Editor’s note: As voted by you, the Birdhouse readers, this is the highest-voted and therefore, first installment of Rob Rains’ new book, Cardinals Where Have You Gone? Six more player stories will be published here each Friday exclusively for Birdhouse subscribers, so join now!
May 13 Vince Coleman
May 20 John Tudor
May 27 Ernie Broglio
June 3 Tom Pagnozzi
June 10 Garry Templeton
June 17 Todd Worrell
Purchase Cardinals Where Are You Now? from your local independent bookstore, the major chains such as Borders and Barnes and Noble, or from the publisher, www.SportsPublishingLLC.com for just $19.95. With Mother’s Day and Father’s Day coming, what better gift could one select for their special Cardinals fan Mom or Dad? - Brian Walton
Ted Simmons knows exactly when his world changed—June 8, 1993.
Simmons was in his office, working as the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, when he felt pain in his upper left arm. He also was suffering from cramps. Ninety minutes later, he was in surgery. Simmons had suffered a heart attack.
“Luckily I was able to recognize the symptoms, and smart enough to get myself to a hospital,” Simmons said. “An artery was blocked, and I underwent an angioplasty.”
As he came out of the hospital, and began his recovery, Simmons made a major career decision. Eleven days after suffering the heart attack, Simmons resigned as the GM of the Pirates.
“It changed my whole perspective on life,” Simmons said of the heart attack. “I was 44 years old. Generally when that happens to you at that age you are dead by the time you are 50 unless you make some changes in your lifestyle. You can continue not exercising, smoking and eating unhealthy, but I decided I wanted to live.”
Simmons is now 55 years old and tremendously enjoying life, as well as his new job working for the San Diego Padres.
“This is the best thing I could be doing,” Simmons said.
Simmons made the decision that he wanted to stay in baseball after his playing career, but not in uniform, away from managing or coaching. When he retired from the Atlanta Braves after the 1988 season, he was hired by the Cardinals as their director of player development.
“I wanted a different kind of a challenge, because I had been in a uniform all my life,” Simmons said. “Being a farm director is the most difficult job in baseball. At the time the Cardinals had eight farm teams, so in effect I was running eight teams at the same time. It ought to be a prerequisite to becoming a general manager, because if you can run five or six teams, which most clubs have now, you ought to be able to run one. The only difference is the number of zeroes.”
Simmons was lured away from the Cardinals to become the Pirates’ GM by Mark Sauer, who had left the Cardinals to become president of the Pirates. When he got to Pittsburgh, however, he knew his job would be different than the traditional general manager duties.
“Pittsburgh was about to lose the franchise,” Simmons said. “There was a race going on about who would get to Tampa Bay first. The Giants were threatening to move there, and there was talk the Pirates might be going there too. Running the Pirates then was like a case in crisis management and it took its toll on me.”
As he went through his medical rehab, however, Simmons knew he could not walk away from the game. He had become good friends with John Hart, then the general manager of the Cleveland Indians, and he was able to go to work a few months later as a major league scout for the Indians.
Simmons spent six years working for Cleveland before leaving to join Kevin Towers, the general manager in San Diego. His first job there was to overhaul the entire scouting and minor league departments, a task that took close to three years to complete.
Now that he has left those departments to others to run, Simmons is back working directly as an assistant to Towers, scouting all major league players and helping make evaluations for trades and free agent signings.
“What I do is help Kevin Towers decide who to pay and who not to pay,” Simmons said.
That seemingly simple job description has become harder over the years, primarily because of the amount of money involved, and those decisions are not something Simmons takes lightly. He also has seen a change over the years in how those decisions are made, with many teams now relying as much on statistical analysis as they do on the personal recommendations of scouts.
“You have to be able to understand and appreciate both if you want to be successful today,” said Simmons. “People who don’t understand both or rely on both are going to be left behind, because the money involved has become so great.”
Simmons has his own ideas about determining which players are worthy of signing to multiyear, multimillion dollar contracts.
“None of us are worth the money,” Simmons said. “Babe Ruth was not worth the money. I was not worth the money. You have to make tough decisions and evaluations. You have to rely on your own history, of watching similar players and seeing whether or not they were successful. Sometimes you make the right decision and sometimes you are wrong. You need to be right most of the time.”
The history that Simmons relies on mostly is a player’s health. He is a lot more apt to spend money on a player who has consistently been in the lineup than a player who has frequent trips to the disabled list on his transactions page.
“History is history,” Simmons said. “The sabermetrics guys can say they don’t want to spend money on a player because he has too low of an OPS, but I can look at a player and say the only way I can feel good about paying the money is to give it to a player who you know is going to be playing every day.”
The Cardinals made the right decision when they took Simmons out of the University of Michigan with their first-round pick in the 1967 draft. He made his major league debut the following year, and was the team’s catcher through 1980. He was traded to Milwaukee before the 1981 season, and played there until joining the Braves in 1986 for the final three years of his career.
Whitey Herzog always maintained that if the National League had employed the designated hitter, he would never have traded Simmons to the Brewers. He toyed with the idea of moving Keith Hernandez to left field and playing Simmons at first base after signing Darrell Porter to be the Cardinals catcher, but Simmons was not in favor of that move.
Simmons never received the national attention he likely deserved while with the Cardinals, even though he was an six-time All-Star, hit .300 or better six seasons, topped 20 homers on five occasions and twice drove in more than 100 runs. He was forever playing in the shadow of the Reds’ Johnny Bench, which kept him from earning more recognition.
Bench also was earning rave reviews as the catcher on the Big Red Machine, which logged a lot of postseason appearances. Simmons never played in a postseason game while a member of the Cardinals.
Still, in a 15-year span from 1971 through 1985, Simmons played at least 123 games 14 times. The only exception was the strike year of 1981. Eight times he played in 150 or more games, a remarkable show of endurance for a position player who racked up most of his starts as a catcher.
Over his career, he slugged 248 homers, drove in 1,389 runs and had a lifetime average of .285. Many observers believe he should have received much stronger consideration for the Hall of Fame.
That’s a subject Simmons is reluctant to talk about, but he does appreciate being able to talk about baseball, or anything else, when he knows he could very easily have died years ago.
He won’t totally eliminate the possibility of becoming a general manager again some day, but he is very comfortable working for the Padres and Towers, who have allowed him to maintain his home in St. Louis.
“I have the freedom to go and do what I need to do,” Simmons said. “I am very involved, and I like that.”