MILWAUKEE -- It was “The Trade That Made Milwaukee Famous,” according to the cover of the March 16, 1981, issue of Sports Illustrated. It was the trade that pushed the Brewers to the 1982 World Series. And on Sunday night, the trade that netted Rollie Fingers, Pete Vuckovich and Ted Simmons was looking even better.
Simmons was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Modern Baseball Era electorate on Sunday alongside longtime union leader Marvin Miller. In July, Simmons will join Fingers in Cooperstown, becoming the seventh former Brewers player inducted.
A switch-hitting catcher who spent 21 seasons in the big leagues, Simmons was already a star when Brewers general manager Harry Dalton sent outfielder Sixto Lezcano, pitchers Dave LaPoint and Lary Sorensen, and prospect David Green to the Cardinals for Fingers, Simmons and Vuckovich at the 1980 Winter Meetings. There was a roaring debate in the Brewers’ suite about giving up Green, but Dalton went through with the deal, and he was glad he did. Fingers won the American League MVP and AL Cy Young awards the next season. Vuckovich won the AL Cy Young Award the year after that. Simmons played five seasons in Milwaukee and made the final two of his eight All-Star teams in a Brewers uniform.
“I thought, ‘We’ve got a chance to win everything here,’” Simmons said last summer while recalling the trade. “They had a hell of a team there already, and now they were getting a No. 1 starter and a killer closer, two of the things they didn’t have. And not to belittle any of the others, but they didn’t have a catcher.”
With Fingers, Simmons and Vuckovich on board, the Brewers made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 1981. The following year, they won their first postseason series by defeating the California Angels in the 1982 AL Championship Series before falling to the Cardinals in a seven-game World Series.
When Simmons retired in 1988 following a stint with the Braves, no catcher in baseball history had more hits. Only Hall of Famer Yogi Berra had more RBIs. Only Carlton Fisk had more total bases. Today, Simmons ranks second in hits, doubles and RBIs, and fifth in runs scored among those who played at least 50 percent of their games at catcher.
And yet he received little support when he was eligible for the Hall of Fame in 1994, appearing on only 3.7 percent of ballots and falling out of consideration for future years. The Modern Baseball Era Committee offered him another path, and in 2017 he missed election by only one vote. This time he was named on 13 of 16 ballots (81.3 percent) from a committee that included Brewers Hall of Famer Robin Yount and former Brewers GM Doug Melvin.