Simmons awed by legends, history during Orientation Visit at Hall of Fame
But on Feb. 27, Simmons sat in the Hall of Fame’s renowned Plaque Gallery – amazed and honored – as he was surrounded by the other members of the National Pastime’s most exclusive club.
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“(Al) Kaline’s right over there, (Mickey) Mantle’s right over there. These people are part of my DNA,” said Simmons, sitting in a director’s chair and pointing at the game’s legends before a media contingent, referring to both his childhood hero and fellow switch-hitter. “This place is … Cobb … Gehrig … Stargell … Seaver. It really is overwhelming. You feel incredible being a part of this.”
Simmons spoke moments after autographing the spot where his Hall of Fame plaque will reside following the July 26 Induction Ceremony. It was around this time that he was able to check out the plaques belonging teammates such as Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Rollie Fingers, Steve Carlton, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Joe Torre.
Simmons, who played 21 seasons with the Cardinals, Brewers and Braves, made his first trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum since his election – along with pioneering labor leader Marvin Miller – by the Modern Baseball Era Committee in December.
Simmons and Miller, along with BBWAA electees Derek Jeter and Larry Walker, will be inducted during a Hall of Fame ceremony on Sunday, July 26.
Simmons would explain that despite the length of time if took for his eventual Hall of Fame election, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“There’s a reason, specifically, that I feel that way. It’s because over my lifetime and my career in baseball, many of the people in here only had a career as an active player. I, in theory, could have gone in here five years after my playing career was over,” he said. “But in the context of my post-playing life, it has exposed me to so much more and so many other people that I have grown to know professionally and love individually. It’s now given me a whole reservoir of others, due to that length of time that it’s taken for me to eventually get here.
An eight-time All-Star and Silver Slugger winner, his 1,771 games caught at the time of his retirement ranked eighth all-time. With a batting eye that prevented him from striking out more than 57 times in any season, he collected at least 90 RBI eight times and batted at least .300 on seven occasions. Among big leaguers who played at least 50 percent of their games as a catcher, Simmons ranks second all-time in hits, doubles and RBI.
Simmons has another big event approaching in the coming months, as he and his wife will be celebrating their milestone 50th anniversary in May.
“You talk about a good year,” he said. “Lots to celebrate.”
The tour of the Museum, guided by Hall of Fame Vice President of Exhibitions and Collections Erik Strohl, saw an inquisitive Simmons asking questions and sharing stories from his fabled career.
Often seeing references to the Cardinals, Simmons remains amazed he was only 19 when he made his big league debut with the franchise in 1968 and caught such legends as Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton.
“I was too young to be doing what I was being asked to do,” he recalled. “I had to learn really quick. I knew I had to buckle up.”
Whether it was sharing stories of interacting with Hall of Famers Joe Medwick and Warren Spahn in his early professional days or recalling his longstanding friendship with former teammate Bruce Sutter, the walk through the Museum was also a trip though Simmons’ baseball life.
“It’s been an incredible walk. It’s the kind of thing you should take three days to do. The historical artifacts alone are overwhelming,” Simmons said. “And it’s also nice to put Lou Gehrig’s bat in your hand, and Babe Ruth’s, and the others. What I saw in two hours is like a blink in terms of what they can show you here. It’s a real joy to take a trip through this place.”
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.