Zimmer: Play me or trade me!

Next time you read a column in which some crusty writer complains that players today don’t have the positive team-first attitudes that guys in previous generations did, go searching through some archives. The L.A. Times’ Keith Thursby did, and he found evidence that the whole “play me or trade me dynamic is nothing new (scroll down to the Zimmer story):

Fighting for his job after playing shortstop in 1958, Zimmer made headlines by complaining about general manager Buzzie Bavasi and whether he’d make as much money starting as coming off the bench. Not a good idea.

“From now on, Zimmer’s just another ballplayer as far as I’m concerned,” Bavasi said. “Jim Gilliam played second base on three pennant winners for us. Now, he’s more or less utility but he’s not complaining.”

Two days later, the story got better with the headline “I’d Be Cheap for Braves–Zimmer.” According to the UPI story carried by The Times, Zimmer said the Braves “could probably get me for a dozen baseball bats.” Zimmer figured he could start at second for the Braves. But Bavasi had the last word.

“Zimmer has assured me that he will stop popping off,” Bavasi said after they talked.

I’ve mentioned it before, but Thursby does a great job with this Daily Mirror feature. I don’t know why more papers don’t leverage their archives like this. It’s loads of fun and is one of the few areas where newspapers have an absolute advantage over online-only outlets.

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  1. John Ziccardi said...

    You must be kidding. Years ago it might have been a player or two with this attitude. Today it’s an epidemic of selfishness and greed and cheating that litters the MLB landscape. What you did is kind of like quoting a CEO in the 70’s who got caught for accepting bonus money and comparing that to today’s group of AIG clowns.

  2. Levi Stahl said...

    I think this has to be put in context a bit: remember, in Zimmer’s era players had no recourse but to play for the team they were on. The reserve clause meant that they couldn’t even look down the road and see a time when they could offer their services to another team—and thus a trade demand seems like a more legitimate form of protest.

    Not that I agree with John Ziccardi. I’m with you, Craig: anything that makes clear that the past is pretty much like the present—that there was no wonderful, Edenic time when heroes were heroes and blah blah blah—is fine with me. People have always been people, for good and ill.

  3. Matt S. said...

    John- I completely disagree with your assessment. Time has a way of allowing us to gloss over reality with the sepia veneer of nostalgia. Players have always been largely selfish, greedy, and prone to cheating. In the 1910’s many high profile players were accused (with some evidence being presented) of accepting money from gamblers, guys like Cobb, Smokey Joe Wood, and Tris Speaker. That’s pretty greedy.

    Babe Ruth once threatened to sit out a season to get more money from the Yankees even as he was the highest paid player in baseball. He also demanded the Red Sox move him to the outfield from pitching so he could hit everyday. That demand helped prompt the most famous one-sided trade in history. In his Historical Abstract, Bill James points that Ruth may have been corking his bats as well.

    Cheating, greed and selfishness are not new, or newly pervasive. The AIG execs greed is dwarfed by the greed of people like Morgan, Rockefeller and Carnegie. Things are just easier to remember when you remember only the good stuff.

  4. mkd said...

    There was a quote leading off a short essay I read a few years ago from a retired player complaining about how the kids today were only in it for the money and they didn’t respect the game.

    Dateline: 1890

    There is no golden age. There never was a golden age. Just imperfect men playing a perfect game for money and fame.

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