Most people have a difficult time recalling the name of that quiet kid who sat three chairs in front of them in English class thirty years ago, or recalling that no-longer produced cereal they craved as a child. If something isn’t present – isn’t still in your daily routine – then chances are it is long forgotten. Chief Zimmer suffers the same deficiency, having played his glory days for the defunct Cleveland Spiders.
Zimmer reached the Majors in 1884 with the old Detroit Wolverines. Since he was of Native American heritage, he was handed the tag “Chief” by his teammates. But Zimmer didn’t stick in the Major Leagues. He saw minor league action in Portsmouth and Rochester the next couple years before landing a job with the Cleveland Blues of the old American Association. He spent one year as the Blues regular catcher before jumping the team and casting his lot with Cleveland’s NL entry: the Spiders.
He would play for the Spiders from 1889 to 1899, earning ironman status for his work behind the plate. Zim caught 84 games in 1889 then had three consecutive years of 110 or more games caught beginning in 1890 – when catchers rarely worked many games because of the crude protection. Made of iron, Zimmer caught 125 games for the Spiders in 1890 – finishing third on the team in RBI and receiving the offerings of a young Cy Young. He drove in 69 runs in 1891 playing for a fine lineup that also included such fine forgotten stars as Cupid Childs, Ed McKean and Patsy Tebeau.
The Spiders finished second in 1892 with Zimmer finishing fifth in the league in doubles. A .300 hitter for the first time in 1893, Zim also slugged at a .454 clip – none too shabby for the 1800s. He drove home 65 runs in 1894 for a red-hot Cleveland offense, but the mound crew had little to offer outside the immortal Cy Young.
His highwater mark for batting average came in 1895 when he hit .340. He posted a remarkable on-base percentage of .417 while slugging .467. Teaming with Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett and Ed McKean, Zimmer gave skipper Patsy Tebeau three .340 or higher hitters in the lineup. Add that stellar trio with the pitching of Cy Young and the Spiders had a fine team, coming in second in the league.
Zimmer hit .316 in 1897, still caddying for the legendary Cy Young. When the Spiders signed outfielder Louis Sockalexis it gave Cleveland two Native Americans in its starting lineup. But Zimmer was getting up in the years and he had a poor 1898 season. He joined the Louisville Colonels in 1899 and resurrected his career, hitting .307 with 43 RBI on the season.
When the Colonels meshed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1900, Zim joined such stars as Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke, Tommy Leach, Deacon Phillippe, Claude Ritchey and Rube Waddell to give the Pirates an enviable roster, which ran away with the NL pennants at the turn of the century.
With the Pirates in 1901, a 40 year old Zimmer platooned behind the plate with Peach Pie O’Connor as the Pirates copped the NL pennant. Given that the two leagues were at war, there was no peace and thus no World Series. He hit .268 in 1902 for the Pirates but given his age he was placed on waivers and the Phillies selected him, naming him their player/manager in 1903 – his last at the Major League level.
G 1,277/R 622/H 1,227/2B 221/3B 80/HR 26/RBI 625/SB 158/BA .271/SA .372