A hit behind the plate

Simmons ranks as one of most successful catchers with the bat

November 04, 2013
2014 Expansion Era candidate Ted Simmons. (NBHOF Library)

Time and the gaudy stats of contemporary catchers have each conspired to help obscure Ted Simmons’ big league career.

But in the cold analysis of the black-and-white page, Simmons’ remains one of the best hitting catchers in the history of baseball.

Simmons, who played for the Cardinals, Brewers and Braves for 21 seasons, is one of 12 finalists on this year’s Expansion Era ballot that will be considered by the committee on managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The 16-person committee will vote on Dec. 8 at baseball’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla., and the results of the vote will be announced Dec. 9.

The 12 candidates on the Expansion Era Committee ballot are: Dave Concepcion, Bobby Cox, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Tony La Russa, Billy Martin, Marvin Miller, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry, George Steinbrenner, Joe Torre and Simmons. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2014.

The Committee consists of Hall of Famers Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk, Whitey Herzog, Tommy Lasorda, Joe Morgan, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro and Frank Robinson; executives Paul Beeston, Andy MacPhail, David Montgomery and Jerry Reinsdorf; and media members Steve Hirdt, Bruce Jenkins, Jack O’Connell and Jim Reeves.

Born Aug. 9, 1949, in Highland Park, Mich., Simmons excelled in both baseball and football in high school, earning gridiron scholarship offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and Colorado. But when the Cardinals made Simmons their first-round draft pick (10th overall) in 1967, the switch-hitting catcher knew his future was on the diamond.

“I always wanted to play,” said Simmons in 1969. “And I figured I had a decent amount of talent.”

That talent brought Simmons to the big leagues in 1968 as a 19-year-old prodigy. He led the California League in hitting in 1969, then joined the Cardinals for good in 1970. The next season, Simmons hit .304 with seven homers and 77 RBI – finishing 16th in the National League Most Valuable Player voting before he turned 23.

In his first seven full seasons in the majors, Simmons hit at least .303 five times, garnered MVP votes in six seasons and was named to four All-Star teams. His 193 hits in 1975 are the most of any catcher who caught at least 150 games in a season, and his 192 hits in 1973 rank second on that same list.

“He’s the best hitter in the National League,” said then-teammate Joe Torre, the man who Simmons replaced behind the plate in St. Louis.

And Simmons kept on hitting. From 1971-83, he averaged 17 homers and 90 RBI per season to go along with a .294 batting average. He was named to six of his eight career All-Star Games in the 1970s, but the Cardinals’ lack of postseason exposure – along with the presence in the same league of future Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench – kept some from noticing the all-around excellence of the St. Louis backstop.

Simmons was traded to the Brewers after the 1980 season, and in Milwaukee he helped the Brewers reach the playoffs in 1981 and advance to the World Series the following year. In the Fall Classic, Simmons hit two home runs – but his former Cardinals team won the title in a seven-game thriller.

Simmons finished his playing career from 1986-88 as a part-timer with the Braves, served as the Pirates’ general manager in the early 1990s and currently works in the front office with the Mariners. His final playing totals: A .285 batting average, 2,472 hits, 483 doubles, 248 home runs and 1,389 RBI.

Among those who played at least 50 percent of their games at catcher, Simmons ranks second in hits (behind Ivan Rodriguez), second in doubles (Rodriguez), second in RBI (Yogi Berra), fifth in runs (behind Ivan Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk, Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench) and 10th in home runs.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum