COOPERSTOWN — In 1994, when catcher Ted Simmons failed to get even 5% of the votes for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, his chances of being inducted seemed impossible. He was removed from the ballot and it took 26 more years, and the votes of the Modern Era Committee, to make Simmons the first under-5% player to make the Hall, but Simmons said Thursday, Feb. 27, he wouldn’t have changed the route he took to Cooperstown.
“It took longer in my case than some, but I really, honestly, would not have changed anything,” he said during a media conference after his orientation tour Thursday. “There’s a reason, specifically, I feel that way, because over my lifetime, and my career in baseball, many of the people in here only had a career as an active player. And, you know, I, in theory, could have five years after my playing career was over, I guess gone in here. 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 come to know professionally and love individually. It now gives me a whole reservoir of others due to that distance, or that length of time it has taken me to individually get here.
“I, honestly, have said this, I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said.
Simmons said he grew up in a sports-loving family in Michigan, where Al Kaline was his hero and the Tigers were nearly everyone’s favorite team. Even as a toddler, he said, he showed promise hitting a baseball, and his older brothers noticed he could hit from both sides of the plate. They encouraged him to be a switch hitter, which is part of the reason he had his success, he said.
At 18, in 1968, Simmons got called up to the major leagues with St. Louis for a couple of games. He played 1969 with AA Tulsa, then made the Cardinals again in 1970 and played for a decade in St. Louis. He was traded to Milwaukee in 1980, and played five seasons with the Brewers and three more in Atlanta before retiring in 1988. In his 20 seasons, he was an eight-time All Star and won the Silver Slugger Award in 1980. He hit .285 in his career, with 2,472 hits, 248 home runs and 1,389 RBIs.
He said he still doesn’t feel as if his stats compare to some of the game’s legends.
“You are asking yourself every five seconds, ‘what on Earth, you know, makes you feel like you belong in this place?’ Well, thank God, it was other people who were responsible for that,” he said. “I don’t see how anybody can come here, with the names and faces that this place is filled with, (how) anybody can feel like they belong here.”
Simmons and his wife, Maryanne, spent about three hours in the Hall last week — it wasn’t enough time, he said — getting a tour from Hall of Fame Vice President Erik Strohl. He held bats used by Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle, and visited the plaques of teammates, such as Bob Gibson, Joe Torre, Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, his hero Kaline, and Warren Spahn, his minor league manager in 1969. After his initial tour of the gallery, Simmons said he needed to visit one more plaque and asked to see Mantle, whose legend as a switch hitter helped inspire the Simmons brothers to encourage Ted to hit the same way.
During his playing era, Simmons was often referred to as the best hitting catcher other than Johnny Bench. But inside the Cardinals organization, Simmons was considered a phenom. The Cardinals had catchers Torre and Tim McCarver in their system when they drafted Simmons, who was 17 and bound for the University of Michigan. St. Louis picked him with the 10th pick in the draft and convinced him to give professional baseball a try. Within two years, the Cardinals had traded McCarver and asked Torre to move to third base to accommodate Simmons.
Just days after his 22nd birthday, in 1971, Simmons caught a no-hitter from Gibson. It was the only no-hitter of Gibson’s career and it came against a Pittsburgh team which went on to win the World Series that season.
“What’s extraordinary, he only pitched one, and at the time he pitched it against probably the single best hitting club in the major leagues, with, (Willie) Stargell, (Al) Oliver, (Manny) Sanguillen, (Roberto) Clemente ... it was an incredible baseball team to get through a game against, and he no hit them.” Simmons said. “Pretty special, yeah.”
Simmons and the Cardinals had a falling out in 1980, when manager Whitey Herzog wanted to move Simmons to a new position. Instead, St. Louis traded him to Milwaukee during the off-season. Two years later, Simmons was playing against his old team in the World Series. The Cardinals won, 4-3, and Simmons said it was difficult for him to play his old team. He said his family still lived in St. Louis, and his kids still carpooled with Cardinal pitcher Bob Forsch’s children.
“The night of the World Series, Maryanne carpooled Forsch’s daughter to school,” he said. “So, I ended up getting a homer off Forsch. It was so weird. I am running the bases, Forsch is out there, the kids are carpooling with Forsch’s daughter. ... I’m just (thinking), this is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me.
“It was just crazy,” he said. “All the fans that walked up to me said, ‘you know, Teddy, we love you. We just love you, but we’re pulling for the Cardinals now.’ And I said, ‘I get it. Don’t worry it will be alright.’ ... They still say it to me.
“Hey, I am over it,” he said. “It’s been, what, 40 years? I’m alright.”
Simmons will be inducted Sunday, July 26, at The Clark Sports Center in the town of Middlefield, along with Derek Jeter, Larry Walker and former union leader Marvin Miller. But it won’t be his only celebration this year. He and Maryanne will also celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in May, he said.
Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7218.