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The Wait is Over for Ted Simmons

December 15, 2019

Hugh Atkins

Ted Simmons is going into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Modern Baseball Committee corrected a mistake by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), who gave Simmons but 17 votes in his first year on the ballot in 1994. Since Simmons received less than five percent of the vote, he dropped off the ballot after only one year.

Simmons got new life through the Eras Committees, who consider players no longer eligible for the writers’ ballot, along with managers, umpires, and executives, who had their greatest contributions to the game during one of four eras. Simmons was on the ballot for the Modern Era Committee (1970-1987); the other eras are Today’s Game (1988-Present); Golden Days (1950-1987); and Early Baseball (Prior to 1950).

© T.C.G.

Simmons first came to the Big Leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals for a couple of at-bats at the end of the 1968 season, and he had five at-bats at the end of 1969. He was in the Major Leagues to stay by the May of 1970. Simmons became a regular player in 1971 and hit .304 with 77 runs batted in. For the next several seasons, he was an elite slugger and one of the most durable catchers in baseball.

Simmons played 21 seasons and hit .285 with 248 home runs and 1,389 RBIs. He drove in more than 90 runs eight times, including three seasons in which he had more than 100 RBIs. He hit over .300 seven times, including a career-high .332 in 1975.

In 1980 Simmons hit .303 with 21 homers and 98 RBIs, but for some reason the Cardinals traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers during the offseason. It was an odd trade; the Cardinals had traded for reliever Rollie Fingers four days earlier, and they included him and pitcher Pete Vuckovich in the deal that netted them outfielders Sixto Lezcano and David Green and pitchers Dave LaPoint and Lary Sorensen.

The Simmons trade was one of many that general manager Whitey Herzog made at the Winter Meetings in 1980. The Cardinals won the World Series (against Simmons and the Brewers) in 1982, but I contend they won despite the Simmons trade rather than because of it. Lezcano and Sorensen were gone from the Cardinals after one season and Green never lived up to his potential. LaPoint was decent during his four seasons with the Cards, but he was not the pitcher Vuckovich turned out to be, and Fingers was a dominant closer for three seasons with the Brewers.

In addition to his 13 seasons in St. Louis, Simmons spent five in Milwaukee before playing his final three with the Atlanta Braves. Had Simmons played any of his prime years in New York, I would not be writing this post, because he likely would have been in the Hall of Fame for about 15 years now.

© T.C.G.

Fans can debate whether Simmons deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, but he stacks up well with some of the other catchers already there, like Gary Carter and especially Rick Ferrell. Simmons certainly deserved to remain on the ballot for more than one year, and that’s why the Eras Committees are so important.

While the Eras Committees have caused consternation among fans for some of their selections–Harold Baines by the Today’s Game Committee last year, for instance–I believe Simmons is Exhibit A in why these committees are necessary.

I believe a system that runs the risk of allowing a player like Harold Baines into the Hall of Fame is worth it if it also allows consideration for a guy like Ted Simmons.

(All statistics are from Baseball Reference. Trade details are from Retrosheet. Eras Committees information is from the National Baseball Hall of Fame.)

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