Wednesday, February 26, 2014

1971 TOPPS TED SIMMONS


UNDERRATED? YOU BET.



SHARED THE CATCHING JOB WITH JOE TORRE IN '70.


THE FRONT PAGE

  • For a switch-hitting catcher who had 2,472 hits and 1,389 RBI, both second all-time among those at his position, Ted Simmons had a 21-year career few remember. Overshadowed by Johnny Bench in the 1970s, Simmons is 10th all-time among catchers with 248 homers, has a career slash line of .285/.348/.437 and was an eight-time All-Star. As Pirates GM, Simmons also played a major role in a blockbuster trade that nearly was.

THE BACK PAGE

  • The Cardinals opened up their regular backstopping duties to Simmons when Joe Torre was converted to third base for the '71 season. Of course, Torre went on to win the NL MVP and Simmons was 16th in the voting by hitting .304 with seven homers and 77 RBI.

PHOTO PLAY

  • Hard to recognize Simmons without his trademark locks flowing from under his cap on his rookie card.

EXTRA, EXTRA

  • After his breakout season in '71, Simmons elected to play the next season without a contract after telling the Cardinals he wanted more money. It was the first time a player did that. The team gave in to his demands by midseason.
  • The contract negotiations weren't a distraction. Simmons made his first NL All-Star team in '72, hitting 16 homers, driving in 96 with a .303/.336/.465 slash. The RBI total set a franchise record for catchers.
  • His best offensive season behind the plate occurred in '75 when he finished behind Bill Madlock in batting with a .332 average. He also hit 18 homers, drove in 100 for the second consecutive season and added a .396 on-base and .491 slugging percentages. He established an NL record for hits by a catcher with 188.
  • Simmons' excellence that season also broke Bench's nine-year reign as the NL's starting All-Star catcher. One player shouldn't impact the way another player is perceived, but is there any doubt Simmons would be in the Hall of Fame if Bench didn't exist?
  • Sure, his defense wasn't in Bench's class, but whose was?
  • After not getting along with Manager Whitey Herzog, Simmons was dealt to the Brewers in December 1980 along with Rollie Fingers and Pete Vukovich for David Green, Dave LaPoint, Sixto Lezcano and Lary Sorensen.
  • Simmons' adjustment to AL pitching didn't go well in '81. He had a career-low slash of .216/.262/.376, hitting 14 homers and knocking in 61.
  • Bounced back for the AL champs in '82, hitting .269, 23 homers and driving in 97. He hit two homers in the seven-game World Series loss to the Cardinals.
  • His final All-Star caliber season was in '83, when he drove in a career-high 108 runs on only 13 homers and slashed .308/.351/.448.
  • In his only year on the Hall of Fame ballot in '94, Simmons received 3.7 percent of the vote, with 75 needed for enshrinement. Really, 3.7 percent? What am I missing? Hopefully, the Veterans Committee eventually will take a much closer and objective look at his career.
  • After playing his final game in '88, Simmons was hired as Pirates GM in '92. With Barry Bonds becoming a free agent after the season, Simmons agreed to trade his superstar before the season to the Braves for Alejandro Pena, Keith Mitchell and a prospect to be named. With the trade about to be announced, Simmons told Manager Jim Leyland, who flipped his Marlboros and threatened to quit -- his job, not smoking -- if the deal went through. Team president Carl Barger got involved, and Simmons called it off.
  • The Pirates, of course, lost to the Braves that October in seven games in the NLCS. Bonds became a free agent and signed with the Giants.
  • Simmons remained as GM until '93, forced to retire after suffering a heart attack.

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