Zimmer central to many memories

"My life was threatened," Zimmer said. "I had plainclothes cops around me and everything."

He once told me about the time he was driving home after a game in '78, when things were going south, and they were killing him on the radio, and his daughter, who now lives in New Hampshire, was crying in the backseat.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"I'm so tired of you being booed, Daddy,'' she said. "I'm afraid you're going to get fired.''

Zimmer, of course, was eventually fired, and those hurts did not disappear overnight. But heal they did, and Zimmer spoke with great amusement about the reception he got when he came back years later.

"Tremendous," he said. "You'd think I won the World Series there. When I was manager there, 36,000 people a night, every night, booed me -- everybody except my wife.

"When I go back now, I'm a hero. I hear people say, 'Boy, we're sad you left Boston.' I say, 'Where were you when I needed you?'"

But while forgiveness flowed from all sides, such was not the case with Bill Lee, the Sox pitcher who dubbed Zimmer "Gerbil" and with whom the manager had a hate-hate relationship.

"I can't stand him," Zimmer once told me. "I've been in baseball [for more than 60 years], and he's the only man in baseball I wouldn't let in my home.''

Even so, when the chance came to return to Boston, Zim didn't hesitate.

"I always loved Boston, I really did," he said. "People laughed at me when I said that, even my friends, but I spent seven of the best years of my life there. When Hobson called, I said, 'Let's go.'"

And now, at age 83, Don Zimmer is gone. Hope those fungo bats went with him.

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