Don Zimmer spent 65 years and eight decades in professional baseball. His routes are so deep he played with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He actually played 12 major league seasons and even one season in Japan. This was before he moved onto a coaching career that most probably recognize better. You may remember his stint as manager of the Chicago Cubs in the late 1980’s but most likely his role as bench coach for the Yankees in the 1990’s. Did you know about Don Zimmer Cuban Baseball Legend though?
Zimmer was a minor league prospect with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951. The opportunity to escape the Cincinatti winter and improve his prospect stock presented itself and Zimmer jumped on it. The Cuban Winter League had recently forged an agreement with MLB that would see an increasing number of Pros play in the 4 team league during the Majors offseason. The league had historically been the proving ground for Cuban talent with travelling Negro Leaguers fortifying the overall talent level.
César Brioso chronicles the history of the league. This includes the stories of such incredible characters as Don Zimmer Cuban Baseball Legend in his seminal book “Last Seasons in Havana”. You can pick up a copy via the link below and Amazon.
The 1950’s represent the most stable period for the Cuban Winter League. The League began in 1878 and the rivalry between Habana and Almandares was the back bone. The league always found away to compete but generally struggled to find a consistent third or fourth squad. This period saw Cienfuegos, Marianao, Habana and Almandares compete for the longest period without franchise dissolution or movement.
Stay tuned to Cubadugout and my youtube page as well. I plan to dig deeper into the long and diverse history of the league. This will include profiles of players like Don Zimmer, but also Negro League luminaries and of course the home grown Cuban stars that played as well.