6/5/2014 2:32 A.M. ET
MLB community saddened by passing of Zimmer
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
The loss of Don Zimmer reverberated throughout baseball on Wednesday, when the 83-year-old icon of the game passed away in Dunedin, Fla.
It boomed off the walls of every clubhouse and front office in the Major Leagues, leaving deep heartbreak, a profound sense of gratitude for what Zimmer brought to the ballpark and to the world, and, of course, the fondest and most joyous of memories. This man, after all, was one of the great characters in all of American sports.
Zimmer touched the lives of so many in baseball because he was a lifer in the truest sense. Wednesday brought an end to a colorful, wonderful story that most baseball fans followed: 66 years in professional baseball, 56 of which were spent as a player, coach or manager. Fourteen different uniforms. Nineteen postseason appearances.
Not surprisingly, one of the first public reactions to Zimmer's passing came from Commissioner Bud Selig.
"Like everyone in Major League Baseball, I am deeply saddened by the loss of my friend Don Zimmer, one of our game's most universally beloved figures," Selig said. "A memorable contributor to baseball for more than 60 years, Don was the kind of person you could only find in the National Pastime.
"As a player, Don experienced the joys of the 1955 world champion Brooklyn Dodgers and the struggles of the '62 Mets. In his managerial and coaching career, this unique baseball man led the Cubs to a division crown and then, at his good friend Joe Torre's loyal side, helped usher in a new era in the fabled history of the Yankees.
"On behalf of Major League Baseball and the many clubs that 'Popeye' served in a distinguished baseball life, I extend my deepest condolences to Don's family, friends and his many admirers throughout our game."
Zimmer's time with the Yankees has resonated as much as any other time in his legendary career, and fittingly there were plenty of comments from members of the New York organization.
Torre, Zimmer's longtime confidant and a current executive with MLB, issued a statement along with Selig.
"I hired him as a coach, and he became like a family member to me," Torre said. "He has certainly been a terrific credit to the game. The game was his life. And his passing is going to create a void in my life and my wife Ali's. We loved him. The game of baseball lost a special person tonight. He was a good man."
More love poured in from the Yankees, including shortstop Derek Jeter, who was known to touch Zimmer's head for good luck before running out to his position.
"That's a tough one to swallow," Jeter said. "Everyone knows how much Zim has meant, not only to our organization, but to baseball as a whole. Your thoughts and prayers go out to his family. ...
"Zim was around when I first came up. He's someone that taught me a lot about the game. He's been around and he's pretty much seen everything. His stories, his experiences, he was close to my family and good to my family. We'll miss him."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi echoed those sentiments and added some light-hearted memories of the man.
"There are so many funny stories, whether it was that he yelled at me for wearing a thumb guard one day, and then apologized to me the next day because he felt bad and said he didn't sleep all night," Girardi said.
"And he liked to have fun. That was Zim. I saw Zim dance on a table after we came from behind and won a game, and the table broke, and snapped, and there came Zim down."
The Yankees weren't the only New York team associated with Zimmer or affected by his passing.
"We are saddened by the passing of Don Zimmer, an original Met, who played in our very first game," the Mets organization said in a statement. "He gave six decades of his life to baseball. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family."
Elsewhere around the American and National Leagues, it was hard to find anyone who didn't know Zimmer well or have experiences with him throughout the years.
Former player, current White Sox radio announcer and cancer survivor Darrin Jackson, for example, played for Zimmer with the Cubs in 1988 and '89.
"I had a special relationship with Zim in the sense that when I came back from my cancer I had after the '87 season, he kind of looked out for me," Jackson said. "He was a very emotional guy. He really cared about you as an individual even though he would chew you a new butt if he had to.
"I saw both sides of him, so when I just heard the news it actually touched my heart and made me very sad. But I'm going to miss his stories. Every time we went into Tampa, I sat down and talked to him and listened to his stories."
Zimmer continued his baseball career in the Tampa area, working for the last 11 seasons as a senior adviser.
"Today we all lost a national treasure and a wonderful man," said Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg. "Don dedicated his life to the game he loved, and his impact will be felt for generations to come. His contributions to this organization are immeasurable. I am proud that he wore a Rays uniform for the past 11 years. We will miss him dearly."
