MILWAUKEE – Ted Simmons was a switch-hitting force, compiling a .285/.348/.437 slash line with 248 career home runs while catching for the Cardinals, Brewers and Braves. He made eight All-Star teams, batted .300 or better seven times and at the time of his retirement in 1988, led all catchers in career hits and doubles.
He also happened to play in an era alongside Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter, which helps explain how Simmons garnered only 3.7 percent of the vote in his lone year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Hall of Fame ballot in 1994. He went on to be GM of the Pirates, a coach for the Padres and Brewers, and an executive or scout in St. Louis, San Diego, Cleveland, Seattle and Atlanta, but Cooperstown remained elusive. In the end, it was a case of a good thing coming to those who wait.
Here are 10 of the best moments of Simba’s life in baseball:
Simmons waited nearly a quarter century between his lone appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1994 and that magical moment in January 2020 when he learned he’d gained induction from the Hall’s Modern Era Baseball Committee, a 16-member group that included former Brewers teammate Robin Yount. The passage of time offered a fresh look at Simmons’ body of work, which rates even better today with the benefit of such advanced metrics as wins above replacement. In 2017, Simmons was only one vote shy.
When Cooperstown finally called three years later, Simmons said, it “was like Niagara Falls.”
“I was one and done a long time ago, and at that time, I pretty much thought my candidacy was over,” he said. “Then things changed and evolved, and I was brought back to life, so to speak. [Now], I finally made that final leap. I can only tell you how excited that has made me feel.
“Everything that’s in the past is all part of it. It’s all a good part of it. It was supposed to happen just like this, and I couldn’t be happier. I wouldn’t change one thing.”
The pandemic delayed Simmons’ induction for yet another year, but he had his day in Cooperstown in September 2021.
On Sept. 21, 1968, in the second at-bat of his Major League debut for the Cardinals against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, Simmons singled off left-hander Claude Osteen for career hit No. 1. It was the first of many hits for the young catcher, who’d turned down a scholarship to play baseball and football for the University of Michigan after St. Louis made him a first-round Draft pick, and then zoomed through the Minor Leagues.
By the time of his retirement, Simmons was MLB’s all-time leader for a catcher in hits (2,472) and doubles (483) — records since broken by Ivan Rodriguez.
Simmons was the first catcher to start All-Star Games for both the National League and American League. He started behind the plate for the NL in 1978 in San Diego, representing the Cardinals, then started behind the plate for the AL in 1983 in Chicago, representing the Brewers.
Before Simmons in ’78, Bench had started every All-Star Game for the NL since 1969. He was to continue the streak in ’78 after winning the fan vote, but was sidelined by a back injury. So, NL manager Tommy Lasorda named Simmons among the replacements and made him the starter. It was well-earned; Simmons batted .310 in the first half with a sensational ratio of 44 walks to 18 strikeouts in 345 plate appearances.
On Aug. 14, 1971 at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium, Simmons caught Bob Gibson’s only career no-hitter in an 11-0 rout of the Pirates. Simmons contributed four hits, three runs scored and an RBI to the cause as the Cards spotted their pitcher a 5-0 lead before Gibson stepped on the mound for the first time. Gibson and Simmons finished their night with a called Strike 3 on Willie Stargell, Gibson’s 10th strikeout in the game.
“Just two nights ago, when we were eating, I said Gibson would pitch a no-hitter Saturday,” Simmons told reporters, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Go ask [Cardinals righty] Chris Zachary if I’m not right. He was there too.”
Zachary confirmed Simmons’ tale, according to the newspaper.
It was one of two no-hitters for Simmons; he was also behind the plate for the Cardinals’ Bob Forsch in ’78.
Simmons’ single in the 1975 season finale against the Pirates gave him 188 hits that season while playing catcher, a National League record. Through the end of the 2021 season, only two catchers had collected more hits from the position; Rodriguez had 198 hits as a catcher in 1999, and Jason Kendall had 190 hits as a catcher in 2003. Simmons finished that season with a career-best .332 average, second to NL batting champion Bill Madlock’s .354, and Simmons finished sixth in NL MVP Award balloting. He garnered votes for the award seven times, but the ’75 season represented his highest finish.
