The Hall of Fame Case for Ted Simmons

Craig Calcaterra

On Sunday, December 8, the Modern Baseball Era committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which includes candidates whose primary contributions to baseball came between 1970-87, will vote on candidates for the 2020 induction class. Between now and then we will take a look at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness.

Next up: Ted Simmons 

 

The case for his induction:

As is the case for Lou Whitaker and Dwight Evans, a lot of Simmons’ value came in statistical categories that weren’t appreciated nearly as much during his career as they would be later, leading him to be underrated.

On-base percentage was huge, as he notched a .348 OBP in his career and a .367 OBP during his best seasons, 1971-1980. Durability was another one that was not as admired as much during Simmons’ time. Catching is the toughest position physically speaking but he racked up 150+ games behind the plate an astounding eight times. If that were to happen today we’d be calling the guy a freak of nature. At the time it was noted, but perhaps not as much as it should’ve been.

Not that everything he did flew under the radar. Simmons finished with more than 100 RBI in three seasons and 90+ RBI eight times. He complied 2,472 hits. He was an All-Star eight times. He won a Silver Slugger award and got at least a few MVP votes in seven different seasons. He was not just a good hitter for a catcher. He was a legitimately good hitter for most any position, finishing with a career batting line of .285/.348/.437, giving him an OPS+ of 118 for his career, which is excellent for a catcher.

His offensive production and his durability made him one of nine catchers with 50 or more WAR in their careers. The other eight — Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Pudge Rodríguez, Carlton Fisk, Gabby Hartnett, Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza and Bill Dickey — are all in the Hall of Fame. In all, there are 14 catchers in the Hall, which means that Simmons had a higher-career WAR than six of them. He falls pretty squarely in the middle of the pack of Hall of Fame catchers in numerous other offensive categories, ranging from homers to batting average to runs scored. He’d not be a borderline pick for his position.

The case against his induction:

Like Tommy John, Simmons was overshadowed by more famous contemporaries in Johnny Bench — probably the best catcher of all time — Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk, all three of whom were better than him by almost every measure. Still, the 1970s and early 80s were absolutely loaded with amazing catchers, and Simmons was closer to the elites at his position that John was to pitching elites. He was, notably, better than a lot of other pretty good catchers like Bill Freehan, Gene Tenace, and, I would argue, his fellow ballot mate this year, Thurman Munson.  As a result, maybe it’s more like Alan Trammell compared to Cal Ripken and Robin Yount. He was legitimately great! It just so happened that he wasn’t as great as couple of others who did his job.

One of the reasons he was not as great: his defense had problems. He allowed a good number of passed balls and was pretty average at throwing out base runners (late in his career he was downright bad at it). He also had less power than his three contemporaries. Let’s not pretend he was the perfect player.

Between all of that, his lack of MVP Awards, and the fact that he only led the league in any category three times — twice for intentional walks and once for, um, grounding into double plays — makes it basically impossible to say that he was ever the best at what he did, and that’s really important for a certain swath of the Hall of Fame electorate.

 

Would I vote for him?

Yeah, I would. Because, as you’ve no doubt grokked from all of these profiles, I place a higher value on where the candidate falls compared to Hall of Famers at his position than I care about whether, in his time, he was identified as an All-Time great. Those sorts of things are subjective and circumstantial. It’s not Simmons’ fault that no one appreciated his OBP at the time and it’s not Simmons’ fault that he happened to play at a time when there were more great catchers in the game than at any time in the history of baseball. We can, however, look over the entire history of baseball and say that he falls right in the middle of the 14 current Hall of Fame catchers and that, as a result, he belongs alongside them.

 

Will the Committee vote for him?

There’s a good chance. He fell only one vote short two years ago when Jack Morris and Alan Trammell made it. The composition of the committee changes from year to year, but it does show that he has garnered almost enough support in the past. I think Whitaker and maybe Evans will be more attractive to the voters, but I could see Simmons just making it. And I hope he does.