Rico Petrocelli on MFB: Don Zimmer ‘was a great, great baseball man’

June 05, 2014 - 10:20 am

Former Red Sox shortstop/third baseman Rico Petrocelli joined Middays with MFB on Thursday to discuss the life of baseball icon Don Zimmer, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 83. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page. Zimmer, who spent 66 years in baseball as a player, manager, coach and executive, had a lasting impact on many within the game. While Petrocelli was only on the Red Sox roster during Zimmer'€™s first season as Boston manager in 1976, he had many positive takeaways regarding the man known to many as "Popeye." "He was a guy that sometimes players got mad [at], but they didn't stay mad very long," Petrocelli said. "Zim was tough, he expected a lot from the players, and what that meant was that he wanted guys to hustle and to play hard every game. ... That'€™s all he asked as a coach and as a manager. "He was the type of guy that you wanted to protect, like a teddy bear. You couldn't dislike him. The only guy I know who really disliked him was Bill Lee. They had their problems, but overall Zim was a great, great baseball man. Everyone respected him." Zimmer coached the Red Sox from 1976 until 1980, averaging 92 wins over his four full seasons at the helm. Despite his track record, Zimmer drew the ire of the Boston fans at the end of his tenure with the club, something that Petrocelli said really affected the Sox skipper. "€œHe was very hurt," Petrocelli said. "The fans started to get on him. ... He took it hard.  That'€™s the thing about him. He could be tough on the field, he wanted players to play hard and sometimes get all over you if you didn't, but he also was very emotional." One of Zimmer's most infamous moments occurred during Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS, when the then-72-year-old Yankees bench coach attempted to throw a punch at Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez during a bench-clearing brawl. Martinez proceeded to throw Zimmer to the ground. "€œFirst of all, I didn't think Pedro was right in pointing at [Jorge] Posada in the dugout and pointing to his head. That was a bad mistake," Petrocelli said. "You've got to remember that Zimmer was hit in the head twice -- once in the minor leagues where he almost died, and once in the eye in the major leagues. ... He never told a pitcher to throw at somebody. So that'€™s when he got mad. "€œSo when the incident happened and everybody came out of the dugout, [Zimmer] was angry, he went after Pedro. ... Pedro just put his hand on his head and Zim went down. ... Zim was embarrassed. He thought that when he did things like that, he [thought he] embarrassed baseball, he embarrassed the Yankees." For more Red Sox news, go to the team page at weei.com/redsox.