WASHINGTON — When Don Zimmer debuted in 1954 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson was no longer the team's everyday second baseman. Robinson floated around the field at the twilight of his career, and he manned left on July 2, 1954 at Connie Mack Stadium in North Philadelphia. Zimmer played shortstop.
Zimmer, who died Wednesday at 83, was baseball's Forrest Gump. He once met Babe Ruth, married at home plate in a minor-league stadium, called Robinson a teammate, played under Casey Stengel, was assaulted by Pedro Martinez, and instructed Derek Jeter.
He coached Ryne Sandberg in Chicago for seven years — three as Cubs manager — and left an indelible impression on the young second baseman. The best compliment Sandberg ever received from a coach was Zimmer's proclamation soon after they met.
"He said I reminded him of Jackie Robinson," Sandberg said. "I took it to heart."
Sandberg learned of Zimmer's death during Wednesday night's rain delay at Nationals Park. The Phillies manager saw the news on a TV.
"He played a big part in teaching me the game," Sandberg said.
Sandberg called two mentors — Jim Frey and Zimmer — in 2007 when he started managing the minors. "Do it your way," Zimmer told him. "Don't worry about how Don Zimmer did it."
Zimmer recalled that conversation last October when asked why Sandberg, a Hall of Famer, craved a chance to manage in the majors.
"It's in your blood," Zimmer said. "If you're a baseball man, you're a baseball man. And you'll stay in it until they run you out. That's what happens."
Zimmer spent 66 years in baseball. Sandberg, 54, likes the sound of that. He echoed his teacher.
"I think I could," Sandberg said. "When it's in your blood, it's in your blood."
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