St. Petersburg, FL (SportsNetwork.com) – Don Zimmer, a baseball lifer who spent 12 seasons in the major leagues as a player and more than four decades as a manager, coach and advisor, has died, according to the Tampa Bay Rays. He was 83.
Zimmer, who had undergone heart surgery in April, died Wednesday at BayCare Alliant Hospital in Dunedin, Florida, the Rays said.
Zimmer was in his 11th season with the Rays as a senior advisor and wore 66 on his uniform — the number of years he spent in baseball.
MLB commissioner Bud Selig called Zimmer “one of our game’s most universally beloved figures.”
Zimmer joined the Rays in 2004 following 10 memorable years with the New York Yankees, including eight as bench coach under manager Joe Torre.
In a statement, Torre said Zimmer was like family.
“He has certainly been a terrific credit to the game,” said Torre. “The game was his life. And his passing is going to create a void in my life and my wife Ali’s. We loved him. The game of baseball lost a special person tonight. He was a good man.”
Zimmer wore a uniform for 14 different major league teams in his career, including the Brooklyn Dodgers and Washington Senators.
“Don was the kind of person you could only find in the National Pastime,” Selig said in a statement. “As a player, Don experienced the joys of the 1955 world champion Brooklyn Dodgers and the struggles of the ’62 Mets.
“In his managerial and coaching career, this unique baseball man led the Cubs to a division crown and then, at his good friend Joe Torre’s loyal side, helped usher in a new era in the fabled history of the Yankees.”
From 1954 through 1965 with the Dodgers, Cubs, Mets, Reds and Senators, Zimmer mostly played the infield and hit .235 with 91 home runs and 352 RBI in 1,095 career games.
He had been a manager, coach or advisor every year since 1971. He was named manager of the year in 1989 after leading the Cubs to a 16-game turnaround and the NL East title.
Zimmer had an 885-858 record as a manager in parts of 13 seasons for the Padres, Red Sox, Rangers and Cubs.
He won six World Series titles — four as a coach with the Yankees and two as a player, with Brooklyn in 1955 and Los Angeles in 1959.
The Rays said they will honor Zimmer with a moment of silence at Thursday’s game against the Marlins and will hold a pregame ceremony prior to Saturday’s game.
“Today we all lost a national treasure and a wonderful man,” Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said in a statement. “Don dedicated his life to the game he loved, and his impact will be felt for generations to come. His contributions to this organization are immeasurable. I am proud that he wore a Rays uniform for the past 11 years. We will miss him dearly.”