The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 15 – The St. Louis Cardinals

Only 13 catchers have ever been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

They are:

1) Johnny Bench  2) Yogi Berra  3) Roy Campanella  4)  Carlton Fisk  5) Gary Carter  6) Micky Cochrane  7) Gabby Hartnett  8 ) Rick Ferrell  9) Buck Ewing  10) Bill Dickey  11) Ernie Lombardi  12) Roger Bresnahan  13) Ray Schalk

Certainly, as soon as Mike Piazza becomes eligible, he will join this group.  Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez is  likely to become the 15th member, assuming he doesn’t get caught in the steroid scandal.

Current Twins catcher Joe Mauer, owner of three A.L. batting titles, is the best bet among the current crop to make it into Cooperstown someday.  Still, that means that fewer than 20 catchers will enjoy their place in the HOF for at least the next couple of decades.

On average, then, approximately one catcher per Major League decade is enshrined in The Hall.

Obviously, the catching position, along with third base, is one of the two most underrepresented positions in The Hall.

Yet there is a catcher with remarkable career statistics who has never even sniffed Hall membership, peaking at just 3.7 percent of the Hall of Fame vote in 1994.

His name is Ted Simmons.

Simmons made his Major League debut with the Cardinals in 1968, the year Bob Gibson and company defeated the Tigers in the World Series.  Simmons retired 20 years later as a member of the Atlanta Braves.

Simmons spent the first thirteen years of his career with the Cardinals.  During that time, he was named to six All-Star teams, and he finished in the top 10 in MVP voting three times.  As an example of how much he was respected as a hitter, he twice led the N.L. in Intentional Walks.

But it is when one compares Simmons career stats with the other 13 HOF catchers that the magnitude of his accomplishments becomes apparent.

Ted Simmons hit more career doubles (483) than any catcher in the HOF.  Only the still active Pudge Rodriguez has ever hit more among players whose primary position was catcher.

Simmons’ 1389 career RBI’s are surpassed only by Yogi Berra.

Simmons’ 1074 runs scored ranks  fifth when compared to HOF catchers.  His .285 career batting average would be tied for sixth with Yogi Berra.  Simmons’ career On-Base Percentage (.348) is higher than those compiled by Fisk, Carter, and Bench, just two percentage points behind (again) Yogi Berra.

Ted Simmons walked more times in his career (855) than he struck out (694).

Simmons career OPS+ (117) is exactly the same as Carlton Fisk.

Ted Simmons amassed 3,793 total bases, good for 100th all-time for ALL Major League hitters.

Perhaps most impressively, not one catcher in the Hall of Fame has more career hits than Ted Simmons (2,472.)  Even Mike Piazza has fewer career hits than Ted Simmons.

Defensively, Simmons was overshadowed by Johnny Bench, then later by Gary Carter.  There is no question that Bench and Carter were the two best N.L. catchers of their respective eras.  But Ted Simmons was a good defensive catcher as well.

Although Simmons never won a Gold Glove, he did lead the league in assists twice: 1972, 1978.  He ranks 19th among all catchers in total putouts in for his career.

Ted Simmons’ Best Forgotten Season was 1975, when, as a 25-year old, he hit .332, slashed 193 hits, and compiled 285 total bases, all career highs.   He also drove in exactly 100 runs (one of three times in his career that he would reach that mark), and he also drew 63 walks while fanning just 35 times in 581 at bats.  His adjusted OPS+ was 142, sixth best in the N.L.

Simmons was a solid run producer as well.  His 108 Runs Created in 1975 was fifth best in the league.  He finished sixth in N.L. MVP voting in ’75.

But Simmons was one of those players, like Eddie Murray, who had about five different seasons that could be argued was his finest, depending on which statistics you choose to emphasize.

In 1977, he recorded a career-high on-base percentage of .408 along with a career OPS of .908.  That same season, he also led the N.L. in Intentional Walks with 25.  His WAR score of 6.3 was also a career high.  He also finished ninth in MVP voting that season.

In 1978, Simmons reached career highs in doubles (40), Slugging Percentage (.512) and OPS+ (148).

In 1980, his final season in St. Louis before he was traded to Milwaukee, he was awarded his one and only Silver Slugger award.

