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Perrotto: Leyland-Simmons Relationship Interesting Hall of Fame Dynamic



Ted Simmons, Pittsburgh Pirates, Jim Leyland

It was a shotgun marriage at best.

When Mark Sauer took over as the Pittsburgh Pirates team president in 1991, he was given a mandate from ownership to cut costs. Yes, some things never change.

The Pirates had won back-to-back National League East titles. They also had one of the highest payrolls in the major leagues.

No, younger fans, I did not make that last paragraph up.

Then-general manager Larry Doughty was fired, though, after signing slick-fielding second baseman Jose Lind to a contract extension during the 1991-92 offseason without receiving Sauer’s permission.

Sauer had served in the same role with the St. Louis Cardinals before coming to Pittsburgh. Thus, it was no surprise that he hired Cardinals farm director Ted Simmons to replace Doughty.

Jim Leyland had been the Pirates’ manager for six seasons. He was firmly entrenched following the consecutive division championships.

Sauer couldn’t have known what a mismatched pair Leyland and Simmons would be. They couldn’t get along from the start and had an acrimonious relationship before Simmons resigned during the 1993 season after suffering a heart attack.

Thirty years later, Leyland and Simmons are intertwined again.

Leyland is one of eight men on the Hall of Fame’s Contemporary Era ballot. Simmons is one of 16 committee members who will vote and decide whether Leyland gets inducted in Cooperstown in July, the Hall announced Monday.

The voting will be held Sunday at the beginning of baseball’s Winter Meetings in Nashville. Candidates need to be named on 12 of the 16 ballots (75%) to gain election.

Simmons and Leyland are about as different as two people can be.

Simmons was an outstanding major-league catcher who played for 21 seasons from 1968-88. He was selected to eight All-Star Games and was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2021.

A cerebral sort, Simmons is well-versed in many subjects in a Renaissance Man kind of way.

Leyland is more hardscrabble and an everyman-type guy, which made him extremely popular with blue-collar Pirates fans. He has an endless supply of bad jokes and still chain smokes at 78 years old.

Leyland was also a catcher but never got past Double-A and was a .222 lifetime hitter in seven minor-league seasons from 1964-70. Leyland also managed in the minors for 11 seasons before Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa brought him to the Chicago White Sox in 1982 as his third base coach.

Four other Hall of Fame players will join Simmons as voters — Jeff Bagwell, Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones and Jim Thome. Retired manager Joe Torre and former Commissioner Bud Selig, both elected to the hall, are also on the committee along with executives Sandy Alderson, Bill DeWitt, Michael Hill, Ken Kendrick, Andy MacPhail and Phyllis Merhige as well as media members/historians Sean Forman, Jack O’Connell and Jesus Ortiz.

In addition to Leyland, the ballot includes former managers Cito Gaston, Davey Johnson and Lou Piniella; retired umpires Ed Montague and Joe West; former National League President Bill White and late executive Hank Peters.

I covered the entirety of the Leyland-Simmons partnership with the Pirates. It lasted not even quite a year and a half, but there was enough vitriol to last a lifetime.

To each man’s credit, neither ever took the feud public. However, it was not a secret in Pirates’ circles.

In retrospect, there was likely some jealousy involved. Leyland never came close to having Simmons’ success as a player, but Simmons couldn’t connect with people on the level and become a fan favorite like Leyland.

I like both men very much. It is always a treat to run into them on the baseball trail. Both have always been very generous with their time, and I’ve learned a lot about baseball from them.

I never took a side in their rift back then, and I’m not about to now. I must admit, though, it’s fascinating to see the two in this Hall of Fame situation.

It again shows that no sport seems to have more paths intersecting than baseball.

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