Rays to turn back the clock on Saturday
Club celebrates Don Zimmer and 1955 Dodgers' championship
ST. PETERSURG -- Hall of Famer Duke Snider is 80 now, and out in California enjoying spending time with his grandchildren. Former teammate Carl Erskine is back in Anderson, Ind., where he was born and raised. Johnny Podres will turn 75 on Sept. 30, the same day, he'll be more than happy to share with you, that he beat the Yankees in Game 3 of the 1955 World Series.
The trio has been retired more than a decade, but during a Wednesday conference call to discuss their reunion with then-teammate Don Zimmer, it was as if no time had passed between Brooklyn's 1955 World Series championship and now.
"I can't believe I played with all those old guys," Erskine quipped, shortly after planning dinner with Snider, his roommate on the road.
The three men will be at Tropicana Field on Saturday for the Rays' Turn Back the Clock Night. The evening features a bobblehead giveaway tribute to Zimmer, the Rays' senior adviser, entitled "'Zim' Now and Then." The statuette, given to the first 15,000 fans, features Zimmer in his Rays uniform, as well as a likeness of the man during his playing days with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers will also reunite and honor Snider, Erskine, Podres and Zimmer, members of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers World Series championship team, the first and only World Series the Dodgers won before moving to Los Angeles in 1958.
Everyone had a great story to tell about the 76-year-old Zimmer, who's been in the pros for more than half a century after breaking into the league as a rookie for Brooklyn in 1954.
Many of them involved what was and is one of Zimmer's hobbies: horse racing.
"I still remember when Don Zimmer came up to the Dodgers," Podres reminisced. "He sat on the bench during the game and we talked. Went out to dinner on a Sunday, and had off-day on Monday. I was driving back to the hotel after, he said, 'Stop the car.' He ran out and bought a newspaper, came back and said, 'We're going to Belmont Park.'
"He had about five winners that day and I've been chasing my money ever since."
Early on in Zimmer's career, he was placed in a hotel room with Snider after Podres, Snider's usual roommate, brought his wife along on a road trip.
"So, Zim came to me and said,'I want you to know I'm a good boy; I come in early I have no problems. The first thing I do every morning I read the Bible,' and I thought that was great," Snider said. "At 6 a.m., the bellboy knocks on door, and Zim ran to it and answered. He came back with a racing form and said, 'This is my Bible.'"
All jokes aside, Erskine looked back on the character Zimmer showed in awe.
"Zim was the heir apparent to take the [starting shortstop] spot from Pee Wee [Reese] as he got older," Erskine remembered. "Out of 26 farm teams, Zimmer was the infielder who looked like he was going to be the one.
"He was beaned once in the Minors, and then I saw him get hit once in Cincinnati in his cheek bone. We thought Zim was finished. His face was broken. But, he's a bulldog. He went through the process -- came back and never played shy. It was amazing to me."
Podres was crushed the day Zimmer was traded to the Cubs. Before he left, Podres took Zimmer aside and told him if the two ever faced each other, Podres would throw Zim an easy one so he could hit it out of the park.
It didn't take long for him to come through on his word.
"I had the Cubs beat 2-1 in ninth inning, and Zim's the hitter," Podres recalled. "You know in the ninth, if the first guy up gets a base hit, you know Zim's got to bunt. The Dodgers teach you to throw a high fastball to make the batter bunt.
"I threw him a nice cookie, and he hit it out of Wrigley Field. I ran around the bases with him. Then we went out and had a couple of drinks."
The three grew serious when the topic of the 1955 World Series came about. Brooklyn had won several pennants at that time, but had always fallen to the cross-town-rival Yankees. After downing their foes 2-0 at Yankee Stadium in Game 7, Erskine could only liken the aftermath to the scenes of people celebrating soldiers' return from war.
"I know when the bus came back over the bridge to Brooklyn, and all the way back from Yankee Stadium, the streets were lined," he said. "It was like in the movies, or you saw at the end of World War II, you saw a big parade in downtown Manhattan.
"There was just a mass of people throwing confetti from buildings. The bus could hardly move -- people everywhere celebrating. It's a scene I'll never forget. It's a little difficult to explain, but I'll never forget it."
The Rays will celebrate the 1955 Dodgers during a special pregame ceremony on Saturday, and the three men who'll make the trip to represent that unforgettable team will be finally reunited with their teammate, Zimmer.
"It was a special time and a special era," Erskine said. "There were three teams in New York, and I don't think anyone can imagine what it was like if they weren't there -- to have three teams in New York, all of them contenders. With three teams, it made the era extremely special."
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.