The baseball world was shook to the core last night when Don Zimmer, who was once the beloved Yankees bench coach, had died at the age of 83. In the Yankees clubhouse it was rather solemn, especially after Derek Jeter and Joe Girardi heard the news that their beloved friend had passed. Zimmer was the one that gave Joe Girardi the news he had been called up with the Cubs in 1989 and Zimmer coached Jeter in the early days of his baseball career. Tears were shed and hearts were heavy as they reflected on the life of a man who was a fixture in Major League Baseball for the last six decades.
“It’s hard to swallow,” Jeter said. “Everyone knows how much Zim has meant to, not only our organization, but baseball as a whole and your thoughts and prayers go out to his family. It’s tough. I found out halfway through the game.”
Tears slid down Girardi’s face as he reminisced about his friend during the Yankees post game press conference, telling the media how much Zimmer had meant to him personally and how much he had learned from him in the time he had known him.
“Great baseball man,” Girardi said. “A baseball lifer. He was a mentor to me. I had him 10 out of my first 11 years in the big leagues, so wherever he went, I went. I always thought he looked like my grandfather. They were built a lot alike. Same height, same forearms. My grandfather had a full head of white hair, though. That was probably the biggest difference. He taught me a lot about this game. A close friend and I’m going to miss him.”
Girardi didn’t make the post game a completely saddened event; he told stories about Zimmer that showed everyone the character he truly was.
“There are just so many funny stories,” Girardi said. “He yelled at me for wearing a thumb guard one day and apologized to me the next day because he felt bad and said he didn’t sleep the whole night. Playing cards against him, and him getting on his partner. He was competitive, and I think that’s one of the things that he taught me. It’s okay to be competitive in things that you do besides the game. 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. The table broke and snapped, and here came Zim down. I’ll never forget the first time that he sent me down. He told me, ‘Don’t worry, kid. You’ll be here longer than I will.’ It wasn’t much longer, but I came up back, and I think he was gone in ’92, and then I joined him in ’93 in Colorado. There’s just so many great stories.”
Zimmer had been the role model presence Girardi and Jeter needed during their careers and they’re more than thankful to have had Zimmer in their lives. Zimmer will always have a special place in their hearts, and he’ll always have a special place in Major League Baseball, but baseball will never be the same now that he’s gone. As Joe Torre said, baseball was his life. Now baseball will have a void because we lost an incredible person.