Don Zimmer: Taking Three for the Team

Don ZimmerDon Zimmer may be best remembered by being thrown to the ground by Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez in Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS between the Yankees and Red Sox.

But as a player, Zimmer suffered a pair of beanings that ended his season in both cases.

The first incident occurred in the minor leagues on July 7, 1953. While playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers Triple-A affiliate St. Paul Saints, Zimmer faced Columbus (Ohio) pitcher Jim Kirk. At the time, Zimmer was leading the American Association in home runs and RBI.

An errant pitch from Kirk hit Zimmer in the head which knocked him unconscious. The effects of the beaning were terrifying. Zimmer remained unconscious for two weeks, lost his speech for six weeks and dropped 44 pounds.

Doctors drilled four holes in Zimmer’s skull in order to reduce pressure on his brain. The holes were later filled with plugs made of tantalum, a metal used in light bulb filaments and nuclear reactors.

Zimmer eventually recovered and reached the Dodgers in 1954. However, he suffered another beaning that ended his 1956 season. On June 23, Zimmer batted against Cincinnati pitcher Hal Jeffcoat. His cheekbone was broken after Jeffcoat’s pitch beaned him in the face. The injury ended Zimmer’s season, but he rebounded with career highs of 17 home runs and 60 RBI in 1958, the Dodgers first season in Los Angeles. He continued to play in the majors until 1965.

Don Zimmer displaying his military head gear in 1999.

Don Zimmer displaying his military head gear in 1999.

Unfortunately, the ball once again found Zimmer when he was Yankees manager Joe Torre’s bench coach. During the Game 1 of the 1999 ALDS, Zimmer’s ear and left jaw were cut by a Chuck Knoblauch foul ball into the Yankees dugout. He made light of the incident by sitting in the dugout the next day wearing a military helmet with the Yankees logo.

Zimmer may have had the bad luck of suffering head and facial injuries. But the man nicknamed “Popeye” always bounced back either as a player or coach.

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