Editor’s note: This is the eighth installment of a daily series looking at players on the Modern Era Hall of Fame ballot, which will be voted on Dec. 10. We’ll look at the cases of all 10 people on the ballot and offer our takes on their candidacy.
How the heck did St. Louis Cardinals great Ted Simmons fall off the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot after just one year? It’s one of the most inexplicable baseball decisions of the past 25 years, and one that may still haunt Simmons’ chances today.
Simmons’ case for the Hall of Fame isn’t a lock. There is room for debate. But no matter where you stand on him, you have to admit it was a travesty that he received just 3.7 percent of the vote in his first and only year on the ballot.
For 21 years, Simmons was the fourth-best catcher in baseball. And there’s no shame in being fourth when the three men ahead of you are Johnny Bench, Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk. All three of them are safety enshrined in Cooperstown. Simmons remains the odd man out.
Over his career, Simmons hit a solid .285/.348/.437, with 248 home runs. His 118 OPS+ indicates that his offense was 18 percent better than the league-average. Keep in mind he did that while primarily playing catcher, which is no easy task considering the other responsibilities placed upon the position.
But even with all that, Simmons winds up a borderline candidate. His 50.1 WAR puts him just under the 53.4 average for Hall of Fame catchers. By Jay Jaffe’s JAWS — a stat that evaluates Hall of Famers — Simmons comes even closer, posting a 42.4 score, just under the 43.9 score at the position.
Though he falls short there, those margins make it close enough that you could go either way on Simmons and still have a solid case. He’s the type of player who deserved to be debated for a decade. Not one who barely gained support and quickly dropped off the ballot.
So let’s examine his case a little further and see whether the Big League Stew writers give Simmons their unofficial yay or nay.
LAST TIME ON THE BALLOT
Simmons’ last time on the ballot was his only time on the ballot. The Cardinals’ catcher received just 3.7 percent of the vote and fell off the ballot after one year. He may have been lost in the shuffle. While only Steve Carlton made it into the Hall in 1994, the ballot contained many players who would go on to be enshrined in Cooperstown, including Don Sutton, Phil Niekro, Bruce Sutter and Tony Perez.
• Put up a strong .285/.348/.437 batting line. Made eight All-Star teams and won the Sliver Slugger in 1980. Was the fourth-best catcher in an era featuring dominant catchers, so he gets overlooked.
• Simmons’ 50.1 JAWS score ranks 10th all-time at catcher. Every player ahead of him — with the exception of Joe Mauer — is currently in the Hall of Fame. Mauer is not yet eligible. Gabby Hartnett, Buck Ewing and Ernie Lombardi all rank slightly lower on the list at catcher, and all are in the Hall of Fame.
• Simmons’ 54.2 fWAR ranks ninth all-time at catcher. Every player ahead of him is in the Hall of Fame. He had a better career batting average than Johnny Bench, Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk. His .348 on-base percentage is better than Bench, Carter, Fisk and Ivan Rodriguez. His career average and on-base percentage matches Yogi Berra.
• Was never the best player in baseball in any relevant statistical category. He led the league in intentional walks twice, but never in average, on-base percentage runs scored or RBI (or anything else). Never finished higher than sixth in MVP voting.
• Played on some good teams in St. Louis, but never made the postseason with the club. Made two postseasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, but didn’t perform well in the playoffs. Never won a World Series. For a borderline player, that could matter.
• Gets dinged for his defense. Simmons led the league in stolen bases against six times. Two of those came with the Brewers, so it wasn’t totally a case of him working with slow pitchers in St. Louis. He had a weakness, and opposing teams knew to exploit it.
Simmons’ top-two comps according to Baseball Reference are not in the Hall, though that could change soon. Miguel Tejada is not yet eligible. He’s probably more of a Hall of Very Good player. Alan Trammell, however, is often viewed as one of the Hall’s biggest snubs. He joins Simmons on the Modern Ballot this year (we haven’t covered him yet, but will soon, so stay tuned).
The next three players on Simmons’ list are Joe Torre, Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter. All three are enshrined in Cooperstown.
OUR TAKES: SHOULD SIMMONS BE IN THE HALL OF FAME?
YES: Simmons strikes me as similar to Tim Raines. He had a great career, but was overshadowed by some all-time greats. He ranks top-10 all-time among catchers according to a number of metrics and that’s good enough for me. (Chris Cwik)
YES: It’s weird, because Simmons isn’t as much of a name-brand and some of the others on this ballot, but his case is much better than that of Dale Murphy, Jack Morris and Don Mattingly. Simmons’ career is better than quite a few catchers who are in Cooperstown already, so if that’s the bar, I’m a yes. (Mike Oz)
YES: I really think that catchers need to be evaluated differently. Catching is tough on players, and Simmons was worked into the ground into the 70s. The guy caught 130-plus games seven times in ten years! That doesn’t excuse his decline, but it explains it. And in his heyday, holy crap was Simmons ever good. The man was a beast at the plate, and I think he deserves enshrinement. (Liz Roscher)
NO: Perhaps the most fascinating case on this ballot. I lean no on Simmons, but it’s not a strong lean because I see his career as maybe a notch below that of Gary Carter’s. (Mark Townsend)
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