I’m pleased to present another first here: one of these columns by a guest poster. Today’s edition of Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is written by Rory Paap of www.PaapFly.com. I generally am against others writing this feature, since I don’t want to create a dumping ground where anyone can go to campaign for their favorite player. I’d like to preserve at least some objectivity. However, Rory approached me a few weeks back wanting to write about Simmons, and since he’s done some fine guest posts here, I obliged. Don’t count on this being a trend.
Claim to fame: Simmons replaced All Star Joe Torre, as the Cardinals’ full-time catcher in 1971, and caught a Bob Gibson no-hitter that year. He also holds the record for most intentional walks by a catcher with 188 (tied for 18th all-time for any hitter), well ahead of the best catcher of all-time, Johnny Bench (135). Simmons was a switch-hitting catcher who could really hit.
Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Simmons just appeared on the Veterans Committee ballot for Cooperstown, and it was announced Monday that he received less than half of the vote. Prior to this, Simmons made just one appearance on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot, receiving 3.7 percent of the vote in 1994 which disqualified him from future ballots.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? First off: even if he does not, he deserved a heck of a lot more consideration that one ballot and less than 5 percent of the vote. And now to the does he; shall we?
There are ten catchers-– Bench, Yogi Berra, Roger Bresnahan, Roy Campanella, Gary Carter, Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, Carlton Fisk, Gabby Hartnett and Ernie Lombardi-– currently enshrined for their merit as catchers, which eliminates Buck Ewing, Rick Ferrell and Ray Schalk who were inducted for varying reasons not necessarily related to their Johnny Bench-ness. Schalk, for example, was inducted because of his defensive prowess in the early 1900’s, easy to deduce given his career .656 OPS. I use Bench, because he’s clearly the gold standard, and the best two-way– meaning offensive and defensive machine– catcher of all time. He won 10 gold gloves and 2 MVP awards.
As it turns out, Bench would ultimately be a huge obstacle for Ted Simmons’ HOF candidacy. Ted’s prime years came during Bench’s illustrious career, and he also played during the careers of Fisk-– whose longevity at the position helped his candidacy-– and Carter.
The only hardware he collected was a single Silver Slugger award, but that award wasn’t first doled out until 1980 when most of his best seasons were already behind him. He did appear in eight All-Star games and finished in the Top-10 of MVP voting three times. It was certainly hard to get recognition with the other future Hall members in the league at his position at the same time as he, while also playing on mostly not very good teams.
In terms of counting stats, he has more hits and doubles than any of them, and would be in the top five in runs, home runs, RBI, batting average and walks at the position. He’s also seventh among these men – again, whom are all Hall of Famers – in career Wins above Replacement (WAR) at +50.4 wins, and in exactly zero statistical category of the before mentioned stats plus triples, on-base percentage (OBP), on-base plus slugging (OPS), fielding percentage at catcher, caught stealing percentage and OPS+, does he come last. His career 117 OPS+ is right in line with Carlton Fisk and 2 points better than Gary Carter’s 115. And though he didn’t display quite the power as Bench, Carter and Fisk, his number of walks per strikeouts (1.23) and contact rate in general was far better than theirs.
Other than being overshadowed by Carter and Fisk, and Bench especially, the other knock on Simmons must have been the number of games he caught. All said and done, he only caught about 72% of the games he played, well below most of the other Hall of Fame catchers, though not lower than Bresnahan’s 68%. But upon further review of his career, I found something interesting, and that may have cost him a plaque in the Coop.
After 1983, Simmons would play five additional seasons but never catch 50 percent of his games played again. In fact, he only caught an average of ten games per season through his retirement after the 1988 season. One might be led to believe those final years helped to pad his stats, but that’s misleading. More accurately, they pulled down his peripherals and gave the writers, who would knock him off the ballot in just one try, a chance to see a broken down catcher look mostly hopeless at the plate while an emerging star, Gary Carter, looked brilliant.
Had Simmons retired after 1983, he may have left baseball with a much better impression and a greater chance at making the Hall of Fame with 13 seasons under his belt. His WAR would have been better (53.2), good for sixth on our list of ten HoF catchers. He still would have been third in hits, sixth in runs, seventh in home runs, second in doubles, fifth in walks, and fifth in batting average. His OPS+ would have been a shiny 124 – that’s approximately 25% better than league average – which would have tied him with the great Roy Campanella, one of two catchers (Yogi being the other) to win three MVP awards. What’s more, he would have caught 87% of the games he’d played, perfectly acceptable for admission into Cooperstown as a backstop.
It’s almost unfortunate, but Simmons did indeed play those final five seasons, and they cannot be simply erased for the purpose of strengthening his hall case. Even so, for me, his decent defense, probably comparable to both Carter and Fisk, coupled with outstanding offense – both of which he was able to sustain for a significant number of years in his peak seasons – is enough to get him into Cooperstown. It may even be enough to put him in the class of the top-ten catchers of all-time who are either already enshrined, or already eligible. The fact that he was dropped off the ballot so quickly is indefensible, and the fact that he’ll now get another shot is a blessing.
This guest post was written by Rory Paap of www.PaapFly.com
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.
Others in this series: Al Oliver, Albert Belle, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Dan Quisenberry, Dave Parker, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, Jack Morris, Joe Carter, John Smoltz, Keith Hernandez, Larry Walker, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Pete Browning, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Steve Garvey, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines, Will Clark