[Ed's note: This is part of our package on the first night game at Wrigley Field, which was played 20 years ago tomorrow. You can read the entire package here.]
Don Zimmer was a teammate of Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers, and now sees Evan Longoria regularly as a senior baseball advisor to the Tampa Bay Rays. If that doesn't spell baseball lifer, we have no idea what does. Zim has an interesting perspective on all things baseball, and he was the manager of the Chicago Cubs during the 1988 season—when the lights finally went on at Wrigley. Here now, a reflection from one of baseball's most respected men on night baseball on the North Side, the best player of all-time, and more.
The Mag: Going into it, did the team think it was a big deal?
I remember reading the papers and all that; people thought the lights would disturb housing, and there'd be issues with fans coming to and leaving the ballpark and all that. It was almost a tradition that no one wanted lights, though. Ernie Banks used to say to me, "Isn't that a beautiful scoreboard at Wrigley? And we're the only team getting to play during the day!" Ernie thought it was great. When it happened, though, I liked it. It was a good change of pace. You play day, day, day, day and here comes a night game popping up.
When the game was rained out, some of the guys were sliding around on the tarp, because Bull Durham had come out that summer. There's a rumor you fined them. What happened?
I remember that. Who were the guys they say?
Greg Maddux, Jody Davis, some others.
Yea, I kinda remember that. I was probably in my office at the time. I do remember some guys having fun and sliding on the tarp. If I fined them, though, it mighta been for fun. I don't think I've ever fined a player. I've had a few discussions with players, but no fines.
How important was it for the North Side to get night baseball?
Myself, I thought it was great. It was a limited schedule at first, and they kept adding onto it. For me, some of the things I've been in—World Series, playoff games, tie games for championships—well, whenever I talk to people and reflect on my career, that game is always one of the things I mention. I was the first guy to manage a night game at Wrigley Field. That's amazing.
So out of all the places you've managed/play, which must be a ton, where do you rank Wrigley?
I get this question all the time. I still say Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. If someone in baseball is listening to my answer, they'll say "You old SOB! You're an old-timer!" All the new parks and this and that. I still love Fenway and Wrigley; that's the way I answer and I catch hell sometimes for it. People will tell me "You old goat!" I still get a thrill walking into those two parks, though—all these years later.
From the '88 Cubs, Greg Maddux and Jamie Moyer are both still active. That's kinda remarkable for a pitcher. What do you think of them?
(laughs) Yea, they are. They're students of the game. They don't have 98 MPH fastballs but they sit on the bench nightly and they don't miss nothing. They watch every pitch and every hitter. If you watch Maddux wherever he's at, he's watching the game; he's not laying around drinking a Coca-Cola in the clubhouse like some guys. At age 44-45, the guy is still trying to learn something about pitching tomorrow. The two guys are pitchers, not throwers.
Do you think Andre Dawson should be in the Hall of Fame?
You know, there's always two guys I was involved with who I can't understand why they're not in the Hall: Andre and Jim Rice. I'm not a stat guy, but in my heart, I'd vote for Dawson and Jimmy Rice. I've said it since—well, since I left 'em.
Your opinion on this must be incredible: best player ever?
That's a tough question. If you're asking me the best player I've ever seen, it's Willie Mays. For a pitcher, I'd say for five years, it was Sandy Koufax. You can't fit Koufax in the same category as a Bob Gibson or a Robin Roberts, but for those five years, he was the best I've ever seen. I practically saw 'em all. (laughs)
What's the Torre and Ramirez relationship going to be like in LA?
Joe Torre. He's pretty smooth. I don't like to talk about The Boss because he's not doing as well these days, but for Joe to manage the Yankees for 13 years and put up with The Boss and never have a real argument with him, that's pretty smooth. Torre's that kind of guy. George would sometimes send Cashman to tell Joe something, and Joe would just say, "You tell George to call me." George never did, so the case was closed. If there's a problem with Manny Ramirez, Joe Torre will handle it in his own quiet way.
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