Ryan Zimmerman has finally decided to hang up his cleats after 16 illustrious seasons with the Washington Nationals.
During the final game of the 2021 season between the Boston Red Sox and Washington Nationals, veteran Ryan Zimmerman was pulled from the lineup in order for the home fans to give him a standing ovation. In his 16th season and 17th with the team (he opted out of 2020), Zimmerman’s future was uncertain as retirement hung over his head.
Facing the possibility that Zimmerman was retiring, the home crowd and the Red Sox players whose season was on the line, lined up to pay tribute to Mr. National and let the veteran hear it. In response, Zimmerman blew a kiss to his family who was in attendance and grew teary-eyed. At the time it seemed like a final farewell and now we know that to be true.
Zimmerman rides off into the sunset, having spent his entire career in D.C., a mark that is becoming increasingly rare in professional sports. In fact, Zimmerman is the 57th player to play 16+ years for one organization. Over that span, he made sure to make his presence felt and he retires the franchise leader in games played (1,799), at-bats (6,654), runs scored (963), hits (1,846), total bases (3,159), doubles (417), homers (284), and RBIs (1,061).
When Washington made Zimmerman the Nationals’ first-ever draft pick in 2005 at fourth overall, it seemed like a match made in heaven. He was born in North Carolina, but grew up in Virginia Beach, playing AAU baseball with future MLB stars B.J. Upton and David Wright. For high school, he went to Floyd E. Kellam before playing at the University of Virginia, where he was teammates with Sean Doolittle.
Yet, when Zimmerman’s name was called out during the draft, no one had any idea the legacy he would build and leave behind in D.C. On the field, he was always playing the hero, hitting 11 career walk-off homers — only two behind Jim Thome’s record 13. Off the field, he and his wife Heather set up and run the ZiMS foundation- a charity focused on raising money for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, the same disease his mom has been battling for over 26 years.
The original face of the franchise, he flew through the minors and was called up three months after he was drafted — slashing .397/.419/.569 in 20 games. The following season, Zimmerman showcased his impressive debut wasn’t a fluke, finishing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting, after hitting .287, with 20 homers, 110 RBIs, and an OPS of .822.
Injuries took a toll on Zimmerman’s body and forced him to finish his career at first, but in 10 seasons at the hot corner, he posted 48 DRS and a 33.5 UZR. The 2009 season saw Zimmerman win his only Gold Glove and his first of two Silver Sluggers.
At first base, Zimmerman wasn’t as much of a game-changer, but he would always put his body on the line. Most notably, during Game One of the 2019 NLCS, Zimmerman will always be remembered for his diving catch that kept Anibal Sanchez’s no-hitter intact. That play was reminiscent of the decade he spent manning the hot corner.
Injuries didn’t just force him to switch positions, but led to missing large stretches at a time. From 2011-2019, he played 101 or fewer games five times. But when he was able to stay on the diamond, he would find a way to impact games, which was on full display during the Nationals 2019 World Series run.
From his broken-bat single off of Josh Hader in the Wild Card game to his three-run homer to break open Game Four of the NLDS against the Dodgers. Then in Game One of the World Series, Astros ace Gerrit Cole had retired five of the six batters he faced on 18 pitches, yet Zimmerman wasn’t fazed.
Regardless of the raucous crowd, Zimmerman took the second pitch he saw to deep center for the franchise’s first-ever World Series home run. Washington’s consistent lifeline, he found a way to silence the crowd and prove to his team that the Astros weren’t the immortals they were made out to be.
From there, his team took over and Washington overcame the Astros in seven games to win the franchise’s only World Series title. It didn’t matter that he finished that series 5-28, whenever his team needed him most, he made sure to show up.
This isn’t the end of Zimmerman in Washington, because now his five-year, $10 million personal services contract kicks in.
“If I have a free afternoon or maybe once a month I pop over to one of those [nearby minor league] teams,” Zimmerman told Barry Svrluga and Jesse Doughtery of The Washington Post. “I get there at 11 or 12, hang out with the guys, tell them you can ask me anything you want, stay for the game and then drive back home.”
Zimmerman’s lasting legacy will be felt for years to come. Undountabley, the team will retire his number 11 and a statue should be built in his honor at the front of the stadium. While he may not be lacing up his spikes anymore, his impact will still be felt.
In a time when kids like to imitate their favorite batting stances and windups, aspiring ballplayers raise their bat up high and move it in circular motions — similar to the way Employee #11 did for so many years.