Zimmer was beaned again in 1956. A fastball from the Cincinnati Reds' Hal Jeffcoat broke his cheekbone. However, the first beaning is the one that left the question, What if? Zimmer played 12 years in the majors for four teams, piling up answers to trivia questions. He was the third baseman for the New York Mets in their first game and the last player to wear number 14 for the Reds before Pete Rose. He was the Dodger who left in the 1955 World Series so that outfielder Sandy Amoros could come in and make his famous catch. Zimmer finished with a .235 career average and 91 homers. And yet....
If Zimmer had had a Hall of Fame career, would playing have been enough? Would he be sitting in the sunshine today, in the heat of a pennant race? "I never think about it," he says.
"What if you'd been wearing a batting helmet against Kirk?" he is asked.
"Wouldn't have put a nick on the plastic," he says. "It was a curveball."
The Cubs win again. Holy cow! The little man sits in his office. He spits into a wastebasket. He rubs his head. His English is fractured, but it don't matter. There's never any doubt that he knows baseball. The way a farmer knows the soil or a ship captain knows the sea.
In recent years, teams have tended to hire younger men as managers—guys who use computers to plan their strategies. Frey was criticized when he hired Zimmer in November 1987. Cronyism at its worst, the reporters wrote. There was even mention of a boyhood pact. Frey says this is nonsense.
"Are you kidding?" says Frey. "I hired Don because of my respect for his baseball ability and my respect for him as a person. All of those computer printouts are a great crutch. Seventy-five percent of them are nonsense. What are you going to do when you go to the mound in the eighth inning and see that your pitcher is quivering when he talks to you? Look at the computer? You need a guy who knows the game at this level; who has seen it."
Zimmer is certainly that, ain't he?
"I have never drawn a paycheck outside of baseball," he says, leaning back in his chair, clearly satisfied. "People always ask me, 'How'd you get by in those early years? You had a family. You weren't making much money.' "