All-Time Indians: Chief Zimmer

Name: Charles Louis Zimmer Position: Catcher
Nick Name: Chief  
Tribe Time: 1887-1899 DOB: 11/23/1860
Best Season (1892) 111 413 63 109 29 13 1 64 167 32 47 18 .327 .404 .264 .731
Career 961 3469 507 946 189 57 23 503 1318 309 350 125 .343 .380 .273 .723

This is ‘All-Time Indians’, but Chief Zimmer was not officially an Indian or a Chief and that merits some explanation. Zimmer was one of twelve players who were donned with the nickname Chief prior to 1910, two of which played for the 1890’s Cleveland Spiders. The main reason for this was that the people of Cleveland (or at least the sports writers) hated the Spiders moniker, so when Louis Sockalexis, the first Native American to play professional baseball, joined the team, the name was unofficially changed to the Indians. During Spring Training, the ‘A’ team was called the Indians while the ‘B’ team was called the papooses. As a veteran leader on the squad, Charles Zimmer was given the moniker of Chief as was Sockalexis.

Chief Zimmer started his career at the age of 23 with the Detroit Wolverines of the National League and the New York Metropolitans of the American Association. He only played 14 games total with the two teams before joining the inaugural season of the AA Cleveland Blues. He played just 14 games that season as well as the third string catcher and batted just .231, but eventually, he would become the only player to stick with Cleveland for every single year of the Blues and the Spiders, from 1887 through 1899. The Blues only lasted two seasons, but Zimmer took advantage of the last year of the Cleveland Blues by taking over the starting catcher’s role, surpassing Pop Snyder with a .241 average, 15 extra base hits and 22 RBI.

In 1889, the Blues moved to the National League and became the Cleveland Spiders with most of the team making the transition including superstar short stop Ed McKean, ace Jersey Bakley and second basemen Cub Stricker. Zimmer improved upon his previous season, coming second on the team with nine triples and third with a .375 slugging percent. Interestingly, in a day where most catchers were signed for their defense first, Zimmer was all stick, committing 33 errors and allowing 50 passed balls during 81 games in the ’89 season. Things wouldn’t improve as his career advanced and he ended with a .952 fielding percent as a catcher with 328 errors and 355 passed balls in 1,239 games. Even in his slight time at first base, things weren’t any better with 10 errors (.960 FLD%) in 25 games.

Offensively, however, Zimmer improved each year, averaging more than 100 hits, 20 doubles and 60 RBI over the next three seasons. His prime came at the age of 31 in 1892 at the perfect time as the Spiders were at their peak, going to the Championship Series and losing to the Boston Beaneaters. That year, Zimmer lead all spiders with 29 doubles, good enough to rank in the top ten in single season doubles in pre-Indians, Cleveland baseball history.

Years behind the plate took it’s toll on Zimmer and he never played more than 100 games again after 1892. With the decrease in playing time, Zimmer did bat over .300 for the first time in 1893, a feat he repeated in 1895, 1897 and 1899. He kept his power as well, averaging more than 20 doubles per season from 1894 through 1897. Zimmer also continued his production streak of knocking in at least 40 runs each year from 1890 through 1897. The following season was the beginning of Zimmer’s downfall as he batted just .238 with four RBI in 20 games. When Frederick and Stanley Robison sold almost the entire team to the St. Louis Perfectos prior to the 1899 season, it was this poor year that kept Zimmer with the Spiders, at least for the moment.

The Chief batted .340 through 20 games in 1899, but the Spiders were a lost cause, so bad that opposing teams refused to come to Cleveland to play them. They finished with a 20-134 record, the worst winning percent (.130) in the history of professional baseball. Zimmer was released after just twenty games and he went on to have an above average season with the Louisville Colonels. The Spiders disbanded after the dreadful 1899 season, but Zimmer played on, putting together one more good season for the Pirates before finishing his career in 1903 with the Phillies.

In the end, his Spiders numbers saw he rank in the top five in career doubles, triples, home runs, RBI and walks and in the top ten in every other imaginable counting stat as well as OBP, SLG and OPS. He was not only the greatest catcher in pre-Indians history, but he wasn’t surpassed including the Indians until the 1920’s with Steve O’Neill. Zimmer was born in Ohio, played most of his career in the Buckeye state and died in 1949 in Cleveland at 88 years old.

Joseph Coblitz

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of and has been since its inception in 2011. He also writes for The Outside Corner and the Comeback and hosts the Tribe Time Now podcast. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona the Spring Training home of the Cleveland Indians. Follow on twitter @BurningRiverBB