Don Zimmer was baseball icon; had fans everywhere, even an unusual place

2014-06-04T22:09:00Z 2014-06-04T22:40:40Z Don Zimmer was baseball icon; had fans everywhere, even an unusual placeMyles Standish Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 04, 2014 10:09 pm  • 

Editor's note: Baseball icon Don Zimmer passed away Wednesday at age 83. He joined the Colorado Rockies in 1993 and enjoyed spring training in Tucson. This article from 1993 provides a unique look at the great baseball man. The writer, Myles Standish, has been an editor at the Arizona Daily Star since 1987.

(Reprinted from March 5, 1993)

By Myles Standish

Arizona Daily Star

No one was supposed to get hurt.

Yet there were eight of us — quite visible and quite vocal — among the 20,000 or so, voicing our support and encouragement for the one man that the other 20,000 despised.

We didn't realize the danger we were in until a half dozen of Boston's Finest joined us in our section, carefully spread out, trying not to draw attention.

This quieted us for a moment, but we came to realize these officers were there for our protection.

So when Don Zimmer, the new manager of the Texas Rangers, made his next pitching change, once again we stood cheering, our little subgroup of eight trying to drown out the 20,000 boos.

Although we were only four rows behind Zim's dugout, he never looked up, never acknowledged us. But he would make our day later; we would meet Don Zimmer for the first time, and the Zimmer's All Right By Me Committee would be alive and well.

And we would escape with our lives.

When that game ended on that summer day in 1981, the 20,000 Zimmer haters filed out of ancient Fenway Park.

The eight of us — wearing blue and red T-shirts that said ZIMMER'S ALL RIGHT BY ME on the front and titles such as PRESIDENT, SECURITY, CONNECTICUT HEAD REP on the back — were beckoned to the front row. It was Zimmer's wife, Soot. She loved us.

"Let me see if I can get my husband over here," she said.

Even if you're a major-league manager, in a dugout in hallowed Fenway Park, you listen to your wife.

And there he was, larger than life. Yes, he said, shaking our hands, he had heard us all day. He was touched.

"If I could, I'd give you each a hundred dollars," he said.

Not being in it for the money, we never called him on that.

The Zimmer's All Right By Me Committee took form in the summer of 1980. Zim, then the Boston Red Sox manager, was being castigated daily by the fans and the press.

"It seemed to be unjustified," the original ZARBM president, Joe Beyer, said the other day. "Most of the criticism seemed to be aimed at his looks, which was really irrelevant."

One day, some of us were hanging around the players' entrance after a game, getting a close-up look at our heroes, the Boston Red Sox.

Players would drive past the crowd to mild applause, but when Zim drove past, he was once again showered with hatred. "Fans" pounded his car. I was shocked. Open contempt in the ballpark is one thing, but here was a man, a human being, going home to his wife, going home to a real life, and only a thin pane of glass separated him from an angry mob.

It was a sick scene.

Talking about it later, someone uttered the magic words: "Zimmer's All Right By Me." A fan club was formed.

Our first project was a banner, two bed sheets taped together that said "Zimmer's All Right By Me" with a side mention of the local TV affiliate. We had it ready to unfurl on the final day of the 1980 season.

Unfortunately, Zim was fired a few days before the end of the 1980 season. The banner spent the next few months in my Boston University dormitory closet.

It made its first appearance the following April when Zim's new team, the Rangers, made their first Boston appearance of the 1981 season. During Zim's first pitching change, a couple of us hung the banner over the wall in center field. It must have looked completely out of place among the sea of boos.

While Zim stood on the mound, he seemed to look in our direction and shield his eyes from the sun as if he were trying to read it.

That night, we called his hotel. Beyer, who appointed himself the original president because he made the call, asked the front desk if he could speak to Don Zimmer. They connected him to Zim's room without question.

Zim's daughter answered the phone and said he wasn't there. But she told us that he had seen the banner. That alone made our day.

But it was an article in Boston magazine later that year that put us on the map. The magazine wrote a long feature on Zimmer's first return to Boston. He was asked if he had received any interesting calls.

"My daughter did," he told Boston magazine. "Did you see a big white sign out in the bleachers Monday? ZIM'S ALL RIGHT WITH US, it said. It belonged to this fan club I've got at Boston College. The president called the room last night. My daughter talked to him. He said they've got 200 members, and they wear a button that says ZIM'S ALL RIGHT I THINK. I wish she'd have let me talk to him."

Aside from a couple of facts being blurred (it's not the first time Boston University has been confused with Boston College, and we're still working on the button), it was great to see a write-up — any write-up — about us. We became an active committee at that point.

We started recruiting, mostly at games, parties, bars. Initiation is simple: You've got to like the guy.

