Trade for Simmons sparks Brewers’ pennant run

Written by: Craig Muder

As he furiously went about remaking the Cardinals’ roster following the 1980 season, Whitey Herzog found himself with a quandary.

As the morning of Dec. 12 dawned, Herzog found himself with two All-Star catchers and two future Hall of Fame closers on his team. So Herzog the general manager did Herzog the manager a favor and swung a franchise-changing deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, sending Ted Simmons, Rollie Fingers and Pete Vuckovich to Milwaukee for David Green, Dave LaPoint, Sixto Lezcano and Lary Sorensen.

Simmons, however, was a 10-and-5 player, having spent 10 years in the big leagues and five with his current team. And though Simmons had requested a trade following the Cardinals’ signing of catcher Darrell Porter on Dec. 7, he was not willing to simply walk away from his well-earned rights.

Ted Simmons embraced Cardinals fans during the 2022 Hall of Fame Classic at Cooperstown's Doubleday Field. (Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos)

“We originally asked for $1 million a year (from the Brewers),” Simmons’ agent LaRue Harcourt told United Press International after word of the potential deal leaked out. “But we’ve come down from that. There is a possibility we might agree to an extension of his current contract.”

Simmons had three years remaining on his $640,000-per-year deal – a figure that seemed a bargain in an era where salaries were skyrocketing. In the 10 seasons since Simmons became a regular in 1971, the switch-hitting catcher batted better than .300 six times, earned six All-Star Game selections and had eight seasons where he walked more times than he struck out.

It took another day for both parties to reach an agreement – one that came when Simmons spoke directly with Brewers owner Bud Selig.

“We exchanged thoughts and attitudes,” said Simmons, who also spoke with Brewers general manager Harry Dalton on the call, to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We talked about 15 minutes. We didn’t talk money. Suddenly, we got right to where we wanted to be. If Larue was shocked, I was, too.”

Acclaimed throughout baseball as one of the game’s top catchers, Simmons averaged an incredible 135 games a season behind the plate over his 10 years as a regular in St. Louis. But with age creeping up on his catcher, Herzog felt a change was needed.

“I did my job as general manager,” Herzog told UPI. “Now if the manager (also Herzog in his dual role) doesn’t screw things up, we’ll be all right.”

Both the Cardinals and Brewers benefited from the trade. St. Louis went 59-43 in 1981, failing to make the postseason despite having the best combined record in the National League East. Milwaukee won the second-half title in the AL East – in a season split in two by a work stoppage – before falling to the Yankees in the American League Division Series.

Then in 1982, the Cardinals and Brewers met in the World Series, where St. Louis prevailed in seven games to win the title – claiming the elusive championship that Cardinals owner August A. Busch Jr. had longed for when he approved the trade that sent Simmons to Milwaukee.

“I can’t help but think about what Mr. Busch has done to make me who I am and what I do,” Simmons told the Post-Dispatch after the trade became official. “My life, my adult life, reflects from the St. Louis Cardinals. I don’t intend to leave St. Louis. My home is here. I will stay here. I just happen to be a Milwaukee Brewer right now.”

Simmons was true to his word, remaining in St. Louis during the final eight years of his big league career and beyond. Simmons retired with 483 doubles, 248 home runs and 1,389 RBI, becoming the first catcher to start the All-Star Game for both leagues. Among those who played at least 50 percent of their games at catcher, Simmons ranks second in hits, second in doubles, second in RBI and fifth in runs scored. He never struck out more than 57 times in a season, and he is one of only 12 players in history with at least 240 home runs and fewer than 700 strikeouts.

“I was prepared to stay here,” Simmons said about his trade demand that ultimately took him to Milwaukee. “But it had got to the point that I had to do what was best for me and my family.”

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

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