Whether it's an antique or a curveball, Ted Simmons has an eye on it
Six-time All-Star catcher Ted Simmons of the Milwaukee Brewers is probably the only ballplayer in either major league who can answer the question: What is a William and Mary chair?
Unless you lived between 1710 and 1720, or are an established antique dealer, don't bother to guess. In fact, Simmons may be the only guy I know who wears a uniform who doesn't think Chippendale didn't once coach first base for Casey Stengel.
The trouble is Ted prefers not to discuss a hobby that has obviously gone well past that simple description. Yet this is a man who reportedly can speak knowledgeably about pre-American Revolutionary fireplaces; cooking utensils used by the colonists, or Hepplewhite sofas.
"The fact that my wife and I study and own antiques has never been anything I wanted to share with the public," said Simmons, who for several years has been a trustee of the St. Louis Art Museum, an elective position. "What I do off the field is not a conversation; it's a study. I'm not going to ask you how to write, so please don't ask me to teach you about antiques."
It is that kind of directness and mental toughness, if you will, that has made Ted one of the most dangerous modern-day switch-hitters. While he has never had the power of a Mickey Mantle or gotten the publicity of a Pete Rose, Simmons is a consistently solid hitter with a lifetime major league average of . 298.
Ted doesn't just concentrate when he's at the plate; he rivets his attention on the pitcher. Once the the ball is released, the grandstand could collapse and he wouldn't turn to look at it.
The primary benefit from becoming a switch-hitter is that the manager never has an excuse not to play you against left-or right-handed pitching. The main reason for this is the way you get to view the curveball.
By switching, the hitter always has the curveball coming into his body instead of running away from his bat and making him reach. Given that additional time, smart hitters like Simmons are often able to steer the ball between the outfielders for extra bases.
Becoming a switch-hitter was not Ted's idea, but that of two older brothers, who started him at age nine with the thought that the move would someday benefit him if he were to continue on into organized ball.
"I don't remember liking the idea too much at the time," Ted told me outside the batting cage at Anaheim Stadium. "I was comfortable hitting left-handed. But I wasn't about to argue with my brothers because I knew it wasn't going to do any good anyway."
After coming up with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1970 and spending his next 11 years in the national League, Simmons was traded to Milwaukee last December in a multiplayer deal.
What has been an extremely slow start with the bat for Ted with the Brewers this spring prompted questions about what some of the problems are when a good hitter changes leagues and has to learn the habits of a whole new set of pitchers.
"I think whenever a pitcher and bitter are facing each other for the first time," the advantage is all with the pitcher," Simmons said. "Even an experienced hitter needs time to gauge a pitcher's motion, and if he throws his curve with the same motion as his fastball and you don't pick this up right away , you can get fooled.
"I think a good example of this is what often happens at World Series time or during the All-Star game," Ted continued. "A player who has been hitting well will suddenly lose his rhythm and timing simply because he's facing pitchers he hasn't seen before."
Asked why Milwaukee wanted Simmons so badly, when free agent catchers like Carlton Fisk and Darrell Porter would also be available, General Manager Harry Dalton replied:
"We wanted Ted's flexibility as a hitter and his durability in the field. If you look it up, I don't think you'll find that he's ever caught fewer than 123 games in any season, and usually it's been more like 150.
"We had also heard that he was a tremendous competitor, and any time you can get a player with that kind of reputation, you make the extra effort regardless of what you have to give up. The fact that Ted isn't hitting right now the way we know he can doesn't bother us in the least because a guy like that will eventually r ise to his proven level."