1988 SOFTBALL INDUCTEE
Leroy Zimmerman was one of the greatest two-sport athletes in United States history. The venerable late football coach, Dudley DeGroot, who coached Zimmerman at San Jose State and with the NFL Washington Redskins, stated: “Zimmerman was the best football player I ever coached.” That was high praise as DeGroot also coached NFL Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh. Zimmerman led the Redskins to the NFL Championship in 1942 and the Washington D.C. Touchdown Club named him the MVP of the NFL.
As good as Zimmerman was in football, he was even more dominant as a fast-pitch softball pitcher, which he started playing in 1930, but didn’t take up seriously until he was thirty-two years old. Zimmerman was inducted into the International Softball Congress Hall of Fame in 1970. Zimmerman changed softball pitching with his rise ball, drop ball, and pinpoint control. The big right-hander pitched in twelve ISC national championships and his team won ten times. Three of those wins were with the Fresno/Selma Hoakes and seven with the Long Beach Nighthawks. At a Hoak Packers reunion, team manager Hal Masini recalled when Les Haney, the other half of the Hoak pitching combo, had loaded the bases with no outs in the 1952 national tournament game in Texas. Fresno’s Hal Britton remembered the game well. “Zim came off the bench. Masini told him he wanted three strikeouts. He smiled at Masini, threw nine pitches and fanned all three batters.” That was typical for Zimmerman, who once struck out thirty batters in a fourteen-inning game and nineteen in a seven-inning game. His national tournament record was 50-3. He hurled one perfect game (seven no-hitters), was voted the top pitcher in seven tournaments, and was a ten-time All-American.
Zimmerman was born in Tunganoxie, Kansas, but moved to California as a child. He attended Monrovia, Arcadia, and Duarte High Schools where he played football, basketball, and baseball. He was recruited to San Jose as a three-time All-Conference player. As a senior, he was an Associated Press Litle All-American after leading the Spartans to an unbeaten season. During the 1939 San Jose-Fresno State contest, both teams were unbeaten and the game was nationally broadcast. Zimmerman played sparingly until the last quarter, when he intercepted three passes and ran each for a touchdown, leading to a 42-7 rout. “Zimmerman was a nightmare for us,” stated the late Al Radka, an All-Conference guard for the Bulldogs.
In 1940, Zimmerman was chosen the Best Back for the West in the East-West Shrine game. He was inducted into San Jose’s Hall of Fame in 1981. Playing for the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions, his nine-season career found him passing for 4,801 yards and forty-four touchdowns, leading the league in interceptions in 1945 with seven and a total of nineteen career picks. His career punting average was 39.8 yards. In 1944, he was named to the NFL All-Pro team.
Upon retirement from the NFL, Zimmerman moved to Madera, teaching and coaching at Madera High School for fifteen years. After he retired from teaching, he held free softball pitching clinics in his backyard. His top female students included Fresno State’s four-time All-American Amanda Scott and Madera High stars, Mitzi and Nikki Zenger. Zimmerman died in Madera on August 22, 1997, the same year that the Madera High softball field was named Zimmerman Field.