I’m not a big Jerry Lewis fan, though I appreciate his talents well enough. Friend Fred is a big Jerry fan, though; check out his page today (and also Mark Evanier’s). So, I read, is Don Zimmer, the Popeye-looking coach for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays baseball team. From his book, “The Zen of Zim: Baseballs, Beanballs and Bosses,” co-written with Bill Madden © 2004, one of the books I actually started and finished in 2005.
It’s really something about the Cubs and their fans. I don’t know if it has to do with WGN, the super station that carries their games all over the country, or whether it’s just because they’re one of baseball’s oldest teams with a tradition that goes all the way back to Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance. I only know I’m forever running into Cubs fans. One of the biggest Cubs fans I ever knew was Jerry Lewis. I’m not sure why he was, but we became pals when I was the manager there. I’d actually met him years earlier in Los Angeles when I was playing with the Dodgers. Lewis had always wanted to be a ballplayer, and he’d gotten to know a few guys on the team.
One year, Gil Hodges brought him to the ballpark and gave him a first baseman’s mitt and let him take infield [practice] with us. From there, he started playing in our pepper games and that’s where he took a liking to me. When I got traded over to the Cubs, Lewis showed up in their spring training camp in Mesa, Arizona, for a couple of days, and after working out with us, he’d go to the dog track with me. Everybody, of course, recognized him at the track and he’d go into his act where he’d take one hundred or so losing tickets and throw them up in the air and slap me across the cheek. One time, he just threw all the tickets in my face and everybody laughed.
Then, a few years later, a couple of friends of mine from St. Pete went to Vegas with me. We were staying at the Desert Inn, one of the few hotels that had a golf course nearby. As we were walking off the eighteenth hole, here comes Jerry, just beginning to play his round. He saw me and threw his arms around me and said: “Where are you going?” I told him we were going to hail a cab to go back to our hotel. “No way you are,” he said. “I’m driving you back.” And that’s what he did, putting off his round of golf.
Now, moving ahead another twenty years, I was managing the Cubs, and Jerry would come through Mesa every spring on his way to or from L.A. He’d spend a couple days with me at camp and, again, we’d go to the track together. One year, I gave him a Cubs jacket, which absolutely thrilled him, and all through my term as manager there, he’d write me letters, faithfully predicting the pennant every year for us. At the beginning of the 1988 season, he wrote me a letter with my picture attached in the upper right-hand corner. “I want you to know,” he wrote, I have blown this picture up to sixty by ninety and it’s hanging in my living room so when I feel depressed, I see it, and feel better!”
Soot [Zimmer’s wife] saved all the letters I got from Jerry, as well as the hundred or so others I’ve gotten through the years from celebrities.
Jerry Lewis turns 80 today. Happy birthday.
Maureen Stapleton, who died earlier this week, I enjoyed watching in movies such as “Cocoon”, “Reds”, and “Interiors”. But I just read that the Troy, NY native (that’s in this metro area) was on an episode of “Car 54, Where Are You?” For some reason, I think Fred, who used to live in Troy, would somehow appreciate that.