Swap Shop: Don Zimmer for Ron Perranoski
At the opening of the 1960s, Don Zimmer had already spent more than a decade as part of the Dodgers’ organization. An accomplished infielder with occasional pop in his bat, Zimmer was signed by the Dodgers in 1949 and made the Brooklyn squad in 1954.
Don Zimmer’s value as a utility infielder was worth three minor league players to the Chicago Cubs. But Zimmer spent only two seasons in Chicago before being drafted by the New York Mets. He was an All-Star selection in 1962, his second and last season with the Cubs.
His versatility as a fielder made him a valuable utility player for the Dodgers. From 1954-1957, he was the backup shortstop to Pee Wee Reese. In 1958, his only season as an everyday with the Dodgers, Zimmer took over as the team’s shortstop and delivered his best season at the plate: batting .262 with 17 home runs, 60 RBIs and 14 stolen bases for the Dodgers (now located in Los Angeles).
But in 1959, Zimmer split the shortstop duties with a young player named Maury Wills, and responded to platooning with a .165 batting average.
It would be his last season in Dodger blue.
While Zimmer’s versatility made him a valuable bench asset to Dodger manager Walt Alston, he was valued more by the Chicago Cubs. Just before the start of the 1960 season, the Cubs acquired Zimmer for $25,000 and three players: minor league outfielder Lee Handley, infielder Johnny Goryl, and a 24-year-old southpaw named Ron Perranoski.
At first, it looked as if the Cubs had gotten the best of the deal. Zimmer played all three positions on the left side of the Cubs’ 1960 infield (plus two appearances in left field), batting .258 with six home runs and 35 runs batted in. In 1961, as the Cubs’ regular second baseman, Zimmer was named to the All-Star team in a season where he batted .252 with 13 home runs, 40 RBIs and a career-best 25 doubles.
Ron Perranoski was the anchor in the Dodgers’ bullpen for that team’s pennant seasons of 1963, 1965 and 1966. Perranoski won 16 games for the Dodgers (all in relief) in 1963 while saving 21.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers saw little early return on the trade. None of the players acquired in exchange for Zimmer played for the Dodgers in 1960. Handley never made it to the major leagues. Goryl spent two seasons in the minors before being drafted by the Minnesota Twins (where he played for three seasons as a utility infielder).
And then there was Perranoski. He spent the 1960 season in AAA, going 12-11 with a 2.58 ERA. But after having served primarily as a starter in two seasons in the Cubs’ farm system, Perranoski was being groomed as a reliever by the Dodgers. He made the Dodgers’ roster in 1961, coming out of the bullpen for all but one of his 53 appearances, and posting a 7-5 record with a 3.04 ERA and six saves. In 1962, he appeared in 70 games, finishing 39 and saving 19 to go with a 6-6 record and a 3.35 earned run average.
Zimmer spent the 1962 season in New York and Cincinnati, selected by the Mets in the 1961 expansion draft and then traded to the Reds five weeks into the 1962 season. He batted a combined .213. He would play three more seasons in the major leagues, followed by a year in Japan and an ill-fated comeback attempt in the minors in 1967. He spent the next four decades in baseball as a coach and manager, both in the minors and at the major league level.
Perranoski emerged as one of the most effective relievers of the 1960s. He was 16-3 for the Dodgers in 1963 with a 1.67 ERA and 21 saves. Over the next four seasons, he won 23 games and saved 54 with a 2.73 combined ERA. Perranoski was traded to the Minnesota Twins in 1968 and led the American League in saves in 1969 and 1970.
Zimmer’s baseball career lasted longer than the combined major league careers of the three players the Cubs surrendered to get him. But the trade for Perranoski turned out to be the biggest contribution Zimmer ever made to the Dodger organization that signed him.
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