Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 15 – The St. Louis Cardinals
Only 13 catchers have ever been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
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.