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Al Simmons

Al Simmons

Position(s):
OF, 1B
Nicknames:
Bucketfoot Al
Born:
May 22, 1902
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
5' 11"
Weight:
190 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-15-1924 with PHA
Hall of Fame:
1953

"Baseball doesn't owe me a thing. It was wonderful to me, and I owe everything I've got to the game. That's one reason why Id like to stay with it. No other business or fame could have iven me so many happy years." - Al Simmons

One of the most feared hitters of his time, Al Simmons combined with Jimmie Foxx to give the Philadelphia Athletics of the late-1920s and early-1930s an offensive tandem that rivaled the New York Yankees' more highly-publicized duo of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.  In fact, Simmons was often compared to Gehrig, while Foxx was frequently likened to Ruth.  Along with fellow Hall of Famers Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, and Lefty Grove, Simmons helped build a mini-dynasty in Philadelphia that captured three consecutive American League pennants and two world championships between 1929 and 1931.

Biography:

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on May 22, 1902 to Polish immigrants, Aloysius Szymanski changed his name to Al Simmons after he grew weary of hearing his name mispronounced by scorekeepers.  Simmons first broke into professional baseball with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1922.  Philadelphia Athletics owner and manager Connie Mack purchased his contract from Milwaukee at the conclusion of the 1923 campaign, and Simmons made his major-league debut in Philadelphia the following season.  Once the American League's dominant team, the A's had become a perennial cellar-dweller since the penurious Mack disposed of many of his best players after the team was upset by the light-hitting Boston Braves in the 1914 World Series.  But, with Simmons leading the way, the A's won 71 games and finished fifth in the eight-team American League – their best showing since their last pennant-winning season 10 years earlier.  The righthanded- hitting Simmons had an outstanding rookie year, batting .308 and driving in 102 runs.  He went on to bat over .300 and knock in more than 100 runs in each of the next 10 seasons as well.

Simmons was joined in Philadelphia by fellow future Hall of Famers Mickey Cochrane and Lefty Grove in 1925, and the Athletics became a contending team for the first time in more than a decade.  The A's compiled 88 victories and finished second in the league, 8 ½ games behind the pennant-winning Washington Senators.  Simmons was arguably the American League's best player, finishing among the league leaders with 24 home runs, 129 runs batted in, 122 runs scored, 43 doubles, and a .387 batting average, and topping the circuit with 253 hits, a .599 slugging percentage, and 392 total bases.  The leftfielder finished second in the league MVP voting. 

Simmons had another outstanding year in 1926, hitting 19 homers, driving in 109 runs, scoring 90 others, and batting .341.  Philadelphia finished third in the American League, only six games behind the first-place Yankees, and Simmons placed seventh in the MVP balloting.

Various physical ailments limited Simmons to just 106 games and 406 official at-bats in 1927, but he still managed to knock in 108 runs and bat a career-high .392.  Despite winning 91 games, the Athletics finished second, 19 games behind the pennant-winning Yankees, who compiled one of the greatest seasons in baseball history.  Nevertheless, Simmons placed fourth in the league MVP voting.

Simmons missed a considerable amount of playing time again in 1928, but he drove in 107 runs and batted .351, to help lead the A's to 98 victories and a close second-place finish to the Yankees.  Jimmie Foxx joined Simmons in the Philadelphia lineup that year, giving the team another powerful righthanded bat in the middle of its batting order.  But, as good as the 21-year-old Foxx was, he had yet to reach his peak.  Simmons remained the A's most dangerous hitter and the most important player on the team that captured the next three American League pennants.

Hitting Style:

Employing an unorthodox batting style that earned him the nickname Bucketfoot due to his tendency to step towards third base before unleashing his powerful swing, Simmons was among baseball's most feared batsmen.  Although he stood just under six-feet tall, Simmons had unusually long arms that provided him exceptional plate coverage, enabling him to drive the ball with power to all fields.  The 210-pound Simmons was predominantly a line-drive hitter, but he also had outstanding home run power.

Ted Williams only played against Simmons during the latter stages of the aging slugger's career, but he was nonetheless extremely impressed with him.  Williams ranked Simmons number 14 on his list of baseball's all-time greatest hitters in his book entitled Ted Williams' Hit List.  The former Boston great discussed Simmons in his work, saying: "Al Simmons had as much raw power at the plate as anyone who ever played the game...When I looked at Simmons he reminded me of Gargantua.  Of all the hitters that I saw with a bat, he looked the most menacing.  Not big and heavy, just BIG!  Big arms, big hands – a big, strong, burly guy.  He had a bat as long as a barge pole and he'd stride up to the plate with that thing and scare you to death."

