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Best Cardinals Catcher of All-Time

by Mark Ashby Vaughan

This is the second in a series of ten articles counting down the best ever Cardinals players at each position.

As I said in the first article of this series, I will be going around the diamond based on the box score number of each position and picking the top two players at that position.

This being the second article in the series, let’s take a look at the number 2 position – Catchers.

The Cardinals have had 52 starting catchers in their 128 years of existence, going all the way back to 1882. While reviewing these catchers, I came to the conclusion that the team has had some very good defensive, but light or average hitting, catchers and some very good offensive catchers who may not have been as sparkling as others defensively.

All things considered, any player compared to others has to be looked at by both their offensive and defensive skills and ranked accordingly. That is my criteria for aligning all of the catchers throughout Cardinals history. They are arranged according to how well each player performed compared to each other, respective of both their offensive and defensive skills.

NOTE: I will not consider any current player for the top honor unless they have played at least 9 years in the pros. Nine years is just one year shy of being eligible to be voted into the Hall of Fame. Players with fewer years may become injured or unavailable to reach nine years in the majors. As such, I won’t consider any such player.

And with no further ado…..

The #1 Cardinals catcher of all time is Ted Simmons (1968 – 1980).

Ted Lyle Simmons was drafted in the 1st round (10th overall pick) in 1967 by the Cardinals. A year later he made his MLB debut at the age of 18, playing two games for the Red Birds in '68.

The switch-hitting “Simba”, as he was often called, was a six-time selectee to the National League’s All-Star team while playing for the Cardinals.

In Ted’s 13 years in Saint Louis, he hit for a .298 batting average with 1,704 hits, 332 doubles, 172 home runs and 929 RBIs. Ted also won a Silver Slugger award in 1980.

"The ball jumps off the bat and you're running to first, drifting outside the line to start you on your way to second. The ultimate pleasure in baseball is that abstract moment when everything comes together and flows naturally." - Ted Simmons


He also caught two no-hitters; Bob Gibson’s solo no-hitter in ’71 and the first of two career no-hitters for Bob Forsch in ’78.

Simmons spent an accumulative 21 years in the big leagues. He retired with more RBIs than Johnny Bench, more runs scored than Gary Carter, more hits than Carlton Fisk, a higher batting average than Roy Campanella, and caught more games than Yogi Berra.

Ted is also in the Top 100 of major league players all-time in the categories of games, at bats, plate appearances, hits, doubles, total bases and RBIs.

Ted’s Achilles heel has been that he was considered a mediocre catcher defensively. This impression, however, is not borne out by his career defensive statistics shown later in this article.

Offensively, Simmons accumulated 2,472 career hits, the highest figure ever by a player who was primarily a catcher. He also hit .300 plus seven times and was frequently among the league leaders in hits and doubles. Ted twice led the league in intentional passes (’76 and ’77), being a perennial leader in IBBs as well.

Simmons had five 90+ RBI seasons (the same number as Mickey Mantle) as well as three seasons with 100 or more RBIs, just one less than “The Mick”. For Ted’s career, he was just 120 RBIs shy of the immortal Mantle’s career total.

To date, Ted Simmons has not been elected to MLB’s Hall of Fame despite the facts above and the figures shown below at the end of this article.

Although Simmons was a fan favorite in St. Louis, he clashed with new manager Whitey Herzog who had taken over the Red Birds’ helm in 1980. Consequently, Ted was shipped off to Milwaukee via trade prior to the 1981 season. Ironically, Simmons’ new team, the Brewers, faced the Cardinals in the 1982 World Series, losing to the Birds in seven games.

The #2 spot on the list of greatest Cardinals catcher ever goes to Tim McCarver (1959 – 1969, 1973 and 1974).

McCarver was signed right from high school and debuted in the majors with the Cardinals in 1959 when he was just 17 years old.

Tim spent time in both the major and minor leagues from 1959 through 1962 and was finally installed as the Red Birds’ starting catcher in 1963.

The Red Birds won two of his three World Series appearances, winning titles in 1964 and 1967, while losing to the Detroit Tigers in seven games in the 1968 championship.

Tim was a great clutch hitter, as shown by his World Series batting totals from those years. In those three championship series, all with the Cardinals, McCarver had 23 hits for a .311 average with 2 doubles, 3 triples, 2 homers and 11 RBIs in 74 at-bats.

Additionally, in the ’64 World Series, Tim hit a tie-breaking home run against the New York Yankees in the 10th inning of game 5 to win the game for the Cardinals.

Going into game 5, the Cardinals and Yankees were tied at two games apiece, making game 5 a crucial win for both teams. With McCarver’s game winning homer, the Cards led the series 3-2 before returning to St. Louis for the final two games. Having home-field advantage for the rest of the series, the Cardinals beat the Yanks in game 7 by a 7 to 5 score. Tim also led the team in hits (11) and batting average (.478) against the favored Yanks during the Series.

McCarver was named a National League All-Star in both the ’66 and ’67 seasons. During the ’66 All-Star game, Tim scored the winning run for the Nationals in the 10th inning. In the 1966 season, Tim also became the first National League catcher ever to lead the league in triples with 13.

In 1967, Tim was 2nd in the Most Valuable Player voting, losing to teammate and winner, Orlando Cepeda.

