When Whitey Herzog came to the St. Louis Cardinals, he brought with him some of the people that helped him win three division titles in Kansas City, including his catcher, Darrell Porter.
Porter spent most of his first season in St. Louis on the disabled list and hit only .221 in 61 games. This, of course, did not endear him to the Cardinal faithful, who were already mad at Whitey for trading away Ted Simmons, the guy Porter replaced.
I remember being on the broiling Busch Stadium turf for Picture Day in 1981. A woman set Porter up for a Kodak moment by getting him to pose while holding her infant daughter. Just as soon as Porter got the baby nestled into his thick arms, she started to cry.
“Must be a Ted Simmons fan,” said Porter half kidding, half not.
But Whiteyball and all its success helped Cardinal Nation put the forgettable 1970s in the rear-view mirror. And Porter’s Most Valuable Player award in the ’82 World Series helped fans forget about Simmons.
And Simmons’ legacy as a Cardinal never recovered.
Last year, Cardinals president Bill DeWitt Jr. announced a process by which fans could vote annually on two former players for induction into a new Cardinals Hall of Fame. On their first try, they picked Willie McGee and Jim Edmonds, both worthy inductees. Simmons joined the others on the ballot somewhere far behind.
By the numbers, Simmons makes a compelling case for his induction to the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. Surely he belongs in the Cardinals Hall of Fame, right?
We’re talking about the greatest catcher in Cardinals’ history (we’ll talk more about Yadier Molina when his career is over) and one of the best hitting catchers of all time.
It is often speculated that the biggest thing working against Simba’s shot at Cooperstown is that he was overshadowed by Johnny Bench, who set a pretty high standard with his Rookie of the Year award, two MVPs and two World Series rings.
Simmons, though he was an eight-time All Star, has none of those. Then again, neither does Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk. Gary Carter, a 2003 Cooperstown inductee, has only the ring thanks to Bill Buckner. He also had the backing of the New York writers.
But statistically, Simba compares favorably with all Hall of Fame catchers, especially his aforementioned contemporaries.
His .285 career batting average is at least 18 points higher than Bench, Carter, and Fisk. He also has the most career RBIs (1,389) and hits (2,472) among the four. (If you’re really into advanced metrics, Simmons’ career OPS and OPS-plus is a close second only to Bench’s).
Simmons hit more doubles (483) than Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson, Frankie Frisch, Reggie Jackson, Jimmie Foxx, Joe Morgan, Rod Carew, and Roberto Clemente, just to name a few. Almost unbelievably, he has just three fewer career doubles than his old teammate Lou Brock.
And, here’s some trivia for you: When Simmons retired, he was the National League’s career switch-hitting home run king. Chipper Jones, another likely Hall of Famer, owns that distinction now. Simba’s career RBI total is fifth all-time among switch hitters.
Critics like to tell you Simba was a sub par catcher, but his career fielding percentage behind the plate is .987, which is identical to Bench’s and would be the sixth best among catchers in the Hall of Fame. This isn’t to say that Simmons was as good defensively as Bench, who won 10 Gold Glove awards. But he certainly wasn’t the ham-handed liability as he’s sometimes portrayed.
And he was durable. During his 10 years as the Cardinals’ starter, Simba caught more than 130 games in seven seasons and three times played the most innings as a catcher.
Simmons spent his 13 best seasons wearing St. Louis’ birds on the bat. He hit .298 as a member of the Cardinals, topping the .300 mark six times. He also hit 20 home runs in five season, had 100 or more RBIs twice, and was elected to six of his eight All Star Games.
And then Whitey brought in Porter and shipped Simba off to Milwaukee, where he would reach his only World Series, only to lose to his former team. Milwaukee fans, by the way, already have elected Simmons to the Brewers’ Hall of Fame.
Voting for the Cardinals Hall of Fame Class of 2015 began Monday and will continue through April 20. To vote, got to http://www.cardinals.com/HOF.
When you cast your ballots, Cardinals fans, please don’t forget Simmons ... again.