WASHINGTON — Ryan Zimmerman retired from baseball with nothing left to prove to D.C. He was the Nationals’ inaugural draft pick in 2005 and made good on his potential, starring for them during their lean years and leading them to the playoffs after the club built around him. Zimmerman’s name is scattered across the franchise’s record books and he helped deliver the ultimate prize when the Nationals won the World Series in 2019.
On Saturday, the Nationals will retire Zimmerman’s No. 11 with a ceremony prior to their game against the Philadelphia Phillies. They’ll celebrate a career that saw the infielder make two All-Star teams, win a Gold Glove and two Silver Sluggers, and earn down-ballot MVP votes in four different seasons.
The thing is, he could’ve had more. Zimmerman missed significant time with injury in seven different seasons including five of six years from 2014-19. He finished his age-28 season in 2013 with 1,266 career hits and 179 home runs. Only 25 players in MLB history eclipsed those totals by the same age before him and 17 of them went on to reach the Hall of Fame.
“I think people forget he was one of the best third basemen in the game of his time,” former teammate Bryce Harper said Thursday. “Took a couple Gold Gloves from that guy over in New York, David Wright. He’s always been that guy. He’s always been a really good player, from the time he was in high school to Virginia, all the way to here.”
It was a constant battle for Zimmerman to stay on the field after that. Injuries to his surgically repaired right shoulder affected his throwing ability and forced him to move from third base over to first. He dealt with hamstring and oblique issues, plantar fasciitis, a fractured thumb, a strained rib cage and a hit by pitch on the wrist. In all, he appeared in only 56.8% of the Nationals’ games from his age-29 through -34 seasons.
In an interview with 106.7 The Fan’s Sports Junkies on Thursday, Zimmerman said the rehab he had to do on a daily basis was the biggest thing he didn’t miss about playing.
“I don’t miss playing through injuries,” Zimmerman said. “I don’t miss the two and half hours’ worth of stuff I had to do every day to get ready to play. I don’t miss that.”
After opting out of the 2020 season due to coronavirus concerns, Zimmerman returned in 2021 as a part-time player to finish out his career at 36 years old. He finished with 1,846 hits, 284 home runs and 1,061 RBIs, all well short of the necessary benchmarks to warrant serious Hall of Fame consideration.
Zimmerman’s lifetime .816 OPS was one point below that of Derek Jeter and one point higher than Barry Larkin. That number might have been even better hadn’t had to play through pain so often in his 30s. But injuries are a part of his legacy and while that might mean he won’t end up in Cooperstown, it does nothing to diminish his legacy in Washington.
“He’s done so many things for this organization on and off the field with his ZiMS Foundation and just being Ryan Zimmerman,” Harper said. “Everybody talks about, ‘Mr. National,’ ‘Mr. Walk-Off,’ he’s got all these nicknames and now it’s kinda crazy he’s gone away from the game. He deserves all this praise. He deserves everything that’s coming for him. Just the way he went about it, the way he’s always been that guy.”