Visit to Cooperstown leaves looming Hall of Famer Simmons awestruck

Ted Simmons poses during a tour of the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Feb. 27.
AP

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Ted Simmons just had to stop and soak it all in.

“It’s totally overwhelming and humbling, to say the very least,” Simmons said Thursday as he gazed at the Baseball Hall of Fame’s plaque gallery after a tour of the sport’s shrine. “You’re asking yourself every five seconds — what on earth makes you feel as though you belong in this place? I’m not big on false humility. I’m here to say that if you can’t come to grips with what’s really happening here and what this place is all about, you sure as hell don’t belong here.”

Simmons belongs now — at age 70 and more than three decades after his last game. He was elected in December by the modern era committee, becoming the first player to be picked for enshrinement after being on the writers’ ballot just one year. He’ll be inducted July 26 with Derek Jeter, Larry Walker and the late Marvin Miller, the former players’ association head.

An eight-time All-Star catcher during a 21-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals (1968-80), Milwaukee Brewers (1981-85) and Atlanta Braves (1986-88), the switch-hitter batted .285 with 248 home runs. When he retired, Simmons held the major league record for hits (2,472) and doubles (483) by a catcher to go along with 1,389 RBIs, the second-highest total by a player who played at least 50% of his games at the position. (Former New York Yankees star Yogi Berra holds that record with 1,430 RBIs, and Iván Rodríguez now tops the hit list with 2,844.)

And yet Simmons was named on only 3.7% of the votes in 1994, just shy of the 5% threshold needed to remain on the ballot. He also missed by one vote two years ago when Alan Trammell and Jack Morris were picked by the modern era committee.

None of that mattered on this day.

“I really, honestly, would not have changed anything,” said Simmons, who since retiring as a player after the 1988 season has worked for six major league teams as general manager, director of player personnel, scout and coach. “There’s a reason specifically I feel that way — because over my lifetime and my career in baseball, many people in here only had a career as an active player. But in the context of my post-playing years, it has exposed me to so much more and to so many other people that hired me and I have grown to know professionally and love individually. So much more has happened and so many more people have been included. They made this a real joy.”

One by one, Simmons walked to the plaques of several of his former teammates — Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Steve Carlton, Rollie Fingers, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor — made a brief dash back to touch the plaques of boyhood heroes Al Kaline and Mickey Mantle, then touched those of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner before signing the wall where his will be placed.

“In the context of my personal statistics, it gets kind of small in a place like this,” said Simmons, who was accompanied by his wife, Maryanne. “I feel a little uncomfortable talking about it, and that’s genuine. It’s not about what your stats were because they’re dwarfed in a place like this, and it’s not borderline ridiculous to talk about your stats. It is ridiculous.”

Simmons said his induction speech is with him all the time, pointing at his head below his left ear. And he’s ready to deliver it.

“It should be (there), and I’m glad,” he said. “The gorilla is the speech, but the gorilla is under control. I’m looking very much forward to this thing. It’s going to be extraordinary. I can’t wait.”

Before he gets to deliver that speech, he and Maryanne will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in May.

Can’t get much better than that.

“You talk about a good year. 2020? Very nice,” he said.