Ted Simmons got screwed. It’s not clear why or what happened, but I suspect we’ll never get an answer much in the same way we will never know why Jim Edmonds got similarly screwed. But the theories abound. He was on a stacked ballot - Steve Carlton, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro, and Orlando Cepeda’s last year eligible. The excellent Ted Simmons profile by Jay Jaffe highlights some potential issues: he had a contract dispute early in his career, he had long hair at a time when many didn’t, and that he seemed cut from a different cloth than most major leaguers. And because he got booted from his first ballot, Rick Hummel says that’s what kept him from being voted in by veterans committees. (Jaffe is also pretty convinced Whitey Herzog hated him and possibly contributed since he was on a few of those committees - just putting that out there).
Hummel’s quote: “The first question these Hall of Famers ask you is, ‘How many ballots was he on for the writers’ election? One? They must not have liked him very much.” I would choose to make a retort, but frankly Derrick Goold did the job for me. “[The voters] have a chance to prove the writers wrong —and they should… and instead they choose to use that vote to legitimize theirs. It’s maddening.” (ALTHOUGH, I will say that the veterans committee voting in Hall of Famers has largely cheapened the Hall of Fame - the vast majority of weak Hall of Famers were voted in by them. See Harold Baines)
Anyway, it doesn’t matter why he was left off for so long. It doesn’t matter that he was left off for so long. They finally got him in and they didn’t wait for him to die to do it either. And I’m on a Cardinals blog so I doubt I’ll need to do much convincing, but anybody who says he doesn’t deserve it, he’s got a rock solid case.
Simmons is 10th among catchers in JAWS. Eight of the nine above him are in the Hall and the other guy is Joe Mauer, who may or may not make it, and in any case, he was forced to move to 1B midway through his career and is an entirely different case than most Hall of Fame catchers. The guy below him is also in the Hall.
The average Hall of Fame catcher has 54.3 career bWAR and a 7-year peak of 35.1 bWAR. Simmons falls short of both, but barely, with 50.3 career bWAR and 34.8 bWAR. But we’re talking average Hall of Famer here. And yes, you may want a small Hall - in fact want a small Hall. But this is the Hall we got and it’s not like I’m comparing him to weak players here. It’s the average Hall of Famer. He will not impact those numbers at all, he’s so close to the average. (Even as a small Hall guy, I think it’s reasonable to use the average as the floor since the weak members drag it down and I focus more on peak than longevity)
Okay, not a fan of bWAR? Well Fangraphs doesn’t have anything like JAWS, but he’s got 54.2 career fWAR. He has five seasons above 5 fWAR and 12 seasons above 3 fWAR. He has a 7-year peak of 36.8 fWAR. And he’s not the first Hall of Famer to suffer from this, but he definitely suffers from staying in baseball way too long. He was basically done by 34, and played until he was 38. Though largely due to one particularly bad season, he had -2.4 fWAR in his final five seasons.
Until recently, people who vote on the Hall of Fame have been completely unable to contextualize positional differences for some reason. It’s why they’re aren’t that many catchers in the Hall, and 3B and CF are other examples. Put it this way: the 10th most bWAR of all time at catcher is Ted Simmons with 50.3 bWAR. If he were a 1B, that would place 33rd, between Jason Giambi and Orlando Cepeda (voted in via Veterans Committee, and very much being an example of them getting it wrong - sorry guys)
So if you’re unimpressed with Simmons’ WAR total, it’s because he’s a catcher. They play less. He’d look like an injury prone player if he played any other position. And Simmons actually played a whole lot! He played eight seasons with 150+ games played. To put that in context, Yadier Molina has never done that. Which yes, I checked and triple checked that because I literally do not believe it. But it’s true.
He is the fourth Cardinal catcher to make the Hall of Fame and I’d leave you in suspense on who those four are, but it’s a bit of a trick question. The first is Roger Bresnahan, a Deadball era player who played for the Cards for just four seasons and they weren’t the seasons that got him into the Hall. There’s Joe Torre, who got in as a manager and Branch Rickey, who got in as a general manager. Rickey is technically cheating since he never actually played for the Cards, but if you word it right, this is a good trivia question nobody would get right.
Anyway, Ted Simmons is the first distinctly Cardinals catcher who got in primarily for his work as a Cardinal player and who spent the majority of his career as a Cardinals. He spent a good number of years with the Brewers (one of which in the World Series) and left acrimoniously so it’s possible he doesn’t go in as Cardinal. He probably will, but I also don’t know what I’m talking about at this point, so someone more knowledgeable about his situation can give the odds on that one.
So rejoice! Ted Simmons is in the Hall of Fame! And so is Marvin Miller, who deserves his own post and they unfortunately did wait until after he died. Baseball wouldn’t be the same without him and all modern players owe a debt to him (and Curt Flood).