"Who couldn't love him?" asks ZARBM member Pete Abair. "You can't just look at the guy and not love him."

Our goal early on was to get the public's perception changed. This is the nicest guy in the game of baseball; our calling was to preach this concept.

Our ultimate goal was to get Zim back to Boston as manager with the public's approval. We knew it would take time.

Meanwhile, we had a blast.

In 1983, Beyer resigned as president because he was moving to Colorado. As self-appointed vice president, I became president.

In 1984, I graduated from BU and got a job at a small newspaper in Vermont. My first writing assignment was a feature on Don Zimmer, third base coach of the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs were in Montreal, a four-hour drive from my new home.

For this important assignment you'd think I would have worn a tie, maybe a jacket. Hey, I was young, raw, naive. I wore a T-shirt. I wore my ZIMMER'S ALL RIGHT BY ME T-shirt. And that was the best move I could have made.

The Cubs-Expos game was NBC's Game of the Week. (There used to be such a thing.) Therefore, Joe Garagiola was there, and in the middle of my pre-game interview with Zim, Garagiola noticed my T-shirt and started interviewing me. Garagiola loved my story and started calling for a camera crew. A camera arrived and took a still shot of me and Zim.

Between innings late in the game, NBC showed the nation the shot of me and Zim, and Garagiola related the story of ZARBM. Vin Scully listened to the story and said, "Count me in." Garagiola concurred, and a couple weeks later, they had received ZARBM T-shirts. They were NBC CO-REPS.

In 1987, after Zim had joined the Giants, C.W. Nevius of the San Francisco Chronicle called me at home, and again I was interviewed. I was the subject of a feature on the front of the Chronicle's sports section.

Beyer remembers signing at least one autograph when he was president. We felt like celebrities.

It hasn't all been fun and games, only about 99 percent.

Beyer remembers a confrontation with a group of drunken fans on the street after a game. He was with some other ZARBM members, and they were wearing ZARBM T-shirts. The reaction in 1981 was akin to what one might expect if you and your buddies were wearing Saddam Hussein T-shirts in 1991.

"They were yelling at us real loud," Beyer said. "These big, fat drunks saw our T-shirts and wanted to kill us. They were screaming in a big, drunk way."

The ZARBM guys escaped with their shirts, and lucky for them - the shirts would save a possible ugly scene later that year.

The Rangers were back in town, and a group of ZARBM members were out by the players' entrance waiting for Zim. He appeared and quickly got in the back seat of a car. The committee members "rushed the car," recalled Rich Heath, ZARBM's spiritual leader.

"There were seven or eight of us, and it must have looked like we wanted to hurt him," Heath said. "But then he saw the T-shirts, and he smiled and waved."

And security backed off.

The best thing about all this is the appreciation that Zim has for us. He sends me a Christmas card every year, and he recognizes me on the few occasions that I see him.

I saw him at a hotel in Anaheim, Calif., last summer. It had been about 15 months since he had last seen me, but he recognized me immediately. He said I should have called, and he would have set me up with tickets.

It's that pleasant, outgoing attitude that made it possible for Zim to return to Boston last year and be "welcomed back with open arms," according to Abair, who resides in the Boston area.

Zim received a standing ovation on Opening Day, Abair said.

This was the committee's goal, but I can't honestly take much credit.

"Zim represents something that's gone in the game," Abair said, trying to explain Zim's new-found popularity in Boston. "Now you have the La Russas, the Valentines and others who depend on computers. Most of the guys who ran it on know-how are gone.

"Talk about a guy who has seen it all."

Zim, 62, prides himself in never having received a paycheck outside the field of baseball. He reached the major leagues in 1954 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. His 12-year major-league career had him playing with the Brooklyn and L.A. Dodgers, the Cubs, the Mets (he was an original Met in 1962), the Reds, the L.A. Dodgers again and the Washington Senators. His best year was 1958 when he hit .262 with 17 homers and 60 RBIs for Los Angeles. He even stole 14 bases.

He has managed San Diego, Boston, Texas, the Chicago Cubs and has coached with San Diego, Boston, the Cubs, the Yankees, San Francisco … and now the Colorado Rockies.

He's one of the last of the old-time baseball men. The years, the pressures could have hardened him. He could be a big shot with little or no time for the little guy. He could have retired - he almost did last year - and sit on a boat near his home in Florida for the rest of his life. Who would blame him?

But the guy who hasn't earned a paycheck outside of baseball will keep earning paychecks in baseball, for at least one more year.

And he'll still have time for the common fan.

The Zimmer's All Right By Me Committee has members ranging in age from 2 1/2 to 84. The 84-year-old received a surprise birthday card on her 80th birthday.

The old-time baseball man had time to sign it, Don Zimmer.

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