A disheartening, unsolved baseball mystery was adjudicated Sunday when retired Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons was granted passage into the Baseball Hall of Fame after a 25-year wait.
The 16-person Modern Era Baseball Committee did the right thing in recognizing Simba’s Hall of Fame credentials.
We sincerely thank the panel for their diligence and conscience. Many years later, it’s still startling to realize — again — that Simmons lasted only one year on the baseball writers’ ballot.
Simmons was dropped from the ballot after receiving only 3.7 percent of the vote in 1994. And this was his fourth time as a candidate via special committee. Until Sunday, Simmons went 0 for 3.
Finally … happiness and justice and a richly deserved reward.
Why did this take so long? Simmons was cast aside for several reasons:
— Simmons played at the same time as Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk and was overshadowed by their greatness. I’ve never understood that. And never will. Just because you aren’t the greatest player at your position, it doesn’t mean you’re unworthy of the Hall of Fame. Keeping Simmons out of Cooperstown because he wasn’t Johnny Bench is like dismissing shortstop Alan Trammel from consideration because he wasn’t Cal Ripken Jr. The Trammel debacle was corrected during a late-2017 committee vote; Trammel was inducted into the Hall last summer. Fairness came for Simmons this year.
— Yesteryear writers didn’t care much about onbase percentage, and the oversight was damaging to Simmons. During his career peak, 1971-1980, Simmons had a superb .367 OBP that led all MLB catchers over that time. It was a significant part of his impressive hitting profile.
— Simmons didn’t receive the proper credit for his endurance. During his 10-year peak he caught at least 150 games seven times and logged 145 games in eight of the 10 years.
— I’m assuming the voting baseball writers failed to realize the ballpark factor in Simmons’ offense. During Simmons’ 13 years as a Cardinal, Busch Stadium was a cavernous, pitcher-friendly park that substantially reduced power. Eight times during Simmons’ 10-year peak his home slugging percentage was at least 22 percentage points lower than his road slugging percentage. And in three of those seasons, his home slug was at least 58 points less than his road slugging.
— Simmons was below-average defensively. But much of that was based on a high count of passed balls assessed by official scorers. Pardon me for being skeptical. But official scoring is subjective, inconsistent, and therefore unreliable. Simmons’ throw-out rates on steal attempts was right around the MLB average for that time. His defense was undeniably bad late in his career — but not during his career-peak phase.
In a long-ago interview, longtime Cardinal and MLB catcher Tim McCarver vented his frustration over the insufficient respect for Simba’s career. Keep in mind that McCarver was Simmons’ backup in 1973 and ‘74.
“He’s the toughest guy behind the plate since (the Dodgers’) John Roseboro, and he has terrific stamina,” McCarver said. “Sometimes I think the Cardinals are trying to kill him, catching him in all those games in that St. Louis heat. If they caught him 130 games instead of 150, he’d hit .360.
“What can you say about a man who switch-hits and has no weaknesses at the plate? If he played in Cincinnati, where the ball really carries, he’d hit from 30 to 35 home runs, the way Bench does. He plays in Death Valley and still hits more than 20.”
Indeed, Simmons is one of the most accomplished catchers, offensively, in MLB history.
Among hitters that spent at least 70 percent of their careers at catcher, Simmons ranks second in MLB history in hits, RBIs, and doubles. He’s third in total bases, and fifth in extra-base hits.
Simmons accumulated more than 100 RBI in three seasons and had eight years of 90+ runs batted in. He was an eight-time All-Star who received MVP votes in seven different seasons. He won a Silver Slugger award.
During his career peak (1971-80) Simmons had the best OPS+ (131) of any MLB catcher during that time; he was 31 percent above league average offensively. And over those 10 seasons he also led all MLB catchers in hits, doubles, batting average (.301) and onbase percentage (.367). And was second in RBIs — only 31 fewer than Bench — homers, and standard OPS.
The brilliant offense and underrated endurance made Simmons one of only nine catchers with 50 or more career WAR. The other eight already were in the Hall of Fame: Bench, Fisk, Yogi Berra, Gary Carter, Ivan Rodríguez, Gabby Hartnett, Mike Piazza and Bill Dickey.
The catching position hasn’t been given sufficient value by stingy, clueless voters. Before Simmons’ election, the Hall of Fame housed only 15 catchers — a historical blind spot that defies logic.
And eight of those 15 catchers had the bulk of their careers before World War II. Simmons will be only the eighth Hall of Fame catcher who broke into major-league baseball in 1946 or later.
This is perplexing and contradictory. Writers are constantly praising catchers for their defense, toughness, pitch calling and deft handling of moody pitchers.
Hey, and if a catcher has an impact bat, he’s considered the rarest of the species.
Historically we’ve lionized catchers … and excluded them from the Hall of Fame.
Does this make sense to anyone?
The Simmons induction is a step in the right direction. Thankfully — mercifully — Simmons wasn’t forgotten.
“This is obviously a great, great day in my life,” Simmons said during a Sunday-night conference call with the media.
Does he hold any lingering bitterness over the quarter-century snub?
Simmons was incredibly classy.
“There’s never too long a time to wait if you finally make the leap and today I finally did,” Simmons said.
“You deal with it just like you do anything else,” Simmons said. “You look forward to it with anticipation and excitement and if you are not selected you deal with disappointment. But that’s over for me now and I couldn’t be happier about it. It was supposed to be just like it was.
“I tell people all the time, I’ve lived a charmed life. When I was a little boy I wanted to be a major-league baseball player just like millions and millions of other little boys. I got to do that, it happened to me. So in past years when I was not elected to the Hall of Fame I couldn’t in good conscious walk around with a ‘chip on my shoulder’ angry at people because I wasn’t put in earlier.
“If I had spent one second walking around grieving or angry I would have been ashamed of myself. My life has been way too good.”
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