Notable Quotables: Remembering Don Zimmer

By Jake Seiner / MiLB.com

Wednesday night, the baseball world was hit with the sad news that Don Zimmer — a 66-year baseball veteran — had passed away at age 83. In his wake, the internet has been flooded by stories and memories from those who were influenced by him, painting the picture of a man whose influence on the game trickled from his lively personality into the core of numerous players, coaches and others in and around baseball.

One such person is Jared Sandberg, manager of the Class A Advanced Charlotte Stone Crabs in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Sandberg’s uncle, Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg, is one of numerous MLB managers who played for Zimmer earlier in his career. Jared Sandberg spent parts of three seasons as a player with the Rays from 2001-03 and had his first interactions with Zimmer then. After retiring, Jared became an instructor in the Rays’ organization, where he had numerous encounters with Zimmer, who became a special assistant for the Rays in 2004 — a position he held until his passing.

On his memories with Zimmer:

“’01 was my first year in the Rays organization as a player in the big leagues. He was a bench coach for the Yankees, and the first opportunity he had to come over and say hello, he came over and said hello. He managed my uncle, Ryne, with the Cubs, so there was a family history there. Then, every time we played the Yankees after that, he made a point to come over and say hi. We would talk a little bit, he’d share stories and ask how Rhyno was doing. 

“He was an awesome human being, mentor for so many people. He did so much for the game of baseball. It’s definitely a sad day. My interactions with him as a coach in the Rays organization — I went with him to the 2011 MLB Draft, with him and Roberto Hernandez. That year we had 12 picks in the first round and supplemental round. I got to spend a day and a half with him, sit on an airplane with him. I spent time with him at the Draft, catching up and listening to stories. We laughed a lot. It was awesome.

“I saw him again this January at the Rays mini-camp. He was the same old Zim. His health was deteriorating, but he was still able to hold court with five, six, seven Rays Minor Leaguers. … He was holding court and telling stories and joking around.”

On Zimmer’s influence on him and other managers:

“I know his ideas, he wasn’t necessarily by the book. He tried a lot of different things. He had an ability to light a fire when he needed to and have fun when he needed to. I’m sure the guys would lean on that. I don’t have any specific stories from Ryne or anybody, but as long as he’s been in the game, he’s been able to give, I don’t know how many people, but a ton of people, advice.

“Players who played for him definitely take some things from what they learned when they played with him and put it into their coaching style, put it into their memory banks for things that happen during games, how to handle that. He was a very influential person. There are a lot of people who have taken a lot of things from him.”

On Zimmer’s personality and if it allowed him to connect better with players:

“I think so. It didn’t matter who you were and where you were from. Whether it was personality or just the kind of guy he was, he was able to connect with anybody. To be a manager, you have to be able to connect with different personalities, people from different backgrounds, different countries. He was definitely able to do that. It shows what kind of person he was.”

3 Comments

Jared Sandberg is a class act – one of my favorite people I’ve met in baseball. Glad to see his comments on the legendary Zim here.

Fantastic post. Anyone who ever got a chance to meet, chat or shake hands with Zim know he was a “man’s man” who could be just as beloved no matter if you were a Prince or a pauper. I was blessed to have known Popeye as a kid, an adult and as a long time Rays fan. Baseball lost a true keystone figure in Zimmer, and a hugely popular figure that might never grace the game again. I have a feeling he is looking down right now watching the Rays play the Marlins and taking notes.

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