(Updated Aug. 12, 2015)
This is the 500th posting to the blog since it debuted in May 2010. Naturally, the subject is the former Cardinals player who inspired the blog’s name, Ted “Simba” Simmons.
The purpose is to commemorate the 40-year anniversary of an ironman feat that remains largely underappreciated and mostly unmatched.
In 1973, the year he turned 24, Simmons caught 1,352.2 innings for the Cardinals. That’s a staggering total. To put the achievement in perspective, consider:
_ Hall of Fame catchers such as Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella and Gary Carter never caught that many innings in a season. (Carter came close, in 1982.) The only Hall of Fame catcher who topped Simmons’ 1973 total was Carlton Fisk, who caught 1,355.2 innings for the Red Sox in 1978.
_ Two recent catchers generally considered to be Hall of Fame candidates, Ivan Rodriguez and Mike Piazza, never approached Simmons’ single-season career-best total for innings caught.
_ Yadier Molina, a seven-time Gold Glove Award winner, caught a career-high 1,176.2 innings for the 2009 Cardinals. That’s 176 innings, or the equivalent of nearly 20 games, fewer than what Simmons did for the 1973 Cardinals.
Playing primarily on the punishing artificial surface of Busch Stadium II, Simmons appeared in 161 of the Cardinals’ 162 games in 1973. He caught in all but nine of those games.
“He’s about as strong a human being as I’ve ever seen,” Simmons’ teammate, Joe Torre, a former catcher, said to The Sporting News. “He’s so durable. That’s tough, catching every day in August and September.”
Simmons played in every inning of the Cardinals’ first 91 games in 1973 before being held out of a July 18 night game against the Giants at St. Louis, The Sporting News reported. Although Simmons had spent that day on military reserve duty, he asked to be in the lineup that night, but manager Red Schoendienst decided to rest him.
Simmons established single-season career highs that season for defensive chances (975), putouts (888) and plate appearances (690).
(Bench is the only catcher among those in the Hall of Fame to have more plate appearances in a season than Simmons’ 1973 total. Bench made 708 plate appearances for the 1974 Reds.)
Though playing the most demanding position on the field without hardly a rest, Simmons excelled on defense and offense.
He caught 50 runners attempting to steal in 1973. (Only the Phillies’ Bob Boone, who threw out 54, had a higher total among National League catchers that year.) Simmons ranked third in the league in percentage of runners caught attempting to steal (44 percent). Only Bench and Boone did better.
“He’s still not the smoothest catcher, but he gets the job done,” Torre said of Simmons to The Sporting News after the ’73 season. “He’s throwing better and catching better.”
Batting primarily in the cleanup position, Simmons led the 1973 Cardinals in batting average (.310), RBI (91), doubles (36), total bases (271) and slugging percentage (.438). He also tied with Torre for the team lead in home runs (13).
Impressively consistent, the switch-hitter batted .310 against right-handed pitching and .311 against left-handed pitching in 1973. (“That was a great shot in the arm _ batting over .300 from both sides,” Simmons said to The Sporting News.) He struck out just 47 times in 619 at-bats.
“He doesn’t often look bad at the plate,” Cardinals coach Vern Benson said to The Sporting News. “And he’s so good at adjusting with one or two strikes.”
Rather than wane under the toll, Simmons grew more productive as the season progressed. After hitting .212 (14-for-66) with no homers in April, Simmons batted .272 in May, .333 in June, .314 in July, .295 in August and a stunning .391 (43-for-110) in September when the Cardinals battled for the East Division title. (The Mets edged St. Louis by 1.5 games.)
On a hot, humid Labor Day at Pittsburgh on Sept. 3, 1973, Simmons caught all 22 innings of a doubleheader (the first game went 13 innings) and produced three hits in each game, helping the Cardinals split.
“This is the closest I’ve ever been to a division title,” Simmons said to the Associated Press afterward, “and I’m at the point where I’m willing to sacrifice everything to get there.”
The next night, Simmons made what Schoendienst called the “play of the game” when he stretched for a relay throw from second baseman Ted Sizemore and tagged out Richie Zisk at the plate, preserving a 4-2 Cardinals victory that moved St. Louis two games ahead of the second-place Pirates. Boxscore
Simmons had a 19-game hitting streak from Aug. 19 through Sept. 8. He hit safely in 36 of the Cardinals’ last 39 games.
Asked how he was able to perform so well in the season’s final four weeks when it would have been natural to weaken, Simmons told The Sporting News, “It was the thought of the $25,000 (that went to the World Series winners) and the Series ring. I had never been on a team that won anything in pro ball. A second at Tulsa was the closest.”
Previously: 10 reasons why Ted Simmons is a Hall of Famer