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THE FACE OF GENIUS
Leigh Montville
September 25, 1989
This is the malleable mug of Don Zimmer, a 40-year baseball man who has sagely managed the Cubs to the top
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September 25, 1989

The Face Of Genius

This is the malleable mug of Don Zimmer, a 40-year baseball man who has sagely managed the Cubs to the top

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Zimmer has held his team together with bubble gum and string, not any grand plan. He has relied on essentially three starting pitchers—Mike Bielecki, Greg Maddux and Sutcliffe. He has found closing strength in relievers Mitch Williams and Les Lancaster. And he has baffled opponents with his unorthodox moves. At one point, Cub catchers threw out seven straight runners on pitchouts with the count at 2-2, and as of Sunday the Cubs had scored 11 runs on suicide squeezes.

Spit.

Rub.

Zimmer can look beyond the centerfield scoreboard and see the apartment tower where he and Soot live. Thirty-ninth floor. On the mornings of day games, he comes to the ballpark at 8:30 a.m. with his hitting coach, Joe Altobelli, who lives in the same building. Zimmer is dressed by nine: full uniform, even the shoes. He has the lineup card filled out by 9:15, even if the game doesn't start until three o'clock. His boyhood friend Jim Frey is his boss, the general manager.

Three of Zimmer's grandchildren, aged six to 11, were in town a few weeks ago. He hit fungoes to them and talked about his teenage years. Time stood delightfully still.

"Frey and me played on a Cincinnati team in 1947 that won the American Legion championship," he says. "We got on a train and were gone 25 days. We played in Quincy, Illinois, and then Cedar Rapids, Iowa—and then win the thing in Los Angeles. Babe Ruth was there. He was dying then, but he was active in the American Legion. I remember he shook our hands and said in that husky voice that he'd seen a lot of teams during the season, but the best one won. We come back to Cincinnati for a celebration, and then they take us to New York for the World Series. The Dodgers were playing the Yankees. Gionfriddo made that catch."

Babe Ruth? Al Gionfriddo's catch? The kids' hearts are beating a little faster. And there ain't nowhere Zimmer would rather be than here. Then again, he ain't never been much anyplace else.

"You wouldn't think a wedding at home plate could be beautiful, but it was," says Zimmer. "You see the pictures in the album—I got it at home—and you'd have to agree. You'd say it was beautiful."

Don and Soot were married at home plate in Elmira, N.Y. Night game. Aug. 16, 1951. His son, Tom, was born while Don was arriving home from a road trip. Hot day. Mobile, Ala. His daughter, Donna, was born in St. Petersburg, Fla., while he was trying to beat out Pee Wee Reese for the shortstop job on the Brooklyn Dodgers. He heard of his father's death while he was sitting in the dugout at Anaheim Stadium as the manager of the Boston Red Sox.

Frey says that Zimmer "has always been one-minded about baseball." The game has captivated him since the moment his father, Harold, gave him his first genuine big league glove. By the time Don was 15, he was playing second and his father short on a slo-pitch team in Cincinnati. One of the outfielders was Pete Rose's father, Harry.

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