When the news of Don Zimmer‘s passing last night, it made me think back to the 2003 World Series and the end of his Yankee tenure. It made me wonder if his departure was the nail in the coffin for those great Yankees’ teams. Of course the argument can be made that the big money free agent signings as opposed to hard-nosed, scrappy players was the key to that era ending, but Zimmer’s absents clearly meant something.
As the Marlins celebrated their 2003 World Championship by mobbing pitcher Josh Beckett on the infield grass at Yankees’ Stadium, it was clear that the lovable character that had been known simply as ‘Zim’ would no longer be donning Pinstripes when 2004 began.
George Steinbrenner had been taking shots at Zimmer to the press and that was one thing that the bench coach couldn’t stand. So, after nine wonderful years of Derek Jeter head rubbings, shoving Pedro Martinez, wearing camouflage helmets in the dugout, and championships, Zimmer’s time in the Bronx had expired. It was truly a sad sight.
The next few seasons were filled with frustration aimed at Joe Torre and the Yankees’ front office as well as the players who disappointed during the postseason.
It seemed as if Joe Torre wasn’t the same manager who had been at the helm for for so many great Yankees teams and that he was a shell of his old self. What went wrong?
Here is a perfect example:
After Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, when hobbled (to put it lightly) Red Sox starter Curt Schilling shut down the Yankees’ offense and sent his team to a deciding game seven (which the Red Sox would eventually win), Torre simply stated “I guess it was supposed to come to Game 7… we just have to call on the reserve that enabled us to bounce back from a lot of challenges all year.”
Those statements didn’t seem like they were coming from a man who expected to win game seven. It sounded like he had given up or was praying for some sort of miracle. These weren’t the words of a champion.
Another Joe Torre fumble in that game was not constantly bunting on Schilling, who could barely run. If Torre had felt that they that they had to win at all costs, he would’ve done anything he thought was necessary.
If Don Zimmer had been in a Yankees uniform during that series, Schilling would’ve been out of the game by the fifth inning at the latest.
‘Zim’ never had a “say die” mindset. He did whatever it took, even if it meant getting knocked down by a future Hall Of Fame pitcher. That is one of his many qualities that will be deeply missed.