In the time it takes to circle the bases, Ted Simmons experienced the high of hitting an improbable home run and the low of being ejected.
The incident 35 years ago symbolized the frustrations of the 1978 Cardinals.
In April 1978, after a 6-11 start, the Cardinals fired manager Vern Rapp. A confrontation with Simmons prompted Rapp’s departure. After the Phillies had defeated the Cardinals, 3-2, in 10 innings on April 15 at St. Louis, Simmons turned up the music on the clubhouse stereo in an attempt to loosen a tense atmosphere. Rapp, thinking Simmons was unconcerned about the defeat, argued so loudly with Simmons behind closed doors he could be heard calling his catcher “a loser.”
Though Rapp eventually apologized for his words, he had lost the respect of many Cardinals players, who saw Simmons as a leader who played to win.
Ken Boyer, the former Cardinals third baseman, replaced Rapp. At first, the Cardinals performed better, getting within two games of .500 at 14-16.
Then they nosedived, losing 13 of 14 and falling to 15-29 overall.
Meanwhile, their main rival was rolling. The Cubs were in first place in the National League East Division and carrying a six-game winning streak when they faced the Cardinals on May 27, 1978, at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium II.
Other than Simmons, the Cardinals were being carved up by Cubs pitching that Saturday night.
Simmons had doubled in the fourth off Cubs starter Dennis Lamp. With the Cubs ahead 2-0, Simmons led off the seventh with a triple to center off Lamp. Keith Hernandez drove in Simmons with a ground out.
Frustrated by the losses and with the strike zone of Paul Runge, Simmons had been jawing with the home plate umpire all evening. “(Simmons) seemed to be uptight through most of the game,” Runge said to the Associated Press. “Before the seventh inning, I was joking with him and telling him to relax. There was something working on him.”
In the ninth, the Cubs turned to closer Bruce Sutter to preserve the 2-1 lead. Sutter, 25, was in his third big-league season and already was the kind of dominant reliever who four years later would lift the Cardinals to a World Series championship.
Sutter entered the game with a 1.52 ERA and six saves in 18 appearances.
The first batter he faced in the bottom of the ninth was Simmons.
Batting left-handed, the switch-hitter crushed an 0-and-2 pitch from Sutter for a home run, the only one of his career against Sutter, tying the score.
As he stepped on home plate after rounding the bases, Simmons tipped his cap to Runge and, according to the umpire, said, “Take that.”
“He definitely showed me up, but he didn’t cuss me,” Runge said. “It was a perfect opportunity for him and he took the opportunity.”
Runge tossed Simmons. With their big bat out of the lineup, the Cardinals were weakened. The Cubs scored a run in the 11th and won, 3-2, sending St. Louis to its 14th loss in 15 games and extending Chicago’s win streak to seven. The Cardinals filed a protest with the National League, arguing that Simmons shouldn’t have been ejected.
“I think this has been happening, or brewing, over a long period of time, but unless you call an umpire a name, he (Simmons) shouldn’t be kicked out,” Boyer said to the Associated Press. “We think very strongly that umpires ought to be fined, suspended or reprimanded, just like players.
“The only job (Runge) had was to see if (Simmons) touched the plate. I don’t think that the average fan knew they were having words before. Teddy never once turned around.” Boxscore
Three decades later, in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, baseball writer Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said the ejection of Simmons remained memorable.
“Teddy was not in agreement with Paul Runge’s strike zone,” Hummel recalled. “They had a little debate about balls and strikes. Then Teddy hits a home run to tie the game and as Teddy steps on home plate he is ejected.
“That’s one of my favorites. Home run and gone.”
Previously: The story of how Ted Simmons became a Cardinal