h1

Ted Simmons

November 12, 2008
 Untitled 

I.
Last week on the bus a guy in a Cubs hat sitting near me eyeballed my Red Sox hat and we started talking baseball. It’s a pretty long ride, and after a while we ran out of things to say. I waited a few minutes to turn to the book I’d had on my lap, and not long after that the bus emptied enough for him to move a couple seats away and spread out and stare out a window. He was big guy with a mustache. He wore a windbreaker of a championship 16″ softball team (the kind of softball I’d never seen until I moved to Chicago). I’d thought he was a little older than me, but he was probably the same age. From our conversation I’d learned that he’d grown up loving baseball players from the 1970s.

II.
There’s something malevolent about Ted Simmons in this 1976 baseball card. It’s his long, lank hair, his narrow eyes and vaguely Cro-Magnon jaw and bunched shoulders. He reminds me of the older guys in my high school who drove loud cars and got in fistfights with each other over thin pale girls who smoked cigarettes and wore tight jeans and perpetual sneers.

III.
After the baseball conversation on the bus ended, I read my book for a while, a novel by a great Australian writer named Tim Winton. I put the book away as I neared my stop, and I looked around. Only two other people remained in the back area of the bus besides me and the Cubs fan. One was a middle-aged Hispanic man mouthing the words in a book entitled Ingles facil para todos. The other was a young slender guy staring at a book called Now, Discover Your Hidden Strengths. Everyone wants to be better than they are. I looked to the Cubs fan just as he was pulling a half-pint of liquor from the pocket of his championship windbreaker. He stared out at the nondescript corporate office buildings of Golf Road and took a swig. When I got up for my stop a couple minutes later he said, “Be good.” I could smell the booze. It was a little after nine in the morning.

IV.
What’s hidden in your pockets? At the time the guy in the Cubs hat was slipping the half-pint back into the pocket of his championship windbreaker I had a few baseball cards in the front pocket of my knapsack, including this Ted Simmons card. They are the cards I’m trying to get reacquainted with, so I can write about them. But I also carry them around as something to lean on, something to take a swig of when I think no one is looking. I like the odd cards, the cards of the forgotten players, but sometimes the only thing that’ll calm me down is a pull on the hard stuff of a real player, a star, like Ted Simmons. On the back of this card, even though Ted Simmons is still a young man, just starting out, there are numbers that ease the pain. A .332 average in the season just completed. Already two 100-RBI seasons. A lifetime .298 average. What other catchers from my childhood had a batting average that high? Ted Simmons stood alone in that regard, and yet he was also something of a secret, a superstar who wasn’t considered a superstar. In the American League there was Fisk and Munson. In the National League there was only room for one catcher, Bench.

V.
“I got a friend, an older guy, said he’d seen Berra play and that he was the best catcher of all time, but I told him, hey, I saw Bench.”

I nodded. This was early in my conversation on the bus with the Cubs fan with the flask of liquor in his pocket.

From there we started talking about the Hall of Fame. The All Time Greats. I said Ron Santo deserved to be in the Hall of Fame.

“December 10,” he said. (I think that’s the date he mentioned.)

“That’s when they vote?” I asked. (“They” are a committee of Hall of Fame inductees who may or may not finally agree to let Ron Santo join their ranks.)

He nodded.

We bitched about Joe Morgan for a little while, singling him out for blame in keeping Santo on the outside looking in, then the guy started telling me about the posters in his room. I’ve ridden a lot of buses, but no one has ever told me about the posters in their room.

“I’ve got three. Robin Yount. Pete Rose. Thurman Munson. They played the game the way it was supposed to be played.”

VI.
The Hall of Fame Veterans Committee chooses whether to induct former players into the baseball Hall of Fame once every couple of years. Ted Simmons will get his first chance at entering the realm of immortality through this doorway in 2011. My guess is that he won’t get in, at least not on that try. The numbers shown on the back of this 1976 card expanded into similar numbers for years afterward, and Simmons became one of the greatest hitting catchers in baseball history. As pointed out by Bill James, who ranks Simmons 10th among all catchers in his Historical Abstract, Simmons’ oft-maligned defense was actually OK, at least in the earlier stages of his career. But he doesn’t have that indefinable (and at least partially bullshit) “aura” of greatness about him. No one rides buses proclaiming to strangers that Ted Simmons played the game the way it was meant to be played. No one has a poster of him on the wall of his room, helping him get out of bed in the morning to face the day.

23 comments

  1. 1.  Wow! Absolutely devastating. One of your best ever.


  2. 2.  Anyone know where I can get a Ted Simmons poster?


  3. 3.  2 Probably the nearest FBI office.


  4. 4.  Then again, there is something great about having your biography written by Jim Brosnan:

    http://tinyurl.com/6md2rd


  5. 5.  Shea Stadium, 1975. Lots of cards were shot there that year as you had both NL and AL players coming in. I’d say it was the Cards’ September series (though it could be the April one) vs. the Mets. While looking at Simmons’ performances in that series I noticed he was in an incredible hot streak. I thought, There must be something wrong, they’re only showing games in which he got a hit. Nope, he was just in the midst of a 19-game hitting streak, with multiple hits in 12 of the 19 games. Look at that game log of his for ’75 and focus on only games against the Mets. 12 for 30 at Shea and 15 for 32 at home.

    I’m still a little ticked at him, though, for his Baseball Bunch performance, when he had the audacity to ask a bunch of kids, “you all wanna be switch hitters, right?” Those kids were having enough trouble learning to hit one way.