A's Dynasty:

SI Cover with Al SimmonsSimmons was never more imposing to American League pitchers than he was in 1929. Fully healthy again for the first time in three years, the slugger began a four-year run that was the most productive of his career.  In addition to leading the league with 157 runs batted in and 373 total bases in 1929, he finished second with a .365 batting average and a .642 slugging percentage, and he placed third with 34 home runs and 212 hits.   Although the American League did not present an official Most Valuable Player Award that year, Simmons was named the league's MVP in an "unofficial" poll that was taken.  The A's ended New York's three-year reign as league champions by posting 104 victories, to finish 18 games ahead of the second-place Yankees.  They then defeated the Chicago Cubs in five games in the World Series, with Simmons batting .300, hitting two homers, driving in five runs, and scoring six times himself during the Fall Classic.

Simmons was again arguably the American League's best player in 1930, placing among the league leaders with 36 home runs, 165 runs batted in, 16 triples, 41 doubles, 211 hits, 392 total bases, a .423 on-base percentage, and a .708 slugging percentage, and  topping the circuit with 152 runs scored and a .381 batting average.  The slugger led Philadelphia to a 102-52 record and an eight-game margin of victory over the second-place Washington Senators during the regular season.  He then starred in the World Series for the second consecutive year, hitting two home runs, driving in four runs, and batting .364 against St. Louis during Philadelphia's six-game triumph.

Simmons paced the A's offense again in 1931, when the team captured its third consecutive A.L. pennant by posting a franchise-best 107-45 record during the regular season, en route to finishing 13 ½ games ahead of the second-place Yankees.  In addition to placing among the league leaders in home runs, runs batted in, slugging percentage, hits, and total bases, Simmons topped the circuit with a .390 batting average.  He finished third in the league MVP voting.  Although the A's lost the World Series to the Cardinals in seven games, Simmons once again starred in the Fall Classic, batting .333, with two homers and eight runs batted in.

The A's failed to win their fourth consecutive pennant in 1932, despite winning 94 games and receiving phenomenal seasons from both Foxx and Simmons.  The Yankees put an end to Philadelphia's mini-dynasty by winning 107 games and finishing 13 games ahead of the second-place Athletics.  Foxx was the league's dominant player that year, batting .364 and leading the league with 58 home runs, 169 runs batted in, and 151 runs scored.  But Simmons wasn't very far behind his teammate, batting .322, leading the league with 216 hits, and finishing among the leaders with 35 home runs, 151 runs batted in, 144 runs scored, 367 total bases, and a .548 slugging percentage.

End of Dynasty:

The 1932 season marked the end of Simmons' time in Philadelphia.  After failing to win the pennant for the first time in four years, Connie Mack elected to break up his team, much as he did almost two decades earlier.  Simmons was the first to go, being dispatched to the Chicago White Sox.

Simmons spent three years in Chicago, making the All-Star Team each season, and batting well over .300 while also Simmons in Detroitdriving in more than 100 runs in each of the first two years.  He then moved on to Detroit, where he had an outstanding season for the Tigers in 1936.  At the end of the year, Simmons was dealt to the Senators, with whom he spent his final two seasons as a regular.  He split his final five years between the Braves, Reds, Red Sox, and Athletics, ending his career in 1944 with the team he came up with 20 years earlier.  Simmons retired from the game with 307 home runs, 1,827 runs batted in, 1,507 runs scored, 2,927 hits, and a .334 lifetime batting average.  He led the league in batting average and hits two times each, and he topped the circuit in runs batted in, runs scored, and slugging once each.  Simmons surpassed 30 homers three times, 40 doubles four times, 200 hits six times, and 100 runs scored on six separate occasions.  He drove in more than 100 runs and batted over .300 in 11 straight seasons from 1924 to 1934, surpassing 150 runs batted in three times, and batting over .350 in six different seasons.  Simmons topped the .380-mark in batting on three separate occasions.  Simmons reached the 2,000-hit plateau in his first 1,390 games, which remains the shortest number of games needed to attain that mark in major league history.

Perhaps the lone regret Simmons had regarding his baseball career was his inability to accumulate 3,000 hits.  Long after his playing days were over, the slugger indicated that he could have reached that milestone had he taken the game more seriously.  Simmons often grieved about the times he sat out games to nurse a hangover, or left a one-sided contest early for a quick shower and a night out on the town.  As a grizzled coach, he later imparted his knowledge to another outstanding player of Polish descent, advising a young Stan Musial, "Never relax on any time at bat; never miss a game you can play."

After his playing days ended, Simmons served as a coach for Connie Mack's Athletics from 1945-49, and for the Cleveland Indians in 1950.  He died of a heart attack in Milwaukee at age 54 on May 26, 1956.

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Tagged:
Al Simmons, All-Star, Baseball History, Chicago White Sox, Connie Mack, Detroit Tigers, Hall of Fame, Jimmie Foxx, Philadelphia Athletics, Washington Senators

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