Zimmer was leading the American Association with 23 HR and 63 RBI on July 7, 1953, when he was hit in the head by a Jim Kirk pitch. He was unconscious for almost two weeks, lost his speech for six, and dropped 44 lbs. Inserted in his head were four “buttons…like tapered corkscrews in a bottle,” he explained. He returned in 1954 and was Brooklyn’s second baseman in the 1955 World Series. He was doing well in 1956 when a pitch from the Reds’ Hal Jeffcoat fractured his cheekbone and ended his season.
Built like a fireplug and nicknamed Popeye for his strength, the scrappy Zimmer came back again and was the Dodgers’ starting shortstop in 1958, reaching career highs of 17 HR and 60 RBI. He lost the job to Maury Wills with a woeful 1959 season, spent his two busiest years with the 1960-61 Cubs, and was an original New York Met. He finished his playing career in Japan.
Zimmer managed in the minors and coached for the Expos and Padres before spending 1972 and 1973 as San Diego’s manager. He was a Boston coach when named manager in mid-1976. In 1978, his Red Sox won 99 games but lost the AL East title in a one-game playoff with the Yankees. He piloted the Rangers in 1981-82, coached for the Yankees, Cubs, and Giants, and was named Cubs manager by his high-school buddy, GM Jim Frey, for 1988. He won the division title, and AP Manager of the Year, in 1989 with unorthodox strategic moves (he likes the squeeze bunt with the bases loaded) and with lots of rookies and journeymen in his lineups.