Ted Simmons delivered one of the best Hall of Fame speeches I’ve seen during many years of watching the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. It was moving, and an invigorating departure from the standard speech on the Cooperstown platform. One of the all-time great Cardinals gave us an all-time great address. A reflective valedictory on a baseball life.
It was eloquent. Smooth. Concise. Smart. Thoughtful. Tender. He mostly spoke in short, sharp sentences in a way that made his words snap with impact. Those words did not drift into the wind. They connected. His oratory had the cadence of a man recording the audio version of a Hemingway novel. Simmons didn’t waste a syllable. He was on point. This catcher can write. And this is no surprise to anyone who knows him.
Simmons tapped into old-school baseball sensibilities. He quoted lyrics from the Beatles. He cited baseball history and the influence of heroes that showed him the way to Cooperstown. He remembered those who should never be forgotten — men like Curt Flood. He was poignant, and proud, and humble. His long hair blowing in a lively breeze, Simmons looked like a character in a Shakespeare classic.
Simmons declared his belief in baseball, calmly and confidently predicting that the game would metamorphose into a more beautiful version of itself.
“Our game can change back,” Simmons said. “Eventually, another George Brett will surface. He’ll hit .360. He’ll homer 40 times. He’ll drive in 160 runs. He’ll strike out 75 times. He’ll walk a hundred times. His on-base percentage will be .420. Our game is fluid. Hitters will begin to beat the defensive shifts, and the pendulum will swing back. The game evolves. It’s just a matter of time.”
So lovely. I wish I could write like that.
Simmons was never about one thing. He was (and is) about many things.
He’s the pure ballplayer who could play ball, and talk ball, and think of ball in his sleep. He loves the game so much, the intensity of the passion almost killed him. (Thankfully, he recovered from the heart attack that he suffered as the GM of the Pittsburgh Pirates.)
He’s the free thinker. The curious mind. The hungry heart. An abundant mind.
The maverick who took on the baseball establishment as a bold, informed, outspoken voice in the MLB Players Association.
He’s the art collector. This summer, the St. Louis Art Museum will showcase contemporary works gifted by Ted and his wife, Maryanne Ellison.
The book lover. An explorer of culture. Simba still roams to see what’s out there. A switch-hitter in the batter’s box, he hits to all fields in his life.
He is, and always will be, a man of baseball. Which is why he paid tribute to the late Hall of Famer Al Kaline, the Detroit Tigers outfielder who inspired the young Teddy during his childhood in Michigan. He expressed gratitude for the valuable, advanced-level baseball education he received from Cardinal legend George Kissell. He lauded the scouts, the teammates, the coaches, the managers, and the teams that employed him. He reaffirmed his brotherhood with other players of his era who stood for players’ rights during arduous labor negotiations with baseball’s owners. Ted Simmons was part of all of this. A man of his time who traveled with many tribes.
“I have spent lots of time in all of these baseball families,” Simmons said. “They have affirmed and included me. I have lived within many families and am about to step into baseball’s most elite family. I am incredibly humbled.”
As we know, it took just about forever for Simmons to reach this day in Cooperstown. A day that should have been set aside for him a long time ago. A day that finally welcomed him, and he fully embraced the moment.
“There are many roads to Cooperstown,” Simmons said. “For some, it comes quickly. For others, it takes a little time. For those like myself, the path is long. And even though my path fell on the longer side, I would not change a thing.”
For decades, many of us have wondered why Simmons was snubbed by the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association in his first year (1994) of Hall of Fame eligibility. He didn’t attain the necessary 5% to remain on the ballot. After Simmons received 17 out of a possible 456 votes, his name was removed from further consideration.
How could this be?
At the time of his retirement, Simmons ranked sixth in history for the most home runs for a major-league catcher, and his 1,389 career runs batted in were second all time to Yogi Berra. At retirement, Ted’s 2,472 career hits and 483 career doubles were at the top of the all-time list for MLB catchers. And he ranked fourth among catchers in runs.
Simmons was maligned for his defensive shortcomings behind the plate — an exaggerated criticism that stuck to him for years until advanced metrics revealed a more accurate truth. At worst, Simmons was slightly below average. But either way, his bountiful offense was more than enough to warrant entry into Cooperstown.
I suspect there was another factor in the Simmons snub. He was an anti-war activist who criticized president Richard Nixon’s handling of the conflict in Vietnam. In the early 1970s he rebelled against baseball’s reserve clause and refused to sign the modest contract presented by the Cardinals. He had the long hair. He collected art and antiques. He moved comfortably in non–baseball circles. He was different. (An aside: thank God for that.)
I know that 1994 wasn’t, say, the 1950s or even the 70s or 80s. But until fairly recently the BBWAA was a conservative group. Perhaps some of the older members resented Simmons’ high visible persona as a free-spirited, brash, 1960s dude.
And part of that life was highlighted during Wednesday’s induction ceremony when former MLB Players Association Don Fehr praised Simmons for his “influential” impact on behalf of the union. And in Wednesday’s ceremony, Simmons spoke of his eternal admiration for the system-shaking MLBPA boss Marvin Miller, the late labor leader who forced change and a fairer system for the players. Miller thought so highly of Simmons that he saluted Simba in his autobiographical book, “A Whole Different Ball Game.”
I couldn’t help but think that Simmons’ activism probably grated on voters of past generations. I could be wrong. But I still wonder about that. It doesn’t matter now. Simmons is a Hall of Famer. And he’s a Hall of Famer who faithfully served the game for decades as a player, director of player development, general manager, advance scout, and front-office consultant.
And that’s Ted, right? He may have been viewed as a “radical” by a percentage of fans, or Hall of Fame voters, or media people. But as I wrote earlier, Simmons is a man of many parts who cannot be defined by one part. And in baseball, he had a conventional career that you’d expect from an old-school baseball man. That’s the irony.
Simmons, a hardcore baseball lifer, now resides in the hallowed hall. And if the plaques of the enshrined players speak to each other at night — when the doors are locked and the lights are off — the other members will be entertained and enlightened by Ted. They’ll learn some things.
I adored the way Simmons concluded his Ted Talk at the podium. He saved the best part for the end when he honored Maryanne, the University of Michigan art major who captured his heart in the 1960s. They went on their first date as 16-year-olds in 1965. They remain madly in love.
Cue the Beatles.
And their song “The End” from the Abbey Road album.
The last lyric on the last song on their last album.
“She remains the same girl who listened with me not so long ago to the lyrics written by some pretty fabulous folks back in the day,” Simmons said on the stage. “And those words, “And the love you take is the love you make.’ Peace and love, sweetheart. We finally got here.”
Ted Simmons took The long and winding road to Cooperstown. He’s there now. Forever. The eternal Simba.
Thanks for reading …
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* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.