By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
He played in the long shadow of Johnny Bench and then Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk.
And somewhere along the way, baseball fans and writers forgot just how good Ted Simmons was.
But the eight-time All-Star catcher is finally getting his due. On Wednesday, he’ll be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, alongside Canadian Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.), New York Yankees legendary shortstop Derek Jeter and the late former MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller.
To his credit, Bench, who shared a National League All-Star Game clubhouse with Simmons several times, never forgot how good his switch-hitting catching contemporary was.
“The definition of a catcher, tough and durable. He stood above others with clutch hitting for power and average,” Bench said about Simmons on Twitter on December 8, 2019, the day it was announced that Simmons had been elected. “I couldn’t be happier! Proud to have him join us in Cooperstown. Welcome to the @baseballhall Ted Simmons!”
Simmons was named on 13 of the 16 ballots (81.3 percent) cast by members of the Hall’s Modern Baseball Era Committee, which is comprised of inductees and prominent baseball executives, writers and historians. The committee voted on a ballot that consisted of nine former players and one executive who made their greatest contributions to baseball between 1970 and 1987.
Simmons suited up for 21 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves between 1968 and 1988. The gritty catcher completed his career with a .285 batting average, 2,472 hits, including 483 doubles and 248 home runs.
During his Hall of Fame career, he finished in the top 10 in batting average in either the National League or the American League six times and his 193 hits in 1975 are the most by any catcher who has been behind the dish for at least 150 games in a season. (Note: His 192 hits in 1973 are a close second). Among big leaguers who suited up for at least 50 percent of their games at catcher, he is second in hits, doubles and RBIs.
With this type of resume, it’s surprising that Simmons garnered only 3.7% support in his first year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot, in 1994. A candidate requires five percent support to stay on the ballot, so his name was dropped from consideration among the writers.
But a quarter of a century later, he finally received the call from the Hall he had been waiting for.
“It was obviously very, very exciting to get that telephone call. Twenty-five years is a long time. I was one-and-done, so to speak, a long time ago. At that time I pretty much thought my candidacy was over,” Simmons said at a press conference at the Hall the day after his election.
“Then things changed and evolved and were brought back to life, so to speak. And then yesterday, finally, made that final leap. I can only tell you how exciting that has made me feel. Everything that has gone 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 it happened just like this. And I couldn’t be happier and I wouldn’t change anything. Not one thing.”
So this Wednesday, Simmons will share the stage in Cooperstown with Canadian Larry Walker. This got me wondering if he has any other Canadian connections. Here is what I uncovered:
-His only Canadian big league teammate was right-hander Reggie Cleveland (Swift Current, Sask.). The Canuck hurler played with Simmons with the Cardinals from 1970 to 1973 and then again with the Brewers in 1981. Simmons caught 116 games with Cleveland on the mound and the Canuck righty posted a 3.79 ERA in the 648 innings he pitched with Simmons as his battery mate.
-Simmons fared well after against fellow National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.). The switch-hitting catcher went 13-for-40 (.325 batting average) with two home runs, two doubles, a triple and five RBIs against Jenkins.
-Simmons enjoyed hitting against the Montreal Expos. In 193 games against the Expos, he batted .316 and had 212 hits – including 16 home runs. That’s his second highest batting average against a big league club (He hit .334 against the Cubs) and his third highest hit total against another squad (230 hits against the Cubs and 220 hits against the Pittsburgh Pirates).
-He hit particularly well against the Expos at Jarry Park. At Montreal’s first big league stadium, Simmons batted .324 in 54 games. That was his second highest batting average at any big league ballpark (He hit .339 in 98 games at Wrigley Field). He had 69 hits in those 54 contests at Jarry Park, including 11 doubles and five home runs.
-In 45 games at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, he batted .270 with five home runs and 18 RBIs.
-His 248th and final major league home run came at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on July 2, 1988 while he was playing for the Braves. It was a two-run shot off Expos right-hander Bryn Smith in the second inning in a Braves’ 5-4, 15-innning victory.
-Simmons also had his final four-hit big league game against the Expos at Olympic Stadium. On July 19, 1986, he had a double and three singles in five at bats in the Braves’ 7-2 win. Simmons had a double and a single off Expos starter Jay Tibbs and then added two singles off reliever Randy St. Claire. It was the 24th and last time he’d have four hits in a major league game.
-While with the Brewers, Simmons hit .280 with five home runs and 27 RBIs in 50 games against the Toronto Blue Jays. Twenty-six of those games were played at Exhibition Stadium. Simmons batted .247 with three home runs and 11 RBIs in those contests.