May 22 – Happy Birthday Al Simmons

simmonsThere are 38 men currently in the Hall of Fame, who at one point in their careers, played or managed for the Boston Red Sox. Only fourteen of those men established a significant portion of their Hall of Fame credentials while wearing the Red Sox uniform. The rest spent relatively small pieces of their baseball lives with Boston, usually at the very beginning or end of their distinguished careers.

Al Simmons is one of the latter group of Red Sox Hall of Famers. By the time he played any of his home team’s games at Fenway Park, it was 1943, he was already 41 years old, most of baseball’s best players were serving their country in WWII and Simmons was desperately chasing his career goal of achieving 3,000 base hits. (he ended up 73 short.)  He got into just 40 games that year, hit just .205 and then took his bat to Philadephia the following season, ending his career where it all began two decades earlier, as a member of the A’s

In my humble opinion, Al Simmons was one of the greatest all-around players in baseball history. A native of Milwaukee, he joined Connie Mack’s Athletics in 1924 and drove in 1,157 runs for that team during the first nine years of his career and averaged close to .350 doing it. He had outstanding power, was a great baserunner and had a rifle of an arm that helped make him one of the game’s all-time great defensive left-fielders.

He was famous for his open batting stance, in which the toes of his left-foot pointed at third base. To this day, little league coaches warn young hitters to avoid this technique by shouting “You’re stepping in the bucket, move that front foot closer to the plate!” That’s how Simmons got his nickname of “Bucketfoot Al.” He was not exactly a friendly guy on or off the field. I’ve read that he was cocky, very tough on young teammates and drank way too much. But for a dozen seasons in the twenties and thirties, he was as good as any baseball player in the game and he helped Connie Mack’s A’s beat out the mighty Yankees and play in three straight World Series. In fact, when Mack was asked who his most valuable player was, the man who managed such legends as Home Run Baker, Eddie Plank, Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx, and Mickey Cochrane responded wistfully, “If I could only have nine players named Al Simmons.” Bucketfoot Al died in 1956 at the age of 54.

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