Don Zimmer

October 16, 2008

For most of my life, most of Earth’s baseball fans viewed the team I root for in one or more of the following ways:

  1. a team to laugh at
  2. a team to make one feel better about one’s own team
  3. a team whose fans (so the thinking went from the outside) actually reveled in flagellating themselves with the team’s chronic losing
  4. a team of which one could declare, mockingly, “those poor saps will never win anything, ever”
  5. a team of which one could declare, mockingly, “if they ever do win anything then it’s time to head for the hills because the end will be near”
  6. a team of which one could declare, perhaps wistfully, perhaps just to oneself, laying aside the mockery for a chance to reflect on the deep grooves of failure that define most human life, “maybe it would be interesting if they ever won it all; maybe it would be something I could root for”
  7. a team that always repaid any wistful marginal interest from unaffiliated fans with more disappointment, which inspired from those not lashed to the team further, distancing mockery and general pronouncements about the unchangeable destiny of the team, such as that they seem to be forever saddled with an unusually large amount of bad luck (as noted by many, the litany of bad luck was wrenched into the soon-to-be-monotonous notion of a “curse” somewhere around the time that Dan Shaughnessy was sizing up his ability to put his children through college)
  8. a team that had torpedoed its own chances for decades not by being “cursed” but by tolerating and advancing an easygoing country-club mentality and an institutional racism, the former sacrificing team unity and a single-minded focus on winning for the coddling of often one-dimensional sluggers, the latter not only just plain wrong morally but wrong in terms of pure baseball, as evidenced most clearly by the team passing on chances to sign Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays

Since this last viewpoint was, unfortunately, by far the most obscure of the ways in which the team was viewed by baseball fans, the Boston Red Sox, in general, were not hated, not even when they were deserving of hatred. In general, they were viewed benignly, as an entity that did far more harm to themselves than they could ever do to anyone else.

The team’s place in the baseball universe reached its pinnacle the year this card came out, when Don Zimmer presided over arguably the worst pennant-race collapse in baseball history. I can tell you from experience that Zimmer became a hated figure from within the world of Red Sox fandom (in Maine, according to a college friend, this hatred found its purest expression as something children called out when frantically running toward water: “Last one in is Don Zimmer!”), but outside that realm I think he was seen mostly as a comical figure, a crusty baseball lifer with bulging cheeks, beady eyes, and a history of debilitating, brain-scrambling concussions.

Zimmer’s cartoonish persona came into full bloom a couple decades later as he served as a coach on Yankees throughout their dynastic domination of the league in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Zimmer’s transformation from a Red Soxian figure, i.e., one upon whom gentle mockery is cast, to a fully vested member in the Yankee Pantheon of Beloved Greats (Zimmer something of a junior member of the Pantheon’s “Colorful” wing along with, among others, Yogi Berra, Casey Stengel, and Phil Rizzuto) helped further define the team he’d once managed: If even Don Zimmer could find glory at the very top of the baseball world, then the message was clear: you went to the Boston Red Sox to lose, and you went to the New York Yankees to win. It seemed absolutely set in stone, something that could never change.

Well, it changed. (Interestingly enough, it changed the year after Zimmer embarrassed himself by charging at Pedro Martinez during a bench-clearing incident in the 2003 playoffs, an attack that Pedro handled with the gentle flowing grace of the ever-peaceful, ever-beleaguered Kwai Chang Caine, but that’s a whole other story or two or three.)

Anyway, it changed. Now, two Word Series victories later, the Boston Red Sox are considered by most of Earth’s baseball fans as an annoying huge-market monstrosity with arrogant, ubiquitous fans and a stranglehold on the mainstream media’s attention. Many fans wishing to damn them with the harshest terms possible point to the above developments to back up the claim that the Red Sox have become the Yankees.

I’ll leave that claim alone except to say that I don’t see it that way. But I’m a Red Sox fan and have been a Red Sox fan since long before the birth of the young woman who sat behind me the last time I was at Fenway, in 2007, and talked on her cellphone the whole game about, among other things, how she was sitting near the “Penske Pole.” Winning attracts a whole new breed of fan, I guess, one who doesn’t care so much about the game and couldn’t tell you who Johnny Pesky is, let alone that he got a raw deal in the eyes of the world for his role in the events of the 8th inning of the 1946 World Series, and this new breed of fan is one reason why fans of other teams have turned on the Red Sox, but I can only control my own fandom, and my own fandom is just like anyone else’s, and always has been: to root for my team to win.

