Everybody remembers Don Zimmer from his run as bench coach for the New York Yankees latest mini-dynasty in the 1990s and early 2000s.
And most old-time fans remember that Popeye was a big league coach for a couple decades before that, even taking over the managerial reins of a few teams over the years. Most prominent among those stints was a five-year run with the Red Sox from 1976 through 1980, and a four-year tenure with the Cubs that included a division title in 1989.
It was the Gerbil’s only title of any sort as a manager, and the Cubs barely whimpered against the Giants in the NLCS, but it was still light years ahead of where Zimmer began his big league skippering career.
I mean …
If you remember Zimmer as the San Diego Padres’ manager, you’ve had a long, long fandom and have undoubtedly witnessed some amazing baseball history.
And probably some not so amazing stuff.
For instance, you might also remember that those Padres teams in the early-to-mid 1970s just weren’t very good. That’s to be expected from expansion teams, or at least that was the case half a century ago.
But after three epic losing seasons and a 4-7 start to the 1972 season, the Friars bid adios to the only manager they had ever known, Preston Gomez, and inserted Zimmer in the captain’s chair.
It was a great opportunity for the 41-year-old baseball lifer, but the move did little to improve San Diego’s on-field fortunes.
To wit, the Pads went 54-88 under Zimmer the rest of the way and entered 1973 sort of twirling in the wind. Anemic attendance had led to grumblings that the team might change hands, which actually came to pass after the 1973 season.
Before any of that could play out, though, there was another season to attend to, and more importantly for us — here, today — there was a brand new set of baseball cards awaiting us.
Find Don Zimmer cards on eBay (affiliate link)
Find Don Zimmer cards on Amazon (affiliate link)
And there, on 1973 Topps card #197, collectors got their first look at Zimmer since he hung up his playing spikes in 1965 — it was his managerial rookie card!
The card gives us an early shot of that classic Zimmer stare, keeping his eye on some out-of-picture offender — a lollygagger, maybe, or a report who’s asked an untoward question.
Whatever the case, Popeye has backup waiting in case things turn ugly. There to his right are his coaches — Dave Garcia, Johnny Podres, Bob Skinner, Whitey Wietelmann.
When the Pads finished last again in 1973, at 60-102, Zimmer’s days in San Diego were numbered, and they came to an end that offseason when new owner Ray Kroc dismissed the skipper and most of the coaches.
But Popeye had broken into the managerial ranks, and he had found his way back into collector’s shoe boxes.
What could be better than that?
Before he was Popeye, the baseball manager, Zimmer was a low-average infielder with some pop, beginning with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954. He left behind some nifty artifacts to prove the point, too, like this on …
That’s a game-used Dodgers bat, autographed by Zim himself.
Check out the full listing on eBay right here (affiliate link).