TED SIMMONS, JOHNNY BENCH…AND SALVY PEREZ???
Ted Simmons is erudite, scholarly, in fact.
Johnny Bench, aka “Corkhead,” is no scholar, but he is deceptively smart.
He knows what he knows, and what he knows, he knows well.
There are nineteen catchers in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Bench and the newly-inducted Simmons among them.
That’s one similarity; they both were great.
And although some of their career statistics move in a related orbit, the two superstars — who share a healthy mutual respect — could not be less alike.
On or off the diamond.
With great reverence and respect to Yogi Berra — an 18-time All-Star; 13-time World Series champion; and 3-time MVP — Johnny Bench was perhaps the greatest catcher who ever lived.
A first ballot Hall-of-Famer, securing 96.42% of the vote in 1989, Bench played his entire career (1967–1983) with the Cincinnati Reds.
Known as the Big Red Machine and led by Bench, Cincinnati dominated the National League in the mid-’70s, winning six division titles, four NL pennants and two World Series championships.
A 14-time All-Star and a 2-time National League MVP, Bench excelled on offense as well as behind the dish, twice leading the senior circuit in HRs — the only catcher in history to lead the league in home runs — and three times in RBI.
At the time of his retirement in 1983, he held the major league record for most home runs hit by a catcher with 389 — since broken by Mike Piazza (399).
On defense, Bench was a ten-time Gold Glove Award winner who skillfully handled pitching staffs, and possessed a strong, accurate throwing arm.
He caught 100 or more games for 13 consecutive seasons and no less an authority than the all-mighty ESPN has anointed him as the greatest catcher in the history of the game.
A famous photo of Bench back in the day shows him holding 7 baseballs in his meaty right paw.
Try that sometime; it’s no small feat.
Ted Simmons’ route to the Hall was a bit more circuitous and it took him 31 years to get there.
For more than three decades, he was “The Man Time Forgot.”
A switch-hitting catcher who featured power and strong leadership, Simmons went from an afterthought on the writers’ ballot, to HOF induction in the Class of 2020 (with the formal enshrinement taking place on September 8, 2021, due to COVID) along with Derek Jeter, Larry Walker and the late union chief, Marvin Miller.
Despite a stellar career which included postseason appearances with the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers, Simmons couldn’t scrape together the 5% required to stay on the BBWAA ballot, losing his spot after his first year of eligibility in 1994.
He had already been retired as a player for five years — and then had to wait 26 more before a veterans committee — the Modern Baseball Era Committee — gave him the minimum 75% of the vote.
Only one catcher in baseball history, Berra, had more RBI.
Only one catcher in baseball history, Ivan Rodriguez, had more hits.
Often overshadowed by contemporary Bench, Simmons was universally considered to be one of the best-hitting catchers of all time.
He lacked Bench’s power — though 248 career HRs is nothing to sneeze at — but had more hits (2,472 to Bench’s 2,048) and hit for a higher career average (.285 to Bench’s .267).
Simmons hit over .300 seven times in his career and had 90 or more RBI in eight different seasons.
He hit 20 HRs six times and caught 122 shutouts, eighth-most all-time.
At the time of his retirement, Simmons led all catchers in career hits and doubles, was second to Berra in RBI and second to Carlton Fisk in total bases.
He also retired with the National League record for home runs by a switch-hitter, despite playing several seasons in the American League with Milwaukee (1981–1985).
Simmons was an eight-time All-Star and won the 1980 Silver Slugger Award.
One of life’s vagaries, simply, that it took so long for Ted Simmons to get his due.
And what’s up with Salvador Perez, anyway?
Salvy Perez is a World Series champion.
The year was 2015 and he was — and still is — a member of the Kansas City Royals.
He was the 2015 World Series MVP too.
He is a seven-time All-Star, a 5-time Gold Glove Award winner and a 3-time Silver Slugger.
In 2020 he was voted the AL Comeback Player of the Year.
On September 16 he hit his 45th home run of the season against Oakland, matching Bench’s 1970 record for most home runs in a season hit by a primary catcher.
On September 20 he hit home run #46 against Cleveland, breaking Bench’s single-season 51-year-old mark.
He has 198 career HRs.
He is 31.
Yadi Molina is 39 years old.
He has 2,103 hits and 171 HRs.
Buster Posey is 34.
He has 1,484 hits and 158 HRs.
They will be the next three catchers admiring their bronze plaques in Cooperstown.
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in September 2021.]