  6. 6.  I had a few of Cardinals cards, but I never saw him play (at least that I can remember; I must have seen him in an all-star game or two) until he was the cleanup hitter on one of the more renowned offenses in history, Harvey’s Wallbangers. He contributed to that ’82 Brewers lineup with both RBIs and lumpy, greasy homeliness, which were both in abundance on that lovable pennant-winning squad. Later I read Roger Angell’s essays on 1970s baseball; Angell loved the intelligent and engaging catcher. I recall that Simmons was aware how much he was helping Angell out with his baseball discourses, and even razzed the writer for filling up his articles with paragraph after paragraph of Simmonsisms.


  7. 7.  I’m glad you brought up Ted Simmons. I’ve always considered him one of the most underrated players of his position, and I’m not sure why it turned out that way. He hit for a high average and didn’t have hidden value, like maybe Bobby Grich did.

    In any case, my personal recollection of Ted Simmons was watching him up close, in 1982 with the Brewers, take batting practice at Fenway when I was 12 or 13. I was awed at the way his casual swings produced a hook on his batting practice drives. I didn’t know anybody who could hit the ball hard enough to make it hook like that, and I realized how much better these guys were than anybody I ever knew or would know. Whenever I see a ball hook off a bat, I recall watching Ted Simmons crush balls with ease.


  8. 8.  Part of it has to be his nondescript name “Ted Simmons.” It sounds so un-baseball like for a players name. Ted Simmons sounds like an accountant or middle manager at a bank. I think that on some sub-conscious level, we fall in love with the names of people and that affects our perception of them, good and bad.


  9. 9.  Ted Simmons, Bob Watson, Al Oliver, and Maddog Madlock, all linedrive machines in the 70’s. The kind of hitter I expected Howie Kendrick to become but that ship is aground at the moment.


  10. 10.  8: like a Bob or Bill Johnson. Middle management, or an mlb guy that crops up every decade or so!


  11. 11.  Simba was my favorite player when I was a kid. I had (and still have) every one of his cards. Then I was jealous that he could switch hit and lace line drives everywhere. Now I’m just jealous of the long, lank hair. OK maybe I’m still a little jealous of the line drives.


  12. 12.  Josh, great post. Ted Simmons (even the name has a ring to it) is one of those forgotten yet great players from the 70s.

    He really does look like one of those guys from high school. For some reason they never seem to graduate.

    So Josh since we are about the same age does he have Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” or AC/DC’s “Back in Black” in his 8 track player cranked to the max?


  13. 13.  12 : The Wall inspired a large bit of graffiti on an embankment wall across from the main stoplight leading into town, something one of the Simmons-looking neanderthals probably spray-painted on there:

    “We Don’t Need No Educatin”

    (Yes, that’s how it was spelled; no, it was, I’m sure, not spelled that way ironically.)


  14. 14.  Dark days in Atlanta Braves history:
    July 7, 1987 — 37-year-old Ted Simmons starts at third base in the second game of a doubleheader against the Mets.

    Simmons (making the last of 29 career appearances at the hot corner) fields flawlessly and does not commit an error, but the Braves lose 5-1.


  15. 15.  Josh,
    what is championship 16″ softball ?


  16. 16.  15 : 16″ softball–not ‘championship 16″ softball’ (the guy was on a team that won a title in 16″ softball; sorry about the lack of clarity there)–is softball played with a ball that’s bigger than a regular softball. I think I first heard of it in the early ’80s, when a reliever named Kevin Hickey surfaced in the majors after having been out of pro ball for a while and instead playing 16″ softball.


  17. 17.  The first time I heard about 16″ softball when I was a kid I was imagining a ball 16″ in diameter (instead of circumference) and I was thinking how is that possible – like playing with beachballs.

    Since then I have had the opportunity to actually attempt hitting a real 16″ softball, and let me tell ya, it ain’t easy. They don’t call it “mushball” for nothing. In the pickup game I played I never hit one out of the infield…


  18. 18.  I think the fact that Simmons has such a terrible reputation defensively (right or wrong) has kept him from getting more consideration. It seems acceptable in other position players (i.e.- Paul Molitor), but not for a catcher.


  19. 19.  Joe, you bring up a good point about Simmons’ reputation being held against him more than a Molitor’s, because of all positions, I’m sure catcher’s defense is the toughest to grade. I’ve been watching baseball a year less than Josh, and (like everybody else here, I’m sure) quite closely, too, and I can’t tell a good defender at catcher from a bad one, unless it’s throwing out base stealers. At catcher, especially, I think a reputation is just that, nothing more. I’ll take a catcher who hits .332 in a pitcher’s era over a defensive catcher any day.


  20. 20.  I have always argued that the only reason Ted Simmons is not in the Hall of Fame IS Johnny Bench.If Bench breaks his leg in high school and never plays in the majors,Simmons is the All Star catcher in the NL for the entire decade of the 70’s.


  21. 21.  I remember going to Game 2 of the 1982 World Series as a kid (thanks to my father for one of my favorite memories) and the game couldn’t have turned out better for me–the Cardinals win, but Ted Simmons, one of my all time favorite Cardinals, crushes a home run to right field. I only wish Ted could have played his entire career with the Cardinals and been a part of that World Series championship team. I think if he would have stayed with one team for his entire career, he’d already be in the HOF.


  22. 22.  Ted Simmons update from Hardball Times!

    http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/does-ted-simmons-belong-in-the-hall-of-fame/


  23. For some reason, I’m always delighted by the fact he had a strong affinity for furniture.



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 126 other followers

%d bloggers like this: