The Top 100 Cubs Of All Time - #98 Heinie Zimmerman

Heinie Zimmerman's career stats from baseball-reference.com

It's a common theme, seemingly, about Cub players, all the way through history -- many of them are best remembered for negative plays they made.

Henry "Heinie" Zimmerman (for some reason, the name "Heinie" was a popular nickname for people named "Henry" in the first quarter of this century. Only more recently was "Hank" used in more common parlance) was a Cub from 1907 through 1916, and their regular third baseman from 1910 until he was traded to the Giants for Larry Doyle, who had helped the Giants to pennants in 1911, 1912 and 1913, but by '16 was pretty well done. Sound familiar? Doyle was best known for, in a moment of New York hubris, saying "It's great to be young and a Giant".

The trade hurt the Cubs, as so many such trades have, when Zimmerman's only 100-RBI season helped lead New York to the 1917 pennant. It was in that World Series that he made the play that was forever to be the one by which he is remembered.

In game six of that World Series, Zimmerman made a bad throw on an Eddie Collins grounder, allowing Collins to reach second in the fourth inning of what was then a scoreless game. Another error later, runners were on second and third when Happy Felsch hit a comebacker to pitcher Rube Benton. Benton threw to third, trapping Collins in a rundown -- or so they thought. After a throw to catcher Bill Rariden, Collins managed to elude Rariden, and neither Benton nor 1B Walter Holke backed up the play, so Zimmerman wound up holding the ball, fruitlessly chasing Collins, who scored, giving the White Sox a lead they never relinquished, and winning what became, until 2005, their last World Series.

Until that play -- which unfairly branded Zimmerman as a baseball failure -- he had led a storybook life, and the irony was that it came in his hometown. Zimmerman was born February 9, 1887, in the Bronx, New York, and learned his baseball not far from where Yankee Stadium would one day stand. He signed a minor-league contract at age 19 with Wilkes-Barre of the New York State League, and one year later the Cubs bought his contract for $2,000, quite a large sum of money in 1907.

Zimmerman joined a club that was the powerhouse of the National League, and that had an established infield of the famous Tinker, Evers and Chance, and the lesser-known Harry Steinfeldt at third base. He became a capable backup for the pennant-winning teams of 1908 and 1910, playing mostly second base. After Steinfeldt left the club, Jimmy Doyle took over at third, but Zimmerman stayed anchored to the bench -- until Doyle's sudden death in the offseason of 1911-12 forced manager Frank Chance to take a chance on Zimmerman at third base.

The 25-year-old Zimmerman responded with his finest major league season, although Cub fans could have been forgiven if they'd have thought it was a portent of things to come. He led the league in home runs with 14. That's a very large number of home runs for that era -- the Cub team had 43 HR in 1912, and the entire National League hit only 287, about 36 per team. It'd be roughly comparable to a 70-HR season in today's home run environment. His .372 average also led the league, and his 99 RBI were third (by three) to Hall of Famer Honus Wagner. Oddly, in the Chalmers-sponsored MVP voting of that day, he finished sixth -- the winner, ironically enough, being Doyle.

Unfortunately for Zimmerman, he "believed the hype". He started holding out for more money, and went on spending sprees that eventually affected his marriage -- that 1912 winter, he married a 17-year-old (that wasn't unusual in those days, either), and not long after she bore him a daughter, but by 1916 the marriage had collapsed, and after that, the Cubs finally tired of his antics and made the ill-fated trade with the Giants.

The infamous play in the 1917 World Series wasn't Zimmerman's downfall, though -- it was his love for money. Like a number of players of his era, he felt he wasn't paid enough and so, once the Giants acquired in 1919 Hal Chase, one of the most notorious game-fixers in baseball history, Zimmerman was sucked in. He started throwing games, and when manager John McGraw learned of his subterfuge, he was suspended from the team. (Imagine something like that happening today. Yeah, I know. You can't.) Along with a number of other players who was never officially banned as the Black Sox were, he was unofficially blackballed, done with major league baseball at the age of 32.

Returning to his native New York City, he found work as a plumber and steamfitter, the former something he had done as a teenager in the Bronx, before he discovered his baseball talents could make him far more money. He died at the age of 82 on March 14, 1969, remembered, if at all, for one messed-up play that may have cost his team a World Series.

Note that the baseball card photo accompanying this profile spells his name "Zimmermann". This wasn't uncommon in those days; spellings of players' (and other people's in general) names often were in flux. Those sorts of things didn't start to be standardized till the 1930's.

Source: SABR BioProject biography of Zimmerman

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