Anyway, it’s win or go home tonight against the team for which Don Zimmer is currently employed, the Tampa Bay Rays, who hold a three games to one lead over the Red Sox in the 2008 ALCS. For most of my life, the Red Sox would be viewed as roadkill by now. Even if they were the ones holding the three games to one advantage, it would be seen as a prelude to another choke job. Now baseball fans everywhere—those who hate the Red Sox, those who love the Red Sox, those who go to Red Sox games to talk on cell phones about the Penske Pole—have to temper the seemingly obvious conclusion that the Rays are the superior team with the thought that there is no tougher team to kill than the Boston Red Sox. If Dice-K, who looked so strong in Game One, wins tonight, then fearless Josh Beckett gets another chance to atone for his recent poor outings, and if Beckett wins then it’s Jon Deathbeater Lester in Game Seven. It could happen. These are the hated Red Sox, the team that threw down the old beady-eyed fool of losing long ago.


  1. 1.  While Zimmer might only be a junior member of the Yankee Pantheon, I think each post season Torre manages without him magnifies his contributions to the Yankees most recent dynasty. Who knows? If Popeye has not been forced into exile, maybe the Yankees would have added a couple of notches to their belt (yes, I think Torre’s managing in 2003 and 2004 was the difference between winning and not winning two World Series).

  2. 2.  You hit it right on the head regarding how fans of other teams now view the Red Sox. The Red Sox to many, me included, are the lesser of two evils – the Yankees being the ultimate evil empire.

    After encountering many “new” Bosox fans this summer at the Reds interleague series, many times I was tempted to ask them if they knew who Rico Petrocelli, Roger Moret, or Bob Montgomery were. I relented and did not, however, when a group of loud obnoxious “new” Bosox fans walked in an establishment we were in, I walked up to then and asked them if they were Red Sox fans. They replied, “You bet”. I responded, “Ok, I’ll talk slower then”. Somehow I managed to not get pounded into oblivion.

  3. 3.  I think that Zimmer was a better manager than 40-something New Englanders acknowledge. He had Mario Mendoza as his starting shortstop one year and the Rangers still had a winning record!

    I’m not sure if it was Zimmer that got rid of Bernie Carbo and the Buffalo Heads or if the FO had more to do with it. After Yawkey died, the owning triumvirate was looking to cut costs and Tom’s widow Jean hated Dick O’Connell and, by extension, some of his acquisitions. I think that had alot to do with some of the moves they made in those days. Carbo was a veteran bench guy and they probably figured they could replace him with a Garry Hancock. OTOH, Zimmer ran Butch Hobson day in and day out. Hobson was the prototypical Dirt Dog. That “run through walls” attitude may be appeal to fans. It’s an asset in football, but they play baseball every day.

    However, some new shit has come to light. I almost feel like I could be opening Pandora’s Box here, but Zimmer could be viewed as Pete Rose’s older brother. They were both middle infielders from Cincy and they both liked to play the horses. In my recent research on Bowie Kuhn, I came across a Penthouse article, where author Jerome Tuccille said “…Zimmer, who managed the Sox from 1976-80, admitted that baseball questioned him about gambling, but Zimmer insisted that he only bet legally on dog races.” But some reporter stated that “Zimmer’s voice appeared on a recording of an FBI wiretap of the phone of a gambling figure in either 1978 or 1979.”

    I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions with this, but I found it interesting. I already knew that he liked the track.

  4. 4.  3 : Well, he surely had a deep dislike for the Buffalo Head named Bill Lee, and allowed that dislike to cloud his judgments about what was best for the team as far as using (or not using) Lee. I can’t imagine he was too keen on Lee’s buddies on the team. I’m sure Lee blames him for the team losing Carbo.

    That’s a very interesting item on Zimmer from Penthouse. And by the way, could there be any bigger damper on the usual proceedings of a Penthouse reader than to turn the page with your one free hand and see the mug of Don Zimmer? My god.

