Cleat Geeks

Old School Baseball Lifers

Baseball has seen its share of characters over the years.  Mark Fidrych would smooth the mound with his hand before he would pitch, Turk Wendell a journeyman pitcher would brush his teeth between innings and Satchel Paige antics in the Negro League are well documented.

Today let’s talk about a couple of players who were not only characters, but were baseball lifers, Billy Martin and Don Zimmer.

Billy Martin, Bruce FroemmingBilly Martin is best known as the manager of the New York Yankees. A position he held not once but on five different occasions. Billy was a ball player.  A hard nosed second baseman playing for the Yankees from 1950 until a trade to Kansas City in 1957.  The trade was sparked by a nightclub brawl involving Yankee teammates, Hank Bauer and Mickey Mantle.

During his tenure with the Yankees, Billy was part of four World Series Championship teams.  Martin played with fierce intensity.  His 1952 catch of a Jackie Robinson pop up in game seven, preserved a Yankee World Series. In 1953, Billy was a World Series M.V.P. and 1956 made the American League All-Star team. A career .257 hitter, he had a .333 batting average in 28 World Series games. Billy played for six teams after the Yankees until his retirement in 1961.

Billy battled drinking, was married four times and his temper was always a problem. In 1960 after being brush backed by Chicago Cubs pitcher, Jim Brewer, Billy charged the mound, bat in hand and with one punch broke Brewer’s cheekbone.

When you’re a baseball lifer, you’re playing career ends but your baseball life continues. Billy was with the Minnesota Twins as a scout and a coach and then as a manager in 1968. He led the Twins to the American League West title in 1969. Billy was fired after the 1969 season for punching pitcher, Dave Boswell in an after hour bar fight.Reggie Jackson vs Billy Martin

Billy proceeded to have managerial success in Detroit and Oakland where in 1981 the A’s won the division playing “Billy Ball”, which was stealing bases, hit and running and causing havoc on the bases. Old School.

In 1977, Billy guided the Yankees to his only managerial title.  The following year, the famous altercation with Reggie Jackson took place in the Yankee dugout. The two had to be separated over a bunt sign.

Books have been written about Billy and the stories and altercations are endless. Billy hit 64 career home runs and probably had that many fights. His number 1 is retired and his plaque stands in Monument Park in Yankee Stadium.

George Steinbrenner called Martin a “baseball genius”.  On Christmas day 1989, Billy Martin was killed in an auto accident.  He is buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetary in New York along with Babe Ruth.

Billy Martin, “Old School”, baseball lifer.

One of my favorite baseball lifers is Don Zimmer. Zim died in June of 2014 at the age of 83. Sixty-five of those years were in the game of baseball.

DonZimmerBrooklynDodgersZimmer broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization. In 1953 while playing for minor league affiliate, St. Paul, Zim was hit in the head with a pitch. He was in and out of consciousness for nearly two weeks.  At the age of 22 experts said his baseball career was over.  The following year Zimmer played for the Dodgers and in 1956 another pitch to the face broke his cheekbone.

In today’s game Zimmer never would have been cleared to play again.  “Old School” ball players didn’t know better, they just played.

Zimmer’s career was very similar to Billy Martin.  Pedestrian numbers,  Zim was a career .235 hitter, but hard nosed, played to win and played for the love of the game.

After his playing career ended in 1967 with the Knoxville Smokies, Zim did what all lifers did, coach.  He coached or managed for nine different teams, leading the 1989 Cubs to a division title.

After two World Series wins with the Dodgers as a player, Zim served as bench coach for Joe Torre and four New York Yankee championships. In the 2003 ALCS there was 72 year old Zimmer in the middle of a bench clearing brawl with rival, Boston Red Sox.

Zim was also known as “Popeye” for his round face and strong forearms. On June 4th, 2014, he died in Dunedin, Florida.  He was working as an advisor for the Tampa Rays. He loved his family, was married to Carol Jean from 1951 until his death, he loved horse racing and loved the game of baseball.

Billy Martin and Don Zimmer “Old School” baseball lifers.

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