Prepare the tar and feathers Cincy and BoSox fans, for I am about to make a claim that you will deem sacrilegious. It is my belief that Ted Simmons, longtime catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, is just as good if not better, than Fisk and Bench. Simmons isn’t in the Hall of Fame because he didn’t play for the Big Red Machine nor did he hit one of baseball’s most dramatic homeruns.
Ted Simmons made his Major League debut as an 18 year-old reserve for play-by-play man Tim McCarver. Of course, Tim wasn’t broadcasting at that time, but the Redbirds realized that they had a young catching luminary on their hands. McCarver’s days were numbered. However, McCarver got some assistance from Uncle Sam when the young Simmons was taken into active military duty in 1970.
In 1971, Simmons was handed the everyday catching duties – free of his military assignments – and led all Major League catchers with 32 doubles. Simba proved to be the God of Doubles as far as catchers are concerned – tallying 36 the next season while also topping all Major League catchers with a robust .303 batting average. In ’73, Simmons mirrored his 36 doubles from the previous season – again, tops again Major League backstops – while also hitting .310 with 91 RBI. Simba’s .310 batting mark eclipsed all Major League catchers in ’73.
He followed up his stellar 1973 campaign with a terrific ’74 season. Simba stroked 20 homeruns and rove in 103 runs while striking out just 35 times. Despite his lofty statistics, Simmons still received little attention outside St. Louis because his popularity and appeal wasn’t as high as Johnny Bench. Bench could only top the .300 batting plateau in his wildest dreams and struck out near 100 times a season. Despite Simmons’ superiority to Bench – all Bench has on Simmons are his runs produced numbers (when you stop and realize that Bench played for the mighty Big Red Machine and Simmons for the Redbirds, you’ll realize why Bench drove in more runs while hitting 30 points lower) – Simmons was still deemed inferior to the Cincy stud.
Although Simba was flourishing at the Major League level by 1974 – he was just getting warmed up. He had his breakout season in 1975, finishing second in the NL with a .332 batting average. Simmons also stroked 32 doubles – three fewer two-baggers than times he struck out. Bench fanned 108 times in ’75 – three times as many whiffs as Simba. The following year, Simmons did something few players of his generation ever attained: he struck out the exact number of times as he doubled – 35 whiffs, 35 doubles. In 1978, Simmons stroked more doubles than the times he whiffed. He posted an amazing 77 to 39 walk to strikeout ratio. If your math is okay, you’ll noticed that Simba almost walked twice as much as he fanned. That’s beyond the grasp of Bench and Fisk.
Simmons continued to flourish through the late 1970s. Despite missing action to a broken wrist, Ted still paced all Major League catchers with 26 homers in 1979. Ted stalked into the next decade, leading all NL receivers with a nifty .303 batting average. Ted was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers in a steal for the Brew Crew that netted them the great Simba, Pete Vuckovich and Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers. This trio took the Brewers to the 1982 World Series, as Ted’s 97 RBI during the ’82 season was tops among catchers.
His last great season came in 1983 when Ted drove in 108 runs with a lusty .308 batting average. From Milwaukee, Ted spent a few seasons as a mighty bat off the bench for the Atlanta Braves. So, Ted was a terrific catcher – the best not in the Hall of fame and one of the best backstops period. Yes, he took part in only one World Series, but it takes a TEAM, not one guy to make it to the Fall Classic. The Hall of Fame was constantly rewarded inferior ballplayers on strong teams with plaques in Cooperstown. If Johnny Pesky hit ahead of Joe DiMaggio and Bill Dickey, he’d be in the Hall of fame and not Phil Rizzuto. If Tommy Bridges pitched with the support that Waite Hoyt had, then he, the better pitcher, would be in the Hall of Fame. It is the player that achieves greatness. It is the dynasty that crumbles.
Simmons’ career stats: G 2,456/ R 1,074/ H 2,472/ 2B 483/ HR 248/ RBI 1,389/ BB 855/ SO 694/ BA .285/ SA .437
By the way, Simmons has a career walk-to-strikeout ratio of 1.23 to 1 while Bench’s is 0.69 to 1 and Fisk’s is 0.61 to 1. Simba smacked an average of 1.01 hits per game. Bench owns a 0.95 and Fisk a 0.94. Simmons has a career batting average of .285. Bench’s career BA is .267 while Fisk rests slightly higher at .269. The best of the trio is not in Cooperstown.