McClendon calls Zimmer an ‘institution’

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — Don Zimmer’s death on Wednesday, at age 83, hit home a little more Thursday for manager Lloyd McClendon during the Mariners’ open date.

“It was funny,” McClendon said. “I got up, and I was getting ready to go to the track. I realized that Zim was not picking me up.

“Zim and I have been going to the track here for the last eight or nine years. I’ll miss that. I’ll miss him telling me that he’s out of bullets (money).”

McClendon played under Zimmer on the Chicago Cubs in 1989-90.

“Zim was an institution,” McClendon said. “Somebody said he was an advisor for the Tampa Bay Rays, and that’s true, but he was a mentor to a lot of us. He was certainly a mentor to me.”

The Rays are planning to honor Zimmer prior to Saturday’s game with a 15-minute tribute that will delay the first pitch to 1:25 p.m. Pacific time. The listed start is 1:10 p.m.

Zimmer spent 65 years in pro baseball after signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949 as an amateur free agent. He reached the majors in 1954 and played 12 years for five different teams.

After several years as a minor-league coach and manager, Zimmer was hired in 1972 as manager of the San Diego Padres. He also managed Boston, Texas and the Cubs over parts of 13 seasons.

Zimmer served as the Yankees bench coach from 1996-2003 and spent the last 11 years with the Rays before succumbing to heart and kidney problems. As McClendon notes, Zimmer was also fond of the track.

“He always told me, `Somebody’s got to win the race. Go bet the money,’” McClendon said. “I lost a lot of money in his honor (on Thursday). I was out of bullets at the end of the day.”

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