Tampa Bay area baseball legend Don Zimmer has passed away, according to his family. He was 83 years old.
Zimmer’s wide-ranging career began with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949. He was most recently a senior adviser to the Tampa Bay Rays.
He had been in a rehabilitation center in Florida since having heart surgery in mid-April, the Associated Press reported.
He joined the Rays as an advisor in 2004 and he was a lot more than just the face of the franchise. He was a trusted consultant, a friend to players, coaches, the front office and their families.
“He’s somebody that impacted the game in so many ways. As a player, as a manager, as a coach, as a mentor,” said Rays' Sean Rodriguez.
Rays head Coach Joe Maddon said Zimmer brought experience and wisdom that players respected.
“He’s a treasure. I’ve fortunate to be surrounded by people like Zimm in the past, we were very fortunate to have him here, and we miss him badly right now,” Maddon said.When Zimmer became part of the Rays, he created a very cool tradition, changing his uniform number every year to match his years in baseball. It climbed from 63, to 64, 65 and finally 66.
Zimmer had heart surgery in April to fix a leaky valve and still made it to opening day, getting the largest cheer of anyone on the field. The Rays' Rick Vaughn, the director of communications, hung his name on a sign in the pressbox to let him know he was always on their mind.
No one had a bigger heart than Don Zimmer. He passed away at age 83.
Tributes pour in
"Today we all lost a national treasure and a wonderful man," Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said in a statement.
Zimmer played alongside Jackie Robinson for the only Brooklyn Dodgers team to win the World Series, was on the field with the original New York Mets, nearly managed the Boston Red Sox to a championship in the 1970s and was Joe Torre's right-hand man as the bench coach with the New York Yankees' most recent dynasty.
"I hired him as a coach, and he became like a family member to me. He has certainly been a terrific credit to the game," Torre said in a statement.
"The game was his life. And his passing is going to create a void in my life and my wife Ali's. We loved him. The game of baseball lost a special person tonight. He was a good man," he said.
Zimmer's No. 66 jersey had been worn recently by longtime Tampa Bay third base coach Tom Foley in tribute. The Rays hosted the Miami Marlins on Wednesday night, and Foley was crying in the dugout.
Earlier this season, the Rays hung a banner in the front of the press box at Tropicana Field that simply read "ZIM."
Loss reverbates through Major League Baseball
There was a moment of silence at Dodger Stadium for Zimmer before Los Angeles played the Chicago White Sox.
"On behalf of Major League Baseball and the many clubs that `Popeye' served in a distinguished baseball life, I extend my deepest condolences to Don's family, friends and his many admirers throughout our game," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.
Zimmer was married at home plate during a minor league game in 1951 -- he is survived by his wife, who went by "Soot." Along the way, he played for Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel and coached Derek Jeter -- quite a span, by any major league measure."Probably the best baseball man I knew," Billy Connors, who coached under Zimmer on the Cubs, told The Associated Press on Wednesday night.
"We had a lot of great times. I loved listening to him every day," he said.
Yankees executive Hank Steinbrenner echoed that sentiment.
"I loved Zim. I loved his passion. He was a great, great guy. He was a great baseball guy," he said. "Everybody loved him."
Steinbrenner, son of late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, said Torre and Zimmer were the "perfect team" during New York's run that brought four titles in a five-year span.
"Joe was low-keyed. Zim would get fired up. He was a bench coach for real," Steinbrenner said. "He was an extremely important part of the 1990s success."
"It's a sad day for the game of baseball," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said after a 3-2 loss at San Diego. "Don impacted lives from the time he put a uniform on in the minor leagues until today."
Zimmer is survived by his wife; son Thomas, a scout with the San Francisco Giants; daughter Donna, and four grandchildren.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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