Simmons, Al(oysius) Harry

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SIMMONS, Al(oysius) Harry

(b. 22 May 1902 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; d. 26 May 1956 in Milwaukee), professional baseball player made famous by his unique batting style and a lifetime batting average of .334. During a career that lasted 20 seasons, he batted in a total of 307 home runs.

Born Aloysius Harry Szymanski, Simmons was the son of John Szymanski, foreman at a brush factory, and Agnes Czarniecki Szymanski, a homemaker. After his father died in 1912, Simmons became the primary breadwinner for the family. He worked a variety of after-school and weekend jobs, including newspaper delivery boy, messenger, and truck driver. Despite the heavy workload, Simmons managed to graduate from high school in June 1920. Involved in amateur baseball through most of his teens, Simmons played semiprofessional ball in Stevens Point and Juneau, Wisconsin, during the summer of 1921. In September of 1921 he began college at Stevens Point Normal School, which had recruited him for its football team. He suffered an injury in his first game for Stevens Point, quickly ending both his football and college career. In 1921 he changed his last name and signed with Aberdeen of the Dakota League. He was an overnight sensation, leading the league in total hits and batting .365 his first year out. He signed with Shreveport in the Texas League in 1923 and hit .360 for the season. At season's end he played a few games with the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association. In 1924 the Brewers sold Simmons to the Philadelphia Athletics for $40,000.

A right-handed outfielder, Simmons was noted for his lightning speed and strong throwing arm. In 1925 he led all American League (AL) outfielders in total putouts. Switching from center field to left field in 1928, he continued to perform at high levels, leading AL outfielders in fielding percentage in 1929, 1930, and 1937. Although his batting style was unorthodox, it served Simmons very well. He was dubbed "Bucketfoot Al" for his habit of standing deep in the batter's box and then stepping toward third base as he swung the bat, a maneuver that ballplayers called "putting your foot in the bucket." For 13 full seasons, Simmons hit an average of .300 or better, earning a lifetime batting average of .334. He earned the AL's top batting honors in 1930 with an average of .381, and in 1931 with a .390. A particularly effective batter with teammates on base, Simmons drove in at least 100 runs in each of 12 seasons. His lifetime total of more than 1,800 runs batted in remains among the very best in baseball history.

Simmons's ability to deliver in desperate situations was perhaps best illustrated during the seventh inning of a World Series game the Athletics played against the Chicago Cubs on 12 October 1929. In that inning alone, Philadelphia scored 10 runs, eclipsing the Cubs earlier lead of 8–0. Simmons's contribution to the rally included a home run and a single. A player for the Philadelphia Athletics during that team's heyday in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Simmons earned a reputation as a slugger. The Philadelphia team, managed by the legendary Connie Mack and powered by such players as Mickey Cochrane, Jimmy Foxx, Lefty Grove, and Simmons, won three consecutive AL pennants in 1929, 1930, and 1931 and went on to win the World Series in 1929 and 1930. Simmons was named the AL's Most Valuable Player in 1929 and was selected by sportswriters to play outfield on the Sporting News All-Star Major League Team in 1927, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1933, and 1934.

Well aware of his popularity with fans and his value to the Athletics as both a hitter and an outfielder, Simmons was not above using this clout to win a handsome contract. In the depths of the Great Depression, he managed to pressure a very reluctant Philadelphia management into signing a three-year deal worth $100,000. That high salary eventually proved Simmons's undoing in Philadelphia. When the Athletics failed to win the AL pennant in 1932, the fans stopped flocking to games. This put pressure on Philadelphia's management to unload Simmons, whose hefty salary began to prove more and more of a burden. In the end, the Athletics traded Simmons and two other players to the Chicago White Sox in a deal worth $150,000 to Philadelphia. Simmons married Dorris Lynn Reader on 6 August 1934, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1941. The couple had one child.

Simmons served the White Sox well during the seasons of 1933 and 1934, but performed poorly in 1935, leading Chicago to sell him that winter to the Detroit Tigers for $75,000. He played well for Detroit in 1936, but when the Tigers did not win the pennant again that year, Simmons was sold to the Washington Senators for $15,000. After two lackluster seasons for the Senators, he was sold to the Boston Braves for the 1939 season. The Cincinnati Reds came shopping for Simmons in August 1939, hoping that he could help them clinch the pennant, which he did. Once that goal had been accomplished, however, it seemed that Cincinnati had no further need of his services. The Reds released Simmons, and he signed on with the Athletics as a player-coach. He held that position from 1940 through 1942, and again in the 1944 season. In 1943 he played for the Boston Red Sox. From 1945 through 1949, he remained with the Athletics as a nonplaying coach. Simmons's final season in professional baseball was spent as a coach for the Cleveland Indians in 1950.

As hard as he tried to make it a reality, Simmons never achieved one of his goals in baseball. Late in his career, he had announced his intention of attaining 3,000 base hits before he retired. Although he stayed in the game long beyond the point when he should have retired, he failed to make this mark by seventy-three hits. Disgusted with himself for the times that he had squandered his opportunities at bat or begged off playing altogether to nurse a hangover, Simmons offered this sage advice to the newcomer Stan Musial: "Never relax on any time at bat; never miss a game you can play."

Simmons may have had an unconventional batting stance, but it is doubtful whether the ball clubs for whom he played cared much how Simmons stood—not when he cranked out a career total of 307 home runs and a batting average of .334. Inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953, Simmons received 199 votes of the total 264 ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Perhaps the greatest tribute to Simmons came from his old coach at the Athletics, Connie Mack. Mack, who coached for more than fifty years, was asked who could provide the most value to a team. He puzzled over the question for a minute and then replied, "If I could only have nine players named Simmons." Simmons's reputation as a great hitter sometimes overshadows his talent as a fielder. After a few seasons as a center fielder, Simmons was shifted by Mack to left field, which turned out to be tailor-made for his talents. When Simmons left baseball in the early 1950s, he returned to his native Milwaukee, where he died of a heart attack just four days after his fifty-third birthday. He is buried at Saint Adalberts Cemetery in Saint Francis, Wisconsin.

Brief summaries and assessments of Simmons's career are in Thomas W. Meany, Baseball ' s Greatest Hitters (1950); Ira L. Smith, Baseball ' s Famous Outfielders (1954); Arthur Daley, Kings of the Home Run (1962); and Robert M. Broeg, Super Stars of Baseball: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Laughs, Their Laments (1971). An obituary is in the Milwaukee Journal (26 May 1956).

Don Amerman

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Simmons, Al(oysius) Harry

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