Baseball Hall Of Famer Thankful For Teammates Advice
Along Ted Simmons' 21-season hall of fame baseball career, the former catcher had teammates that looked out for him.
During a recent visit to Cooperstown, New York, Simmons was back in uniform. At Doubleday Field, just a village street up from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum at the "Home of Baseball", the annual Hall of Fame Classic game is scheduled.
The 12th edition of the Hall's Classic legends exhibition game has all 30 MLB clubs represented. Recently retired players with ties to the clubs throw on their old uniforms, tie up their spikes again, and swarm into Doubleday's cramped dugouts, and entertain the more than 4,000 fans who have traveled from around the United States to see their baseball pasts be revisited.
Two teams are created. There are seven hall of famers recruited to manage and coach the retired pros. Team Ozzie, managed by hall of fame great shortstop Ozzie Smith, has fellow hall of famer Allan Trammell stationed at the first base coach's box, and over at third base is Ted Simmons.
Simmons, (Class of 2020) is one of the newest members of the hall of fame, and one of the institution's biggest fans. During this Memorial Day Weekend visit to Otsego County in Central New York, the Classic is having its seven-inning game streamed live on MLB.com. And the former catcher who collected 2,472 hits and clubbed 248 home runs during his incredible career, is decked out in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.
Simmons spent 13 of his 21 MLB seasons calling the "Gateway to the West" his home city.
When returning to Cooperstown, Simmons gives a thumbs-up to the nostalgic atmosphere radiating throughout Main Street.
" It (Cooperstown) reminds me of a life in my past," tells Simmons, who also caught pitchers and slugged long balls for the Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves.
As batting practice continues, and preparations were on-going for the planned home run hitting contest prior to the Classic, Simmons stood on the top step of the third base dugout, and reflected on a couple fellow Cardinal teammates of many decades ago who he credits as building a base for him to succeed as a major leaguer.
" Timmy raised me," said Simmons of former Cardinals' catcher Tim McCarver. " Everyone in the minors knew that I could hit. My first two years that I was called-up by St. Louis in September, he (McCarver) did his best to teach me be a pro."
Simmons recalls his early days with the Cardinals during the 1968 and '69 seasons ( 7 total games) just sitting in the clubhouses and listening. It was pretty well known that Simmons was the Cardinals' future catcher, and McCarver, the current starting receiver of future hall of fame flamethrowers Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton, would move on elsewhere in the game for another decade-plus.
" You would think Timmy would have been reluctant to take me under his wing, but it was the complete opposite. He made sure I heard conversations he was having with the pitchers. He definitely helped me get my career off right the most."
Labeling McCarver an excellent bridge player, Simmons suggests the discipline the veteran catcher had in the card game transferred into his remembering opposing players' hitting preferences in the batter's box.
" Gibson (Class of 1981) knew pitch by pitch what he wanted to throw, " says Simmons who was with the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers pennant-winning club that played St. Louis in the World Series that fall. (McCarver) taught me to remember all pitch counts. I remembered how each player did his previous at-bat, and pitch sequences."
As a rookie, the Cards' backstop learned quickly how Gibson liked to work off the mound.
" I didn't get in his way, " Simmons remembers of working with Gibson, who posted more than 3,000 strikeouts during his 17 seasons in St. Louis. " He wanted to work fast. When Gibby shook me off, you knew he was going to throw the opposite pitch. It was fastball and slider, and keep the pace fast."
Another former Cardinal catcher and teammate of six seasons for the then National League East club who Simmons gives much thanks for tutoring is fellow hall of famer Joe Torre.
' Joe is so stable. Your never saw outrage from him. He taught me so much about the responsibilities catchers have," Simmons states of the former National League MVP.
The stabilizing voice and attitude of Torre quickly rubbed off on the budding future 8-time all-star. With Torre batting fourth and Simmons hitting fifth in manager Red Schoendienst's Cardinal line-ups, opposing hurlers had to come right at Simmons, who would post a lifetime .285 average.
" He (Torre) helped me find an even place as an MLB hitter. Joe emphasized to watch and wait for the pitch I wanted to hit."
As Simmons wraps up on remembering his early days in the major leagues, and heads to speak with a former teammate in St. Louis, fellow catcher Steve Swisher, he pauses, and waves to the growing crowd of fans of all ages, taking in his past and present. So many of the game's greatest performers, Lou Brock, Roger Maris, Curt Flood, and Vada Pinson, teammates all to Simmons, come rushing back in memory to me.
Along with Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, and Marvin Miller, Simons, as part of the Hall's Class of 2020, already is proving to be a fine statesman for the institution that is responsible for preserving the game's history. He is proud of his past between the base lines, and has embraced the legacy of Cooperstown with both arms spread wide.
Ted Simmons knows he became one of baseball's elites because of his God given talent, and the unselfishness of others - beginning with fellow catchers McCarver and Torre.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.