Metro-East Living

Ted Simmons was more than just a Cardinal

Ted Simmons was a pure line drive hitter from both sides of the plate.
Ted Simmons was a pure line drive hitter from both sides of the plate.

Next to Stan Musial, he’s my favorite Cardinal ever.

Teddy Baseball.

He was Simba, well before “The Lion King.”

Cardinals baseball in the 1970s was average, but we were lucky to watch Bob Gibson pitch, Lou Brock run and Ted Simmons hit line drives from both sides of the plate.

My late dad and grandpa were not big Simba fans, initially. They appreciated his potential and talent. But they also knew saying something negative about the young Simmons made me hot.

Teddy Baseball was so different than other Cardinal stars like Gibson, Mike Shannon, Tim McCarver, Julian Javier and Lou Brock. Simmons looked like the guy who would be sitting next to you in the lawn seats at the Mississippi River Festival if he wasn’t catching for the Cardinals.

His long, black hair almost reached his shoulders a few hot, steamy summers. Long hair was symbolic of the generation. Heck, any guy under age 30 and not in the military had long hair then. Mine was a red afro. It grew higher more than longer. My baseball hat fit on top of my head like a hand towel on a yard shrub.

Simba had that starry, far-out-man look in his eyes as he sat in the dugout between innings. But at bat, he was a pure hitter, disciplined and focused. He hit some of the hardest line drives I have ever seen hit. Smoothly. Confidently.

Naturally. When we played Wiffle Ball or tennis ball in the backyard, I was Ted Simmons. No. 23. Throw me a fastball. Far out, man.

Last weekend, Teddy Baseball was inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame, along with Curt Flood, Bob Forsch and George Kissell. I was out of town on vacation. One of the first things I did when I got home Sunday evening was catch up on the coverage of the induction festivities at Ballpark Village.

I’ve always felt like Simmons was missing from Cardinals Nation. It wasn’t exactly Cardinals Nation in the 1970s when Simmons starred for the Redbirds. This was before Whitey Herzog arrived and transformed the organization. And after the successful 1960s that included three World Series.

In the 1970s, there were very few, if any, sellouts at Busch Stadium II. You could walk up and buy a ticket anywhere in the park any day or night of the season.

I’m not going to repeat his lifetime statistics, but you could make a strong case for Ted Simmons being in the Baseball Hall of Fame, not only the Cardinals Hall of Fame. He’s the best Cardinals catcher ever. We’ll reconvene this discussion when Yadier Molina retires someday.

It’s hard to believe Ted Simmons is 66 years old. But not when I remember that I was in the late years of grade school in the early 1970s when Simmons became a Cardinal. The can’t-miss-rookie from Michigan. He was a breath of cool, fresh air in a somewhat stagnant, stale era of Cardinals baseball.

I loved watching him hit countless line drives up the middle, often making the pitcher dive to the ground in fear.

I was disappointed when Whitey Herzog traded Simmons to the Milwaukee Brewers after the 1980 season to make room for Darrell Porter as his catcher. I cheered for the Cardinals in the 1982 World Series against the Brewers, but I also cheered silently for Teddy Baseball.

Two bittersweet memories as I watched highlights from last weekend’s ceremony and relived Teddy Baseball’s 10-year career as a Cardinal:

My dad. It was a summer night in the late 1980s at Busch Stadium. Simmons was in the final years of his career. He was catching for the Atlanta Braves against the Cardinals. The Braves pitchers struggled. Simba had better nights behind the plate. At one point, my dad looked at me said, “Never could catch worth a damn.” We laughed. That was the last Cardinals game I attended with my dad.

My late friend, Joe Schubert. Joe and I shared a love for the Cardinals and Simmons. Not a baseball conversation between Joe and me passed without Teddy Baseball. His long hair and line drives. How he deserved to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame as much as a few catchers already enshrined.

Joe died in December 2014 of cancer. I can’t think of Ted Simmons without thinking about my friend, Schuby.