BOSTON (CBS) – Don Zimmer lived for the game of baseball.
This year marked his 66th year in the game, and Zimmer was loved nearly everywhere he went. He often told family, friends and anybody who would listen that he was the luckiest guy in the world.
Zimmer passed away Wednesday night at the age of 83, and he will not soon be forgotten. He touched the lives of countless people during his time in the game, including former Red Sox manager Joe Morgan.
“He was a talkative, fun guy to be around,” Morgan told WBZ-TV’s Steve Burton on Thursday. “He had a little temper once and awhile, but he was very much fun to be around when I was with him.”
Nicknamed “Popeye,” Zimmer served as a coach, manager or adviser for 14 organizations since 1971. He managed the Red Sox from 1976-79, with Boston winning 90 games in each of his three full seasons. But it seems as though fans only remember the epic collapse in 1978, when the Red Sox blew a 14-game lead and lost a one-game playoff to the New York Yankees and Bucky “Bleepin’” Dent.
“He got a lot of grief on that one year there — that hurt him a lot,” said Morgan, who remembers Zimmer as a unique offensive mind for his time.
“He was a good offensive manager. He loved to run, and I saw him put on 3-2 hit-and-runs with guys,” Morgan recalled. “He ran them with the bases loaded 3-2 with one out – he was always thinking of something.”
Zimmer’s temper was well known, and Red Sox fans saw it first-hand throughout his years on the New York Yankees bench with Joe Torre. It was on full display in the 2003 playoffs when a 72-year-old Zimmer took on Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez, an encounter Zimmer later said he regretted.
But that was who Zimmer was, feisty even in his old age. Morgan thinks he knows where that trait came from too.
“When Zimmer was young he was very aggressive. He had a lot of home runs early in his career in the minors, and used to say pitchers threw at him because he swung for the fences all the time,” said Morgan. “So there you have it.”
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