’s only, like, forty-five minutes north, and I’m drivin’ her up to her house. My wife’s sittin’ in the front, and my daughter’s in the back and she’s cryin’. I turned around and said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ She said, ‘Daddy, I’m so tired of people booin’ you in this town, and I’m worried that yer gonna get fired.’
“I said, ‘Don’t go to the game no more. Stay home. If it’s gonna bother ya, stay home.’
“Don’t tell me it didn’t hurt–day after day, hour after hour, the same shit. It’s gotta bother ya. But it’s baseball. If you don’t like it, get out. Get a job. That’s the way I looked at it. And that’s the way it was.”
There is old school as a slogan of self-advertisement and then there is old school as the baseball way of life Zimmer still loves too much to leave behind.
“Yeah. Yeah, or I wouldn’t go back. When last season was over, I got the goddamn flu, last day of the World Series. I was on my back for three weeks. I was sick, and my knee still wasn’t right, and I was ready to give it up. I got over the flu. My knee I can manipulate–” and I’ll be damned if Zim doesn’t roll up one pant leg to display a bony spur jutting just south of the ruined joint. It’s a tame phrase, “knee replacement,” but this looks ghastly. And painful.
“I can get by. I get by,” he says.
That’s how he always was. You play 162 games a year, and if you have a tough loss, it’s time to move on and look at tomorrow’s game. Something you planned didn’t work out? Tough shit, it happens, and you can’t let it bug you.
It’s refreshing to find a guy like him. Sometimes players don’t relate to the fact that they make a living playing a game, but Zim knew. He was humble about it too.
“I didn’t wanna make no big thing of it,” he explains. “I came in very quiet, and that’s the way I’d like ta go out.”
“Hey, it’s been a great ride for me, a great life. Everything I have I owe to baseball. Baseball owes me nothin’. Ain’t nobody has to give me nothin’. I would be embarrassed if I had a day somewhere. I don’t want no day. I want friends, to live my life the way I wanna live it.”
It’s great advice, isn’t it? Keep your head down, do your thing, and be happy with what you could accomplish.
I get melancholy when ballplayers pass away. I’ve never met the guys, but when you spend so much time involved with their professional lives, you feel really connected to them. One of the great things about baseball is that it’s perpetual, and the names live on forever.
That makes it so much harder when one of the guys you really cherished moves on.