Simmons’ strength — his overall consistency — may have been his greatest enemy, however.  Because he never had a huge season where he, like Johnny Bench, won an MVP award or led his team to a World Championship, he tended to be overlooked and taken for granted.

Simmons never led his league in Home Runs, RBI’s, Batting Average, Runs Scored, or any other hitting category other than Intentional Walks and Grounded Into Double Plays.  He also never won a Gold Glove award.

Clearly, though, Ted Simmons deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

In fact, I would rate him first among all the players who deserve to be enshrined in Cooperstown but who have not yet received that honor.  I would also rate him ahead of at least two catchers who are already in the Hall of Fame:  Ray Schalk and Rick Ferrell.

Writer and statistician Bill James ranks Ted Simmons as the tenth best catcher of all time.  If you are in the top ten all time at any position on the baseball diamond, let alone the most difficult position of all, how can you not be considered good enough to be in the Hall of Fame?

Simmons had the bad luck to be born into the same generation that produced Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, and Thurman Munson.  Had he been born a decade earlier, or a decade later, he would have stood out as the best catcher of his generation, and his plaque would already be in Cooperstown.

In baseball, as in life, timing is everything.  But the time has come for Ted Simmons’ career accomplishments to be recognized and enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

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10 thoughts on “Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 15 – The St. Louis Cardinals

  1. Very interesting article. I enjoyed the read. In all my years as a sports fan, I have always been disappointed in the selection process for the MLB HOF. It is interesting, however, as you point out, that being overshadowed in your era is damaging for chances of being enshrined.

    • William, Thanks for taking the time to read the article and for leaving a comment. Should be interesting to see how Jeff Bagwell and Larry Walker both come up for HOF voting, I believe, this winter. Both were overshadowed by bigger names, and the steroid era taint (even if it doesn’t directly point in their direction), could also have an affect.
      Again, thanks for your interest, Bill

  2. If you actually sat down and tried to put together a team that incuded the best player at each position not in the Hall of Fame and eligible (that leaves out Rose) my guess is that Simmons would end up being the catcher.
    Good job as usual
    v

    • I think that’s a list I would like to try to put together. Some of the candidates are obvious (Bert Blyleven, for example.) Others, less so (Tim Raines comes to mind.) Thanks for being such a loyal reader, Bill

      • Sounds like a worthwhile project. So we have a battery (Blyleven and Simmons) and an outfielder (Raines). Let me throw in a third baseman, Ron Santo.
        v

      • Yes, definitely Santo at third base. I’ll wait a year to allow the BBWA to rectify there recent mistake of not putting Robbie Alomar and Barry Larkin in The Hall this last go ’round. But if one or the other of them don’t get in next year, those are my middle infielders.
        I might go with Fred McGriff at first base. Pretty damn underrated player. But I have to ponder that one a bit more.
        Always a pleasure talking to you, Bill

  3. Bill,

    I grew up a big Ted Simmons fan. I think the fact that he played closed to 300 games at DH, as well as over 100+ games at 1st has hurt his HOF chances. If he compiled all his stats at catcher he would probably be in the Hall. I think Edgar Martinez might lose a lot of votes because he DHed for most of his career as well.
    In my book they are both Hall worthy.
    Kevin

    • Kevin, I completely agree with your points. The way I see it, though, he had already had a Hall-of-Fame career with St. Louis before he went over to Milwaukee in the A.L. for a few more seasons where he ended up being a DH / Part-Time catcher. But I do think you’re right regarding why he isn’t already in The Hall. Perhaps the Veterans Committee (or whatever else they call themselves these days) could start taking a look at retired players once again, instead of just managers, umps, etc.
      Thanks for reading, Bill

  4. Another great look in the history of baseball. Great series. Voting for the hall of fame is so subjective. Some players who we all think should be voted in, can’t even muster the votes needed. Then you wonder, what do they have to do to get inwhen they already have the numbers.

    Thanks for another great baseball post!

    • Hi Jacqueline, Just so you know, I plan on getting to your A’s in the near future. You’re right, though. Hall voting is much more subjective than it should be. Doubt that will ever change. And with the steroids scandal, things promise to become murkier in the near future. Thanks for reading, Bill

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