The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 61-70
NOTE: The BND has endeavored to identify an objective list of the top 100 St. Louis Cardinals players of all time, based on statistical formulas developed through sabermetrics. We’ll count down the list daily, player by player, until April 4, the day of the Cardinals’ 2019 home opener. The running list and player bios can be found at bnd.com.
NO. 61: CURT SIMMONS
Curt Simmons was living the quintessential boyhood dream.
He was the star of the Whitehall, Pennsylvania, High School baseball team and scouts from every major league club wanted to sign him, including the New York Giants, who offered a $125,000 bonus.
Instead, Simmons signed for $65,000 with his hometown team, the Philadelphia Phillies.
Within three years, he was a 17-game winner in the big leagues. Teamed with Bob Miller and future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts, the 21-year-old Simmons was the youngest member of a fledgling Phillies rotation known as “The Whiz Kids.”
What’s more, the Phillies won 91 games and their first National League pennant in 35 years.
But with a month to go in the season, and the outbreak of war in Korea, the hometown lefty was called into military service. The Army granted Simmons a 10-day furlough so he could join his team at the World Series, but the commissioner’s office disqualified him since postseason rosters had already been approved.
Philadelphia was swept in four games by the New York Yankees and the frustration of the previous three decades followed the Phillies through the ’50s.
After 13 years, 115 wins and three All-Star Game appearances (not to mention the big toe he lost to a lawn mower) Simmons was unceremoniously released barely a month into the 1960 season.
Three days later, the Cardinals not only signed him, they gave him a $5,000 raise. Simmons rewarded their confidence by winning seven of 11 decisions with a 2.66 ERA, good enough to be named the NL’s Comeback Player of the Year. He won 10 games in 1961 and 15 more to go with a 2.48 ERA in ‘62.
But it was the 1964 season that revived the dreams of that 17-year-old Pennsylvanian bonus baby — with a wrinkle.
On Sept. 21, the Cardinals were in third place, 6 ½ games behind Simmons’ former team with just 13 games left to be played. Simmons went 4-0 for September, including wins at New York and Pittsburgh during a stretch in which the Cardinals won nine of 10 games.
The Phillies, meanwhile, were in free fall, having lost seven straight when they arrived in St. Louis for a three-game series in the season’s final week.
St. Louis starters Bob Gibson and Ray Sedecki won the first two games, putting the Cardinals in a first place tie with Cincinnati and pushing Philadelphia 1 ½ games back into third. Simmons earned the victory in the rubber game, holding the Phillies scoreless through six innings.
With the Reds’ loss at home to Pittsburgh, the Cardinals assumed first place for good.
For Simmons, an 18-game winner, the epic collapse of his boyhood team afforded him, at long last, a shot at a championship. And he was grateful.
“At my age, I was just happy to be involved,” he told the Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. “I knew I may not get another shot at a World Series.”
In Game 3, Simmons had allowed the Yankees just four hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the ninth with the scored tied 1-1. He was in the tunnel, headed toward the clubhouse when he heard Yankee Stadium erupt with joy. Leading off the Yankees’ ninth, Mickey Mantle crushed the first pitch he saw from reliever Barney Schultz to end the game.
Then Simmons took the loss in Game 6. Nevertheless, he had pitched well in the series, striking out eight Yankees in 14.1 innings of work with a 2.51 ERA.
In the decisive seventh game, Lou Brock and Ken Boyer hit home runs in support of Gibson and the Cardinals won, 7-5.
Simmons, at 35, had his championship ring.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1960-66
69-58 with Cardinals | 3.25 St. Louis ERA | WS ring | 18.9 WAR with Cardinals
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.80