6. First taste of postseason play
Simmons played for St. Louis through 1980 before Whitey Herzog, the Cardinals’ GM and field manager at the time, remade the roster at the Winter Meetings. Among his flurry of moves, Herzog traded Simmons along with another future Hall of Famer, closer Rollie Fingers, and a right-handed starter, Pete Vuckovich, to the Brewers for outfielder Sixto Lezcano, pitchers Dave LaPoint and Lary Sorensen, and a top outfield prospect named David Green. Those players proved the final pieces that pushed a contending Milwaukee club over the top during the strike-interrupted 1981 season, resulting in a second half championship and the first postseason appearance for a Milwaukee club since the Braves were in the ’58 World Series.
The Brewers dropped the first two games of a best-of-five American League Division Series against the Yankees but Simmons helped stave off elimination in Game 3 with a go-ahead, two-run home run off Tommy John in what became a 5-3 Milwaukee win. The Brewers also won Game 4 before falling to the Yankees in a decisive Game 5.
The disappointment stung, but the Brewers had taken an important step as a franchise.
“When we came to Spring Training the next year it was like, OK, we all know what we have to do now,” said Simmons. “We were all veterans. We had all been under the lights. There was no reason we couldn’t win now.”
7. Switch-hitting history
On May 2, 1982, Simmons became the first player in Brewers history to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game. In his career, Simmons hit 248 home runs, which ranked third-most all-time for a switch-hitter at the time of his retirement in 1988. Only Mickey Mantle (536 home runs) and Reggie Smith (314 home runs) had hit more.
Simmons played in his only World Series in 1982 with the Brewers and happened to face his former team, the Cardinals, in what became known as the Suds Series because of the rich brewing tradition in both towns. Simmons homered in Game 1, a 10-0 Milwaukee rout at Busch Stadium, and again in Game 2, a 5-4 Milwaukee loss.
Just like the AL East division race that season and the AL Championship Series against the Angels, the Brewers’ hopes came down to one game. In Game 7 of the World Series, with Simmons behind the plate, the Brewers had a 3-1 lead with 12 outs to go before the Cardinals started a rally against Vuckovich that culminated in a heartbreaking Milwaukee loss. Simmons – and the Brewers – never reached the World Series again.
“His shoulder was blown and he still got us to the sixth inning of the seventh game,” said Simmons. “He was giving me, like, half a fastball. He knew it. And finally, the Cardinals knew it. But Peter is an extraordinary man. Peter is the kind of guy who would say, ‘Hey, everyone has got challenges.’”
“Taking nothing away from the Cardinals, we were the better team,” longtime Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker said. “But they won it. We had a better team, but they won it.”
On June 12, 1983, Simmons hit a 10th inning double off Yankees reliever George Frazier for career hit No. 2,000. At the time, only three players who primarily played catcher were in the 2,000 hit club: Yogi Berra, Joe Torre and Bench, who’d just joined earlier in the ’83 season.
The Cardinals retired Simmons’ No. 23 and unveiled a statue of his likeness outside Busch Stadium on July 31, 2021, a little more than a month before Simmons’ long-awaited enshrinement in Cooperstown. It put Simmons in impressive company; his statue was the 12th to be erected outside of Busch Stadium and the first since Ozzie Smith’s statue was unveiled and dedicated in 2002, at Busch II. His No. 23 was the first Cardinals number retired since Tony La Russa’s No. 10 was hung up in May 2012.
“I just never, ever thought that either one of those things would happen,” Simmons said, according to the Post-Dispatch. “Everybody grows up dreaming about the seventh game of the World Series. And everybody dreams of their number being retired. Everyone dreams of a big statue outside their home stadium. But it doesn’t happen. You grow up and you realize real quick that it’s not going to happen.
“But … it’s happened! This has been an incredible year and a half.”