Top 100 Mets: #99 - Don Zimmer

It may seem a bit odd to pick Don Zimmer as Greatest Player #99 in the history of the New York Mets. After all, the man played only 14 games and batted 52 times. Worse than that he had only four hits, for a career Mets average of .077. Compared to the New York Zim, Mario Mendoza was the Sultan of Swat.

All kidding aside, there is definite reason for the inclusion of Zimmer in this most hallowed of lists. He was #1. Yes, Zim was the first man at the hot corner, but most certainly not the last. To date, some 125 men have followed his lead, and most have faltered. This revolving door, has included the greatest of Mets third sackers, Howard Johnson and Robin Ventura. Of course, there the less-than-household names of Pumpsie Green and Roy Staiger, who, in a manner of speaking, also played 3B.

Don Zimmer, in his own right, is a baseball treasure. Born on January 17, 1931, now in his early 70's, Zim of course has been Joe Torre's bench coach for the New York Yankees since Joe took the job in 1996. Needless to say, he is a throwback. He prides himself in the fact that he has never received a paycheck that wasn't baseball related. And his career has now spanned well over 50 years.

Year

Team

AVG.

AB

Hits

HR

RBI

R

SB

BB

K

OBP

SLG

1962

Mets

.077

52

4

0

1

3

0

3

10

.127

.096


*These stats are just while with the Mets.

He now sits next to Joe, all bundled up and watches. No numbers crunching techno geek relaying a continuum of stats to the manager here. Zim knows because he's been there and seen that. He truly has endured it all. He even took on Spaceman Bill Lee and the counterculture while Bosox manager in the 70's. Naturally the two men didn't see eye-to-eye, as Bill tells us in "The Wrong Stuff", he designated his manager a "Gerbil". Lee even goes so far in his new book, "The Little Red (Sox) Book", to place the blame on Zim for the Sox losing the 1975 World Series. In a great job of second-guessing, Lee claims that Zimmer (then third base coach) apparently moved second baseman Denny Doyle out of position in the 6th inning of the seventh game (with Lee pitching), and Doyle was then unable to turn a pivotal double play. Lee subsequently allowed a two-run homer to Tony Perez, as the Reds went on to win the series.

But we are talking about Zimmer as Met, and I got side-tracked because there really isn't much to say, other than that he endured his own hapless streak of 0 for 34, got a hit, and was promptly traded to Cincinnati in the May of 1962 for Cliff Cook and Bob Miller (one of the two Met Bob Millers, who are pretty much interchangeable). Casey Stengel naturally chimed-in and said he traded Zim while he was hot, following the end of that hitless streak.

For his career overall, Zimmer batted just .235, but learned his craft from people such as Stengel and the great Walter Alston. He was done in by the team with whom he now coaches in 1978. The Red Sox were rolling along, but Bucky Dent's homer ended the Sox and Zimmer's dream that year, in a classic one-game playoff.

Probably his greatest success as a manager came with Chicago Cubs in 1989, when the Cubs advanced to the postseason,
D. Henson
Don Zimmer: Won "Manager of the Year" in 1989 while managing the Chicago Cubs (Photo by Getty Images).
only to lose once again. But Zim won "Manager of the Year" honors.

Not bad for a man, who as a young minor league player in the American Association in 1953, was seriously beaned by Jim Kirk. He was actually unconscious for two weeks and lost his speech for six. He wears the hardware in his skull to this day in the form of a steel plate.Yet he came all the way back and was a member of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, winners of the World Series vs. the Yankees. He was also struck by the Reds Hal Jeffcoat in 1956 and suffered a broken cheek bone. In another twist of fate, Zim was replaced by Sandy Amoros in the deciding game of the '55 World Series, and of course, it was Amoros's catch of Yogi Berra's liner in left field that saved the game (and series) for Brooklyn.

In October of 1961 in Cincinnati, the selection of players for the two 1962 NL expansion teams took place. The two teams selected quite differently…The Houston Colt .45's went for young inexperienced players, while the Mets, with much more daily press exposure decided to go with household names from yesteryear, including former Brooklyn Bums Zimmer, Roger Craig and Gil Hodges. Houston's strategy proved to be the better of the two by far, as the Mets of 1962 record of 40-120 is still the worst of the 20th century.

The Mets of 1962 were left over parts from great teams of a different era; the bolts and nuts, including many of the latter. It's difficult to fathom now how the greatest metropolis on the face of the earth actually had no National League franchise from 1958-61. Walter O'Malley took off with his Dodgers to the Left Coast and Horace Stoneham and his Giants followed. Joan Payson was a Giants fan and wanted an NL team back in the city, and through her ownership, the seeds for the Mets were sown. And shortly thereafter the broken down retreads were brought in, but many of the them were familiar National League faces including Zimmer's.

Those were still innocent times in America. The years before the Kennedy assassination. I cannot conceive the fans of today being duped into accepting such an inferior product. Why were the two teams, Dodgers and Giants, even allowed to leave the city at the same time? The game indeed has improved when you see what effort is being made to keep the Expos in Montreal, despite the fans.

It not so much for what Don Zimmer did as a Met (as he obviously did very little), but it is what Zimmer represented in those long ago days for the fledgling franchise, and what he means to baseball overall, that he receives our nod as #99 Greatest Met.

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