In 1976, while playing for the Phillies, Tim had one of the most unremarkable and embarrassing plays in Major League history by hitting what is known as a "Grand Slam Single" when after hitting a game-winning home run he passed teammate Garry Maddox on the base path as Tim rounded the bases. As host of an HBO special entitled, "The Not-so-Great Moments in Sports", Tim, who was slow of foot, was quoted as saying to the umpire during that game, "I didn't pass him, he lapped me."

McCarver retired after the 1980 season, making him one of just a handful of players to have played in the Major Leagues in four decades (‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s).

McCarver finished his career as the personal catcher for Steve Carlton of the Phillies in the mid and late 1970s. Carlton preferred McCarver to catch him as opposed to the Phillies’ starting catcher, Bob Boone. It was once quipped that when Carlton and McCarver died, they would be buried 60 feet, 6 inches apart, the distance from home plate to the mound rubber.

Honorable Mentions in the category of ‘Best Cardinals Catcher of All-Time’ go to Joe Torre and Walker Cooper.

Before any readers chew my head off for not naming Torre as the #2 best catcher ever, remember that his 1971 MVP season in which he led the league in hits (230), RBIs (137) and batting average (.363), occurred after he was converted from catcher to 3rd baseman following the 1970 season.

Ted Simmons’ Ratings Relative to Hall of Fame Catchers:

Simmons rates in the Top 5 in all of the eight categories below, but for one. He is also the leader in two (hits, doubles) of the categories. In the single category in which he is not rated in the Top 5, he is the 6th rated catcher. In summary, relative to the twelve Hall of Fame catchers compared below, Simmons is in the top half of the HOF players in each and every category.


Runs

Carlton Fisk 1,276

Yogi Berra 1,175

Buck Ewing 1,118

Johnny Bench 1,091

Ted Simmons 1,074

Mickey Cochrane 1,041

Bill Dickey 930

Gabby Hartnett 867

Rick Ferrell 687

Roger Bresnahan 684

Roy Campanella 627

Ernie Lombardi 601

Ray Schalk 579


Hits


Ted Simmons 2,472

Carlton Fisk 2,356

Yogi Berra 2,150

Johnny Bench 2,048

Bill Dickey 1,969

Gabby Hartnett 1,912

Ernie Lombardi 1,792

Rick Ferrell 1,692

Buck Ewing 1,663

Mickey Cochrane 1,652

Ray Schalk 1,345

Roger Bresnahan 1,251

Roy Campanella 1,161


Doubles


Ted Simmons 483

Carlton Fisk 421

Gabby Hartnett 396

Johnny Bench 381

Bill Dickey 343

Mickey Cochrane 333

Rick Ferrell 324

Yogi Berra 321

Ernie Lombardi 277

Buck Ewing 237

Roger Bresnahan 222

Ray Schalk 199

Roy Companella 178


Home Runs


Johnny Bench 389

Carlton Fisk 376

Yogi Berra 358

Ted Simmons 248

Roy Campanella 242

Gabby Hartnett 236

Bill Dickey 202

Ernie Lombardi 190

Mickey Cochrane 119

Buck Ewing 66

Rick Ferrell 28

Roger Bresnahan 26

Ray Schalk 12


RBIs


Yogi Berra 1,430

Ted Simmons 1,389

Carlton Fisk 1,386

Johnny Bench 1,376

Bill Dickey 1,209

Gabby Hartnett 1,179

Ernie Lombardi 990

Buck Ewing 883

Roy Campanella 856

Mickey Cochrane 832

Rick Ferrell 734

Ray Schalk 596

Roger Bresnahan 531


Batting Average


Mickey Cochrane .320

Bill Dickey .313

Ernie Lombardi .306

Buck Ewing .303

Gabby Hartnett .297

Ted Simmons .285

Yogi Berra .285

Rick Ferrell .281

Roger Bresnahan .279

Roy Campanella .276

Carlton Fisk .269

Johnny Bench .267

Ray Schalk .253


Games Caught


Carlton Fisk 2,226

Rick Ferrell 1,806

Gabby Hartnett 1,793

Ted Simmons 1,771

Johnny Bench 1,742

Ray Schalk 1,727

Bill Dickey 1,708

Yogi Berra 1,699

Ernie Lombardi 1,544

Mickey Cochrane 1,451

Roy Campanella 1,183

Roger Bresnahan 974

Buck Ewing 636


Fielding Percentage as a Catcher


Johnny Bench .990

Yogi Berra .989

Bill Dickey .988

Roy Campanella .988

Carlton Fisk .988

Ted Simmons .987

Mickey Cochrane .985

Rick Ferrell .984

Gabby Hartnett .984

Ray Schalk .981

Ernie Lombardi .979

Roger Bresnahan .971

Buck Ewing .931


In comparison to the Hall of Fame catchers above, Simmons’ overall standing in each category shows that he undoubtedly belongs in the hall. I can only hope that the HOF Old Timer’s Committee will eventually see the error of his omission and rectify the oversight.

Note: The links below refer back to any previously published ‘Greatest Cardinal Player’ articles written by this author --

Pitcher: http://www.cardinalsmix.com/2009/11/best-cardinals-pitcher-of-all-time.html

2 comments:

  1. Nice article. Well written and informative. Hope Simba gets his due soon!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Mark Ashby VaughanDecember 6, 2009 at 6:00 PM

    Thanks. Me too! He deserves it.

    ReplyDelete


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