The seventies were not kind to the St. Louis Cardinals. The team began the decade as a disintegrating group of championship-caliber players, and spent most of the next ten years cobbling together a few notable talents with lots of forgettable junk. No pennants were won in the decade, and most of the teams had losing records.

One of the few bright spots of this period in Cardinals history was the emergence of Ted Simmons as the team’s leader and catcher. Simmons came up through the Cardinals organization as an 18 year old, and quickly established himself as one of the premier catchers in the National League. In his first year with over 500 at-bats (1971), Simmons hit .304 while slugging .771, although he was yet to flash the power that would distinguish most of his career.

Following the ’71 campaign, the Cardinals tried to sign Simmons to a marginal contract. Offended, Simmons played without a contract in 1972 (let’s see the Players Union allow that these days!) in order to prove he was worth more money. That year, Simmons hit .303 while slugging .808 and driving in 96 runs. He was named to the All-Star team for the first time as well. Needless to say, the Cards were forced to up Simmons’ salary significantly after that.

The next several years saw Simmons rise to the top of all other catchers not named Johnny Bench. From 1972-1975, Simmons batted over .300 (a high of .332 when he challenged Bill Madlock for the batting title in ’75) while driving in around 100 runs. In fact, Simmons would’ve been considered the greatest catcher of the era had it not been for Bench and the Big Red Machine stealing his thunder.

But Simmons’ place in Cardinal history involves more than cold statistics. Fans cherished him because he was a fierce competitor on lousy and lacksadaisical Cardinals teams. Many remember Simmons’ long, tangled brown hair matted with sweat as he dove headfirst into rough plays at the plate time and time again. Simmons often found himself on teams in which he was one of the only power threats, and he almost single-handedly carried many of those teams on his own production and force of will. For that effort Simmons was rewarded with repeated mentions in MVP balloting, even when his team finished fourth.

Simmons’ time with the Cardinals ended abruptly in 1980 when he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers by new manager/general manager Whitey Herzog after the two feuded. It was a curious trade, one of the worst in Herzog’s storied managing career. Simmons, Rollie Fingers, and Pete Vuckovich went to the Brewers for David Green, Sixto Lezcano, Lary Sorenson, and Dave LaPoint. All three of those new Brewers transformed Milwaukee into a team that would end up in the World Series in 1982, while only LaPoint had much of an effect for the Cardinals (Green was actually more of a problem than an asset). It was an unceremonious dumping of a beloved Cardinal, and fans only accepted it when Herzog began winning with regularity.

After a couple ofvery good seasons in Milwaukee, Simmons ended up with the Atlanta Braves as a utility man before ending his fine career. Even today Simmons remains of the best offensive catchers the game has ever known. His name appears among the all-time leaders in hit and doubles among catchers, and has caught two no-hitters (bob Gibson and Bob Forsch). And although he was never considered a great defensive catcher, he improved his game and achieved a .986 career fielding percentage. Very few catchers in history offer the same blend of offense and competent defense that Simmons provided throughout his career.

But for Cardinals fans, Simmons will forever be the face of the franchise throughout the seventies, a decade marked by bad teams, many losses, and an intense, gutsy star catcher at the center of it all.

About The Author

Lifelong Cardinal fan and general loudmouth.

  • Mary Stephen