Jewish World Review Oct. 16, 2003 / 20 Tishrei, 5763

Zev Chafets

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Consumer Reports

Zim, the new boomer hero | Last Saturday at Boston's Fenway Park, the generation of baby boomers now slouching toward seniority found an unlikely role model: Don Zimmer.

You've already seen the video: The septuagenarian Yankee coach charging out to the diamond on replaced knees; his awkward poke at Gen X superstar Pedro Martinez, who disdainfully, almost absently, hurled Zim to the turf; the old fellow bouncing like an inflatable beach toy and landing in a disheveled heap at the feet of his astonished teammates.

Zimmer hobbled off the field wounded and humiliated. Later, he called a press conference and delivered a tearful apology for his poor sportsmanship. But it was obvious what really bothered him: He had forgotten his age and made himself ridiculous on national TV.

Sad? Pathetic? Maybe, but not to me. I see Zimmer's tumble as a symbol of hope, a sign that it's never too late to dream of glory.

Until last Sunday, Zimmer was a study in dashed dreams. Fifty years ago, he was a potential superstar, leading the minor-league American Association in home runs when he was badly beaned. He eventually recovered and went up to the majors, but he got hit in the head again in 1956 and was never the same player.

Zimmer kicked around as a utility infielder for 12 years on six different teams. Some of those teams were great (the 1955 Dodgers), some miserable (the original Mets), but Zimmer was consistently second-rate - a lifetime .235 hitter. Nor was he a man who rose to the occasion. In postseason games, his average dropped to .200.

After his playing days, Zimmer became a baseball lifer. He coached in both leagues without particular distinction. He managed four teams and never won a championship. In 1989, in Chicago, he was named manager of the year, but it was a sentimental choice. Even then, he had been around forever.

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As a young man, he was called "peppery," a baseball euphemism for guys whose mouths are bigger than their bats. As he grew older, he became "crusty," which amounts to the same thing.

Since joining the Yankees as a coach, he's been mostly mellow, a harmless old character, Joe Torre's rotund bench buddy and good-luck charm.

Zimmer doesn't suffer from grandiosity. A couple of years ago, he told a Newsday reporter he anticipated obscurity. "When I go home and decide to stay on Treasure Island, ain't nobody going to remember me anymore, anyhow." How wrong he was.

Everybody will remember Zimmer now. The video clip of Zim hitting the deck in Boston is already on permanent display in the mental film collection of every baseball fan. The coach will live forever in the nostalgic din of American sports bars. Zimmer and Martinez, Martinez and Zimmer. They are bound together as one of baseball's enduring duos, like Abbott and Costello, Mantle and Maris, Roseboro and Marichal.

But Zimmer's importance will transcend the national pastime. He's a hero for an entire generation, living proof it's not over till it's over. Hey, maybe we boomers never fulfilled the potential our high school guidance counselor detected. Perhaps our lives, and hair, are turning gray before our disbelieving eyes. But in a wild, youthful moment, we can still achieve immortality.

The Fall in Fenway is destined to become a boomer mantra and an article of faith: No matter what, it's never too late to pull a Zimmer.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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