  5. 5.  I’m a lifelong Detroit Lions fan so the first three quarters of your post makes perfect sense to me. I’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing the latter. From a complete outsiders perspective, I’ll admit my opinion of the Red Sox has changed over the past 8 years or so. They used to share the AL East with Tigers, but most Tiger fans I grew up with hated the Blue Jays and the Yankees. Everyone felt that the AL West was simply the inferior division (but I always liked those Royals teams, hence my GB5HOF screen name) so we really didn’t put much effort in hating those teams. Examining why I dislike the Red Sox now, it has nothing to do with their fans, or their great players. I think ESPN has made me dislike them I hate the manufactured “Red Sox Nation” bullshit. Come to think of it, ESPN has made me hate a lot of teams, and a lot of players, across several different sports.

  6. 6.  Interesting… I came across some Penthouse articles in my day too.

    I’ll be here all week.

  7. 7.  Josh, I Forgot to mention the use of Lee in ’78. I was just trying to get the post in during work hours. The gambling stuff is a note for myself in a sense. I forgot to note in in my big book of Kuhn and figured posting about it here would help me remeber it better.

  8. 8.  3 Very interesting.

    Of course, the gambling prohibition is not just for sports. The implied risk has always been that a player will get deep in hock, and throw a game so his bookie can get square.

    Like Josh, I was there when they were 81-81, and I was there when Win Remmerswaal pitched, so I have a mild distaste for the nouveau fan. Do you know who Joe Foy is? No? Then shut up.

    I have a strange equanimity with the drawing of our 2008 season to a close. I’m disappointed, but the kind of disappointed when I spill my drink on the floor. I’m a little mad, but all I have to do is clean it up and go get another one.

    How many days until spring training?

  9. 9.  OK, I hate to say I told you so, but….uh…..what?

    On to Tampa.

    This game, and this team, never ceases to amaze.

  10. 10.  Enuui…

    As far as Zim busting-up the Buffalo-Heads, who knows what was going on in that club house/GM’s office. Bill Lee has always been vocal in regard to his dislike of Zimmer, and, for that matter, management in general.

    Sad, however, that a man who spent his entire adult life in baseball will be remembered by younger fans only for being tossed like a sack of laundry by Pedro Martinez.

  11. 11.  “…an attack that Pedro handled with the gentle flowing grace of the ever-peaceful, ever-beleaguered Kwai Chang Caine, but that’s a whole other story or two or three.”

    Oh Please. I’m not excusing Zim, but when he threw at people’s heads (which started the whole mess) and then threw an old man to the ground he was hardly peaceful. Perhaps I am taking sarcasm at face value?

  12. 12.  11 : Semi-sarcasm. Zimmer: fool. Pedro: obviously not a barefoot buddhist master but someone who acted with some restraint when the fool rushed him. I mean, what was he supposed to do? Give Zimmer a kiss?

  13. 13.  11 , 12 : But take my thoughts on this with a barrel of salt, of course: I hold onto my childhood bad feelings about Zimmer like I’m gripping my security blankie. Objectively speaking, I can understand why a guy with a beanball plate in his head would see red when Pedro threw inside (something I wish the Red Sox pitchers did against Tampa, actually) and then during the bench-clearing mill-around pointed at his head as if to say “you’re next.”

    I miss Pedro…

  14. Eloquently stated there, Josh, and your assessment of Red Sox “nation” seems spot-on and candidly crafted, with an almost brutal introspective precision…

    It’s you guys at the “cool” table in the lunch-room who are envied now.

    And seven months after the fact, I’m still dumbfounded by the assuredness of a one-time Self-Flaggelator that, yes, the Sox were, indeed, far from dead yet.

    You were down Three games to One.

    You were down 7-0 in Game 5.

    And you came back…

    You Came Back.

    and Almost all the way, too….

    Anyway, just for frivolity’s sake;

    Don Zimmer’s lifetime line as an “Original” Met:
    14 GP; an .077 BA; 4-for-52; 1 RBI…

    Zim was on an Oh-for-34 streak when he finally got a hit, and the next day the Mets traded him. (for one of several “Bob Millers”).
    Casey said he figured he’d trade him while he was hot.

    I never liked the guy.

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