100 Worst: No. 100 Heinie Zimmerman

By Chris Rewers on Thursday, October 14, 2010

Third Baseman/Second Baseman/Shortstop, 1907-16

.304 BA, 48 HR, 561 RBI with Cubs

(Editor's Note: First in a series identifying the 100 worst Cubs of all-time.)

Take a little of Dave Kingman, add some Albert Belle, pour in a bit of Barry Bonds, mix in some Hal Chase, sprinkle in some Milton Bradley, shake well, and you get Heinie Zimmerman.

heinie.jpg

"The Great Zim" in 1910 (Library of Congress).

Zimmerman - who played the first nine-and-a-half years of his career with the Cubs - was a good hitter, indifferent fielder, and an eccentric flake who had some moments in the sun but will ultimately be remembered as a World Series goat and a sellout. It is his dishonesty - I suspect he was tanking games while with the Cubs - that has landed him on this list.

In Crazy '08 (Smithsonian Books, 2007), author Cait Murphy called Zimmerman "a slugger from the Bronx who is, frankly, an idiot."

Zimmerman came up with the Cubs as a 20-year-old in 1907 and was a utility player on the only Cubs world championship squads in his first two big league seasons. But his temper caused him to play a central role in a 1908 Cubbie Occurrence and nearly ended the career of starting left fielder Jimmy Sheckard.

After the first-place Cubs were pasted 12-6 by the second-place Pirates at West Side Grounds on June 2, 1908, Zimmerman and Sheckard got into a fistfight in the locker room.

"Sheckard, who has been in the big leagues since 1897 - or a decade longer than Zimmerman - takes umbrage at something the benchwarmer says." Murphy wrote in Crazy '08. "Zimmerman, his honor offended, charges Sheckard, who throws something. Without thinking, Zimmerman picks up the first thing to hand, and throws it. The missle is a bottle of ammonia. It smashes against the outfielder's forehead, the corrosive fluid dripping into his eyes. Dumb luck,in the form of a hospital directly ascross the street, saves Sheckard's eyesight, but he misses 39 games and plays well below par. Zimmerman also ends up in the hospital, thanks to the pummeling (player-manager Frank) Chance and the other Cubs administer. Sheckard's absence from the field is officially explained as an ankle injury, suffered during a slide. Then on June 4, without explanation, a short story in the Chicago Tribune mentions that the Cubs are considering trading Zimmerman to the Cardinals (in exchange for pitcher Bugs Raymond) following a quarrel and that 'Jimmy Sheckard's eyes were reported much better.' Pity the poor reader who is supposed to connect the dots. The full story does not become public for months."

It was evident that Zimmerman could hit, but his defense left a lot to be desired and Chance was annoyed with Zim's indifference toward fielding. Zimmerman, who was banned from baseball after the 1919 season for attempting to bribe teammates to give less than their best effort, may have been aiding gamblers long before there was hard evidence that he was doing so. It was a widespread problem early in the last century and baseball's failure to do anything about it made the Black Sox scandal inevitable.

Zimmerman's first big opportunity came in 1910 when starting second baseman Johnny Evers went down with an ankle injury late in the season. Zimmerman took over as the starting second baseman and played every inning of that year's World Series which the Cubs dropped to the Philadelphia Athletics in five games.

Zimmerman again assumed second base duties in 1911 when Evers played in just 46 games after suffering a nervous breakdown prior to the season. And he caught another break in 1912, taking over at third base after regular third baseman, Jimmy Doyle, died suddenly from appendicitis. Zimmerman that year, during which he had a 23-game hitting streak, led the National League in hitting (.372), hits (207), doubles (41), home runs (14), and total bases (318). Sportswriters now called him "The Great Zim." The arrogant Zimmerman liked the nickname so much that that's how he soon began to refer to himself.

Zim followed up with another fine season in 1913, hitting .313 with 95 RBI, but his production declined from there (.296/87 in 1914 and .265/62 in '15). The Cubs, having finally grown tired of his inconsistent performance, his constant complaints about his salary (he was a perennial spring training holdout), and perhaps suspecting that his play wasn't always on the level, traded Zimmerman to the New York Giants in exchange for Larry Doyle and two other players late in the 1916 season.

In the 1917 World Series. Zimmerman's Giants and the White Sox were involved in a scoreless tie in the fourth inning of Game 6 with the Sox holding a 3-2 series edge. With Joe Jackson on first and Eddie Collins on third an no out, Happy Felsch hit a one-hopper back to the mound. Pitcher Rube Benton fielded the smash and threw to Zimmerman, trapping Collins between third and home. Zim fired home to catcher Bill Rariden who ran Collins back toward third before throwing it back to Zimmerman. He attempted to tag Collins but missed, and a chase ensued as the speedy Collins raced across the plate with Zim several steps behind. Felsch wound up at second and Jackson at third. Both scored when the next batter, Chick Gandil lined a single to right. The Sox went on to win the game 4-2 to capture the series.

Zimmerman claimed that no one was covering the plate and that he had no one to throw to.

"Who was I supposed to throw the ball to - myself?" Zimmerman asked.

But whether or not he was guilty or not of a "bonehead play" doesn't diminish the fact that he was just 3-for-25 in the series with just one extra-base hit while also committing two errors.

The incident that led directly to his expulsion from baseball occurred Sept. 11, 1919 with the Giants playing the host Cubs. Fred Toney was pitching for the Giants and after the first inning was informed by Zimmerman that it would be worth his while not to bear down. Toney reported the conversation to manager John McGraw and after the game, McGraw suspended Zimmerman. He was later banned from the game for life by commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis.

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