Contemplating Ted Simmons

Ted Simmons is going into the Hall of Fame, and it's not before time. He was a great player with St Louis and Milwaukee (his Atlanta years are best overlooked) and suffered with HOF voters for not being named Carlton Fisk or Johnny Bench. (Pirates' legend Manny Sanguillen, whose numbers probably don't warrant HOF induction, also suffered from not being named Fisk or Bench -- or Simmons, or Carter, for that matter.) So despite his late inclusion, I don't quarrel with Simmons' going into Cooperstown. But let's look at his tenure with the Pirates.

In 1992, after Pittsburgh had given in to Atlanta in Game 7 of the NLCS to drop their second consecutive playoff series, and Bobby Bonilla took the baseball equivalent of French Leave to visit his father, Simmons replaced the fired Larry Doughty as the Pirates' general manager.

Simmons had no experience in the job, and proved it immediately. He traded John Smiley for Denny Neagle, who eventually became a good pitcher, and Midre Cummings, a borderline major leaguer. Smiley commented that he would have re-signed with Pittsburgh if the team had made him anything close to a fair offer. Considering that part of Simmons' mandate was to cut payroll, re-signing Smiley might not have been a bad option, since he wasn't going to fight for every dollar. Perhaps trading someone less interested in staying with Pittsburgh might have been the wiser course.

But Simmons knew he could top the Smiley trade, and did so with a bizarre chain of events that made everyone associated with the Pirates look stupid. He took Miguel Bautista from Montreal as a Rule 5 player, costing the Pirates $50K, and then announced he was trading Bill Landrum. This freed up a roster spot for Bautista, but as Landrum was the Pirates' closer, this was not an even-up move. True, Landrum's relationship with Jim Leyland was fractious due to Leyland making obvious his lack of confidence in Landrum; the more Leyland fretted about Landrum's gradual slide from dominance (1989) to good (1991), the more difficulty Landrum had getting through an inning unscathed. Still, he had a fair amount of trade value, so if the Pirates were willing to deal, he would have netted something of value. Until....

Until Simmons made it clear that under no circumstances would Landrum be retained. He was definitely going to be traded. As a result, there were no takers. Since Simmons was determined to be rid of Landrum and his $2M salary, the league decided to let him do so, effectively making Landrum a free agent. Several teams took an interest after Simmons was no longer negotiating with himself, and in the end, it came down to the Yankees and the Expos. Landrum signed with Montreal, and hurt his arm a few weeks into the season, effectively ending his career. (He did see action with Cincinnati in 1993.)

Perhaps it could be said that Landrum's injury justified the release, but there was no way of knowing at the time that Landrum would get hurt a month into the season, and besides, the Pirates missed out on getting trade value. This also meant Pittsburgh was stuck with erratic set-up man Stan Belinda as a closer, which made only Leyland happy. On top of that, the Bautista era in Pittsburgh was brief, because there are few game situations in which a contender can use a Rule 5 player. Before long, the Pirates, as was inevitable, offered Bautista back to Montreal for $25K, and off he went. So in the end, Simmons engineered what was effectively a trade with Montreal in which the Expos got Landrum, Bautista, and $25K, and the Pirates got -- wait for it -- absolutely nothing. Very few, if any, executives have ever been able to mastermind a move of this caliber. (Doughty at least managed to get Carmelo Martinez when he was trying not to waive Wes Chamberlain and Julio Peguero.)

Just to show he was still in charge, Simmons then announced that the "shop window" was closed, and that he would now "relax and get out of the way and let the Pirates develop in a normal way." Remarkably, they did win another division title, setting into motion a third straight NLCS defeat, but the rot had set in, and it would be 21 more years before the Pirates saw postseason baseball again. Simmons completed his season as GM by encoring the playoff defeat with a heart attack, after which he resigned. (Watching the Pirates play is bound to have a deleterious effect on the health of the strongest of men.)

As Simmons enters Cooperstown, let us remember him not as a general manager with the certitude of Moe Howard and the cunning of Elmer Fudd, but rather his glory years as a player. Whatever can be said of his time in Pittsburgh, including crediting him, as the St Louis Post-Dispatch recently tried to do, as the last GM to win a division title for the Pirates (reminding us to never underestimate Midwestern wit), he was one of the very best at his position in an era of all-time greats, and for that, he should be celebrated.

But he would do well in his acceptance speech to confine his remarks about Pittsburgh to catching Bob Gibson's no-hitter against the Pirates in 1971.

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