The Rays announced that they will honor Zimmer with a moment of silence at Thursday's home game against the Marlins and will conduct a special pregame ceremony prior to the Rays-Mariners game on Saturday. The Texas Rangers, whom were managed by Zimmer in 1981-82, also will honor Zimmer with a moment of silence during the seventh-inning stretch of their Thursday game against the Orioles.
Zimmer's loss could be felt palpably in the Rays clubhouse on Wednesday.
"It's all of our loss," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said. "Zim was a great man and there's really no words to explain what he brought to us and what he meant to me. It's just been a rough go for us, and this kind of puts the icing on the cake, so to speak.
"I know that he would want us to continue on and just kind of honor him by doing all of the things that he preached to us: playing the game the right way, playing the game hard and going out there on a daily basis and really caring about this organization and what he meant to us. I could sit here and talk about him all day. It's just a rough night for us."
Rays manager Joe Maddon said he'd remember Zimmer most for his feistiness and competitive fire.
"He brought that on a daily basis," Maddon said. "He always had that look in his eye. He was definitely engaged all the time in the moment. But it was always about winning, always about whatever it took to win."
That part of Zimmer's persona was recognized by everyone around the game, but he was also remembered for uncanny generosity.
"A sad day for the game of baseball," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Don impacted lives from the time he first put the uniform on in the Minor Leagues until today. ... I first met him in Colorado, he was on the Don Baylor staff, and I spent meaningful time with him there. And after that, he actually made a couple of calls in my behalf, in different situations, trying to 'sponsor' me for opportunities. A very, very special man. A very giving man. The game's lost a very good human being and a very great baseball man."
Zimmer also managed in Boston, and one of his players there, former Red Sox shortstop Rick Burleson, shared his thoughts on Wednesday night.
"He was the best manager I ever played for, without a doubt," Burleson said. ... Zim was a player's manager. He knew the game really well. The thing that you knew with him was that you were going to be in the lineup and basically where you were going to hit pretty much every day.
"This was a guy, when I was in Spring Training in '77, when he was the manager, he asked if he could babysit so that my wife and I could go out to dinner by ourselves. Him and his wife came over and babysat our oldest boy, Tyler."
One thing that was clear Wednesday was that you didn't even have to know Zimmer to appreciate who he was.
Marlins starter Tom Koehler is a native of New Rochelle, N.Y., so he was well-aware of Zimmer's exploits in pinstripes and felt the need to express his sadness at hearing the news.
"I was fortunate enough to see him ... in action, being that I grew up so close to Yankee Stadium," Koehler said.
"I didn't know him at all, but just everything I've ever heard about him was just always positive -- that he would light up a room, and obviously his baseball IQ speaks for itself. It's a sobering moment for baseball, and I just wanted to take a moment to send my condolences to his family and anyone who was close to him."
Meanwhile, Marlins pitching coach Chuck Hernandez did know Zimmer.
"He was a friend," Hernandez said. "He was a mentor to me. He fought a long, hard fight, as would be expected, but he's going to be in a good place tonight. All my thoughts are with his family, with [wife] Soot and his sons. He's just a great guy. What an impact on so many people for so long. We're gonna miss him."
The same emotions poured in from other current managers.
Orioles skipper Buck Showalter, for example, said Zimmer always had time for any questions or concerns.
"The thing a lot of people miss because he was such a character in the game was what a great baseball man he was," Showalter said. "Very open to people about sharing his knowledge, always had time for you, smile on his face.
"But boy, what a competitor. What a competitor."
Cubs manager Rick Renteria didn't know Zimmer but knows well how the city of Chicago felt about the man.
"He was loved by many, many people," Renteria said. "My heart goes out to his family and all their friends. I think the baseball family has lost a good one."
Added Nationals skipper Matt Williams: "Fantastic ambassador, great coach, manager, and we all mourn the loss of him today. Great memories. Provided many, many baseball players and fans and organizations with great memories."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia called Zimmer "a baseball legend."
"He just touched so many people with his time, not only in this game, but on this Earth," Scioscia said. "I know he'll be missed. It's a sad day."
Zimmer often said he was most proud of the fact that he never had a job in his life that wasn't related to baseball.
"I don't think there's many people you can count on your hand that can say that," Burleson said. "So I mean, I feel for his wife, Soot, and their family and his daughter and son. It's a sad day to see that happen. He had a great life. He did what he wanted to do. I don't think you can ask for any more than that."