Former Tigers manager Jim Leyland and Joe Torre chat with Tom Foley before Saturday's ceremony honoring the late Don Zimmer in St. Petersburg, Fla. (Mike Carlson / Getty Images)
St. Petersburg, Fla. — Former Tigers manage Jim Leyland, Joe Torre and Tommy Lasorda were among the many friends and family members at Tropicana Field on Saturday to celebrate the life of longtime baseball man Don Zimmer.
The tribute was held before the Tampa Bay Rays played Seattle. Zimmer, a senior adviser for the Rays, died Wednesday at 83 in a hospital in nearby Dunedin.
Both teams wore Zimmer’s No. 23 Brooklyn Dodgers jersey as they lined up along the foul lines. Fans stood and cheered at the end of a video tribute.
There is no funeral or other memorial service planned.
More than 20 family members, including Zimmer’s wife “Soot” — they were married at home plate during a minor league game in 1951 — also attended.
“A great life,” Soot Zimmer said. “No regrets.”
Son Tom Zimmer, a scout with the San Francisco Giants, caught the ceremonial first pitch thrown by granddaughter Whitney Goldstein.
Torre says Zimmer was “one of a kind” and “an institution.”
Zimmer was Torre’s bench coach for four World Series championships with the Yankees.
“His loss creates a void in my life,” Torre said. “I hired a coach who became a family member, basically. I think baseball is just going to miss the presence of him. He was a big teddy bear, there’s no question about it.”
Zimmer spent 66 years in baseball as a player, manager, coach and executive.
“I just hope that people remember what a great baseball man this guy was,” Leyland said. “He was a character, but he wasn’t somebody that you laughed at when you understood how much this guy knew about baseball. His passion for the game and his passion for people.”
“It’s kind of an ironic day,” he said. “Today’s the day of the Belmont, as you know, and everybody knows how he liked horses. Family came first, baseball second, horses third. So, family is here today, we’re going to have a ballgame and the Belmont is today.”
Zimmer convinced Torre not to make ties mandatory when the Yankees traveled. Torre, who wore a tie Saturday with horses on it, removed it when the subject came up during the ceremony.
Yankees star Derek Jeter made a video statement. So did Yankees manager Joe Girardi, whose first big league manager was Zimmer with the Chicago Cubs.
“He made an impact like no else has,” Texas Rangers senior adviser Tom Giordano said.
The ceremony ended with “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” played on a bagpipe.
“Perfect,” Tom Zimmer said. “Emotional.”
Padres draft Manziel
Johnny Manziel and the sons of Cal Ripken Jr. and Mariano Rivera were just a few of the familiar names selected on the final day of the Major league Baseball draft.
The sons of former big leaguers Bobby Bonilla, John Franco, Tom Browning, Benito Santiago and Magglio Ordonez were also taken as baseball’s draft wrapped up Saturday after three days, 40 rounds and 1,215 players chosen.
Manziel, the Cleveland Browns quarterback, was taken by San Diego in the 28th round and listed as a shortstop for Texas A&M — although he never played for the Aggies.
He last played baseball in high school and likely won’t see the diamond again as he begins his NFL career.
“It was kind of, ‘Why not?’” Padres general manager Josh Byrnes said before the Padres hosted the Washington Nationals. “Best athlete on the board,” Mike Dee, the Padres’ president and CEO, wrote on Twitter.
Around the horn
Philadelphia rookie manager Ryne Sandberg earned his first career ejection on Saturday after arguing the replay confirmation of a play at the plate that kept the Phillies from adding a run in their game against Cincinnati.
... Yasiel Puig and Dee Gordon of the Los Angeles Dodgers both left Saturday’s game at Colorado with injuries. Earlier, assistant batting coach John Valentin was struck by a ball near his left eye as he worked with players in the batting cage.
... The Phillies placed right-hander Mike Adams on the 15-day disabled list with inflammation in his right shoulder.