Cards retire Simmons' number, unveil statue

Beloved former catcher and Hall of Fame inductee sees dreams come true

July 31st, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- Ted Simmons’ hair is just as long as it ever was, though a little grayer. So of course it flowed over the collar of his red sportscoat on Saturday afternoon, when he saw the second of his four biggest post-career accomplishments come to fruition. The first was the red jacket itself, which symbolized the catcher's induction into the Cardinals Hall of Fame.

The second and third were made concrete prior to Saturday’s game against the Twins. In a pair of pregame ceremonies, Simmons was awarded the 12th statue outside of Busch Stadium -- the first unveiled outside Busch Stadium III -- and had his No. 23 retired on the field.

The fourth, after he fell off the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 1994, will come when Simmons is given passage to Cooperstown. That will occur in September, after he was voted in by the veterans committee in 2020, only to see the ceremony delayed a year by the pandemic.

After 26 years waiting, what’s one more?

“We all know the stories of little boys who dream of becoming Major League players. Those little boys dream of being an All-Star, of playing in the seventh game of the World Series, of being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. They dream of their hometown retiring their uniform number, and they dream of a statue placed here next to all these great players,” Simmons said.

“Of course, this grown man was just such a little boy. He’s lived a charmed life. All his dreams came true. So he asks you, no matter who you are or how old you are, to dream. Dream your biggest dreams. They will sustain you. They will enrich your life. And the pursuit will be worth the chase. No matter how long it takes. Even if it takes a lifetime, it will be well worth the wait.”

Simmons fought through tears and a bevy of other emotions as he delivered his remarks to a packed corner of 8th Street and Clark Avenue. His statue, designed by Harry Weber -- like the others next to Simmons’ outside Gate 4 at Busch Stadium -- features the switch-hitting Simmons batting right-handed, with his flowing hair poking out toward the collar of his jersey.

And it came emblazoned with a No. 23 that has been worn by 35 Cardinals -- 18 since Simmons last donned it. But now, after “Simba” entered Busch Stadium on a Ford Mustang to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, no Cardinal will wear it again.

Simmons’ statue is the 12th to be erected outside of Busch Stadium and the first since Ozzie Smith’s statue was unveiled and dedicated in 2002, at Busch II. His No. 23, meanwhile, is the first Cardinals number retired since Tony La Russa’s No. 10 was hung up in May 2012. Now, it hangs both below the scoreboard in right-center and as part of the mural along the left-field wall.

Simmons’ pair of ceremonies were not dry ones. Rain found St. Louis on Saturday morning. Simmons culminated his celebratory day by fighting back tears.

That’s the appropriate sentiment for how Simmons has had to endure this past quarter-century. One of the more under-appreciated catchers in history, he owned the top two single-season hits totals among catchers for over 20 years, was an All-Star eight times and won a Silver Slugger Award once. He was an on-base percentage darling before such stats were given proper due, tallying more walks than strikeouts in 10 of his 21 career seasons.

He never won in St. Louis, though, only making it to the World Series once as a member of the Brewers, who acquired him via trade -- along with Rollie Fingers and Pete Vuckovich -- in 1980. But then he lost to his former team in 1982, in the Game 7 he longed to experience.

But for many around St. Louis and baseball en masse, this summer has felt a long time coming for Simmons.

“He's a Hall of Famer,” said Rick Hummel, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Hall of Fame writer who was one of Simmons’ most fervent supporters over the years. “And after more than 25 years, a wrong has been righted.”

And a dream come true.

“Those dreams were the dreams of that little boy I was talking about today as a grown man,” Simmons said. “I was that little boy. I dreamed of All-Star Games, and playing the World Series seventh game, to be in the Hall of Fame someday. I dream that I might never retire.

“I dreamed of the statute.”