Next month, Baseball's Hall of Fame Veterans Committee will be voting on a group of worthy candidates that includes former St. Louis Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons. Considered one of the greatest switch-hitting catchers ever, “Simba” batted .285 with 2,472 hits and 1,389 RBI over a 21-season career that included the years of 1968-80 with the Cardinals. He concluded his playing days with Milwaukee and Atlanta.
When he retired, Simmons had more hits than any other catcher in the history of the game, passed since by only Ivan Rodriguez and Jason Kendall, still-active players who have each caught close to 300 more games. Among switch-hitters at all positions, Simmons is ninth in career hits and fourth in RBI and is 14th in games caught among all players at 1,171.
Despite Simmons’ impressive resume, the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America were unimpressed. Sadly, in 1994, Simmons received just 3.7 percent of the vote and was removed from the regular Hall of Fame ballot. He has waited ever since.
Perhaps playing in the shadow of one of the greatest backstops of all time, Johnny Bench, limited Simmons’ recognition. So could have his more modest home run output. Still, compared to all Hall of Fame catchers, the eight-time All-Star leads the group in hits and doubles, is second in RBI, fifth in runs scored and sixth in batting average and fielding percentage.
The four catchers considered most similar to Simmons statistically using the Similarity Scores at Baseball-Reference.com are Joe Torre, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter and Yogi Berra. With his managerial credentials, the first is certainly bound for the Hall, though he spent more time at other positions as a player. The other three have already been inducted.
Studying these comparative numbers should make Simmons' worthiness clear.
Three of Simmons’ toughest competitors on the 12-man Hall ballot covering those whose most significant contributions to the game came after 1973 are expected to be a pair of former Yankees, owner George Steinbrenner and manager Billy Martin, along with ground-breaking ex-Players Union leader Marvin Miller. Other ex-players up for consideration are pitchers Vida Blue, Ron Guidry and Tommy John and position players Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Al Oliver and Rusty Staub. Pat Gillick is included from the executive ranks and should also garner considerable support.
The candidates will be voted on during Baseball’s Winter Meetings next month by a 16-member panel that includes eight Hall of Fame players, four executives and four media members. Results are scheduled to be announced on December 6 with the winners, those who receive at least 75 percent of the vote, to be inducted in Cooperstown in June 2011.
Perhaps there is hope for Simmons, though. One of the voters, ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian, puts forward a most compelling case.
“Over the past 50 years, of catchers who caught at least 1,500 games, only Mike Piazza and Rodriguez have a higher career batting average than Simmons (.294), and only four have a higher OPS -- Piazza, Jorge Posada, Bench and Fisk. What separates Simmons from so many other catchers in baseball history is that he hit in the middle of the order for most of his career. He hit fourth in 56 percent of his starts, and fifth in 30 percent. You can bet that all catchers who hit in the middle of the order as often as Simmons (1,600 of 2,067 starts) are in the Hall of Fame. That's where Simmons belongs because, by most any statistical measure, Piazza, Bench and Simmons are the best offensive catchers of the past 50 years.”
After the last two seasons as the San Diego Padres bench coach following a similar stint in Milwaukee, Simmons wanted to either become a manager or get out of uniform. Earlier this month, the St. Louis resident accepted a position as a senior adviser to Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik. Simmons has vast experience in multiple roles, including as a scout, coach and general manager.
Adding “Hall of Famer” to that list of accomplishments is long overdue.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Selected TCN content appears at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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