Simmons joins 'baseball's most elite family'

September 8th, 2021

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- is one of the most thoughtful stars in baseball history. As he entered the Baseball Hall of Fame here Wednesday afternoon, he delivered a touching, insightful speech worthy of his reputation and the occasion itself.

As the first inductee to address thousands gathered at the Clark Sports Center, Simmons offered an eloquent, gracious reflection on his half-century in professional baseball. He thanked teammates, coaches, and scouts by name, while recognizing each MLB organization for which he played or worked as an executive.

“I have spent lots of time in all of these baseball families,” Simmons said. “They have affirmed and included me. I have lived within many families and am about to step into baseball’s most elite family. I am incredibly humbled.”

Simmons, 72, referenced his long route to Cooperstown. Despite accumulating the most hits of any switch-hitting catcher, he spent only one year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. He received 3.7 percent of the vote in 1994, short of the 5 percent necessary to remain under consideration by the writers.

At last, the Modern Baseball Era Committee elected Simmons in December 2019, more than 30 years after he played his final game for the Braves. Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Bud Selig are known to have advocated to the committee for Simmons’ inclusion in the Hall; Simmons credited both men during his speech.

“There are many roads to Cooperstown,” Simmons said. “For some, it comes quickly. For others, it takes a little time. For those like myself, the path is long. And even though my path fell on the longer side, I would not change a thing.”

Simmons didn’t wait idly for his call to the Hall. He remained involved in the sport for decades as a scout, executive and coach. While noting the prevalence of strikeouts, walks and home runs in the modern game, Simmons predicted, “Our game can change back. Eventually, another George Brett will surface. He’ll hit .360. He’ll homer 40 times. He’ll drive in 160 runs. He’ll strike out 75 times. He’ll walk a hundred times. His on-base percentage will be .420. Our game is fluid. Hitters will begin to beat the defensive shifts, and the pendulum will swing back. The game evolves. It’s just a matter of time.”

Simmons recognized four pioneers in the quest for players’ labor rights: Curt Flood, Catfish Hunter, Andy Messersmith, and Marvin Miller, who joined Simmons in the Hall of Fame Class of 2020. Of Miller, the former Executive Director of the MLB Players Association, Simmons said, “I could not be more proud to enter this great Hall with this great man.”

Miller, who died in 2012 at age 95, wrote in his memoir, "A Whole Different Ball Game," that Simmons “questioned every proposal and position carefully, a trait I admired.” Don Fehr, the former MLBPA chief who spoke about Miller at Wednesday’s ceremony, described Simmons as “one of the most influential players” in the sport on labor matters.

Simmons’ remarks were characterized by unique perspective and enduring gratitude. He thanked George Kissell, the famed St. Louis Cardinals instructor, for providing the imprimatur on his young career. Simmons said Kissell had “the greatest impact on me,” particularly leading up to Simmons’ installation as a full-time Major Leaguer in 1970.

“He taught me fundamental baseball and how to play to win,” Simmons said of Kissell. “I also learned from George how to win and lose with grace. He gave me my first taste of humility. Nobody came through the Cardinals organization to St. Louis without Kissell’s blessing. Nobody. His blessing had to be earned. If George Kissell said no, you did not go.”

Simmons recalled his youth in Michigan, playing in the Detroit Amateur Baseball Federation while following the Tigers of Norm Cash, Rocky Colavito, Frank Lary, Bill Freehan and Hall of Famer Al Kaline, whom Simmons described as “my first hero.”

“He had no idea how much he impacted my life, or what a role model he became for me,” Simmons said. “In my youth, Kaline was my hero. As I stand before you as a man, he remains my hero today.”

Simmons saved his final, most heartfelt thanks for his wife, Maryanne, and family -- as he described them, “those who have been with me the longest and love me the most.”

Simmons addressed Maryanne, seated in the front row, and quoted to her the iconic lyric from “The End,” as written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney; that "Abbey Road" song is remembered as the final track recorded by all four Beatles.

“Maryanne, my partner, my companion, my equal: She remains the same girl that listened with me -- not so long ago -- to the lyrics written by some pretty fabulous folks back in the day,” Simmons said. “And those words: And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. Peace and love, sweetheart. We finally got here.”