Mr. National: Assessing Ryan Zimmerman’s Legacy

When you ask a Nationals fan who their favorite player is, odds are that they will say Ryan Zimmerman’s name. They may even refer to him as “Mr. National,” a nickname earned throughout his fifteen-year tenure playing for the team. Over the course of his career, Zimmerman has been known for his leadership off the field and his late-game heroics on the field. However, Zimmerman is only signed through 2021, and his future after this upcoming season is in question.

Drafted in the first round of the 2005 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Zimmerman was the first player ever to be drafted by the newly relocated Nationals. He quickly moved his way up through the ranks of the Nats’ minor-league system and made his major league debut on Sept. 1, 2005. Since his promotion to the major leagues, Zimmerman has spent every year of his career as a part of the Nationals’ roster. 

In 2006, Zimmerman completed his first full MLB season as the Nats’ starting third baseman. Over the course of the season, he hit for a batting average of .287 with twenty home runs. This impressive season landed him in second place for the National League Rookie of the Year award, just behind the Florida Marlins’ Hanley Ramirez. 

From 2007 to 2013, Zimmerman was in his prime as the leader of the Nats. Over these seven seasons, Zimmerman always played in over 100 games per season, made one All-Star appearance and won two Silver Slugger awards. At the time, Zimmerman was best known for his consistent performance and his clutch walk-offs, including a walk-off home run to end the first ever game at Nationals Park, which was built in 2008. 

However, by the end of the 2013 season, there was growing concern about Zimmerman’s future at third base. He had suffered multiple arm injuries throughout his career, and his fielding was in decline. Zimmerman only played in 61 games in 2014, because he spent most of the season sidelined with various injuries. Then, in 2015, Zimmerman was switched to first base. With his hitting staying consistent and his fielding deteriorating, first base was a natural fit for Zimmerman as the position requires much less fielding skill than third base. 

Zimmerman found consistency in 2016 and 2017, playing over 100 games both years and making the All-Star team in 2017. 

Unfortunately, in 2018 and 2019, Zimmerman once again found himself injured and spending most of his time on the bench. But he found a new role on the Nats as a mentor to the younger players. As the longest-tenured player in Nats history, Zimmerman was able to guide younger players like Trea Turner and Juan Soto through their initial experiences in the MLB. Although Zimmerman was no longer leading the team on the field, he was able to lead them in the clubhouse.

Even though he spent most of the 2019 season on the sidelines, Zimmerman was able to get healthy just in time for the Nats’ historic postseason run. He hit a vital home run in Game 4 of the Division Series to keep the Nats’ season alive. Zimmerman also hit the first ever World Series home run in Washington Nationals history. And, when the Nats finally won the World Series, Zimmerman got his long-awaited parade through D.C.

After the 2019 season, Zimmerman signed a one-year deal with the Nats but ended up opting out of the 2020 season. And, just recently, Zimmerman signed a one-year deal to return to the Nats in 2021. However, the Nats have also recently acquired All-Star first baseman Josh Bell in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates, likely limiting Zimmerman’s playing time in the upcoming season. Regardless, even if Zimmerman never returns to his prime form or if his time in the lineup is decreased, one thing is certain: He will always be Mr. National.

Alex Gerson ’23

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