The name of Curt Simmons is never mentioned these days when discussing great Cardinals of the past. It is a simple fact that if not for Simmons, the Cardinals would not have won the National League pennant in 1964. He certainly pitched well enough to win game 3 of the World Series allowing a single run in 8 innings. If not for a “hit me a long way” floating knuckler from Barney Schultz, the series might have ended in five games, not seven.
Curt Simmons broke into the majors with the Philadelpha Phillies as an 18 year old in 1947. Broke in is perhaps an understatement. He exploded on the scene winning a brilliantly pitched complete game 5 hitter against the New York Giants on the last day of the season. The next year he would join right hander Robin Roberts and the core of the Whiz Kids had been formed. The Whiz Kids were a group of young players that came out of the Phillies farm system and led the team to a National League Pennant in 1950. It included Simmons, Roberts, Bob Miller, Del Ennis, Granny Hamner, Willie “Puddin’ Head” Jones and Richie Ashburn. Ashburn and Roberts were two of the greatest players of their era and would both go on to Hall of Fame careers.
Like many young hard throwing pitchers, Simmons struggled with his control early in his career. He finally gained it and had an amazing season in 1950 going 17-8 with 11 complete games, 2 shutouts and 1 save. Even more impressive, he compiled these numbers while missing the last month of the season when his unit was called up to serve in Korea. The Phillies would hold on and go to the World Series without Simmons. He was granted a leave to attend the World Series but was not eligible to play and was only able to throw batting practice. Without his arm in the rotation, the Phils were swept in four games by the Yankees.
He would miss the entire 1951 season, returning from Korea in April 1952 to resume his major league career. Although he was a bit rusty from missing the previous season, he would go 14-8 with a 2.82 ERA and lead the league with 6 shutouts. His 1953 season would be interrupted by a lawnmower accident where he would lose a portion of his big toe. He would miss a month, but still log a huge number of innings, 4 shutouts and a 16-13 record. His pitching stats would improve in 1954 but the Phils weren’t able to pick him up and had a losing record of 14-15. Injuries would give Simmons a setback in 1955 but he rebounded with a solid 15-10 season in 1956. The Phillies stuck with him but some serious arm problems would start showing up in 1958 and cost him nearly the entire 1959 season. Thinking his career was over, the Phillies would release Simmons in May 1960. 3 days later the Cardinals would make one of their great gambles, signing the injured Simmons. He would rehab and make his Cardinals debut a few weeks later as a reliever, joining Bob Gibson in the bullpen. Knowing that his arm would not handle the stress of his hard throwing, he successfully made the transition from flamethrower to crafty breaking ball specialist. His big break would come on July 1 when he was used as an emergency starter for the second game of a double header. And the crafty lefty surprised everybody with a solid 7inning performance. He would not get the decision, but he would stay in the starting rotation for the rest of his Cardinal career (5+ years).
His next big break would come in the middle of 1961 when the Cardinals fired manager Solly Hemus. Johnny Keane would take over and the fortunes of the organization would change. Keane would make a lot of changes including moving Gibson from relief into the starting rotation along with a young Ray Sadecki, and Ernie Broglio. Ray Washburn would join the rotation in 1962 and by 1963 the Cardinals had two aces in Gibson and Broglio (both 18-9) with the 34 year old Simmons keeping pace with a 15-9 record.
All of this would lead up to the amazing 1964 season with Gibson winning 19, Sadecki 20, and the wily veteran Simmons having his best season since 1950 going 18-9. Simmons was simply amazing logging a huge number of innings and posting a better WHIP than Bob Gibson.
His pitching motion featured a big leg kick with his pitching hand dropping all the way down to his legs before coming out from behind his knees. Batters had very little time to pick up the baseball, especially from the left side of the plate. And in 1964 he was one of the most dominant pitchers in the game.
His duty to his country cost him a World Series appearance in 1950. His patience and perseverance would pay off and he would finally get his chance 17 years later with the Cardinals. He would start game 3 in Yankee Stadium and pitch a gem of a game, matching eventual winner Jim Bouton allowing just a single run when Clete Boyer banged a double scoring Elston Howard from second base. Clete’s brother Ken would get revenge with a grand slam in the next game making a winner of Ray Sadecki and tying the series 2-2. Simmons would also start game 6 and pitch well but would give up home runs to Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris on consecutive pitches. The Cardinals would rally late but Schultz would again be hit hard and Simmons would take the loss. Thanks to two outstanding performances by Bob Gibson in Games 5 and 7, the Cardinals would win the series and Simmons would have his World Series ring.
Simmons would have a difficult season in 1965, losing 15 games and seeing his ERA climb over 4 for the first time as a Cardinal. In June 1966 he would be sent to the Chicago Cubs splitting time as a starter and in the bullpen. He would be sent to the California Angels in the middle of 1967, his last season in the major leagues.
Over a 20 year career, Simmons would pile up 193 wins and 183 losses and a career 3.54 ERA. He successfully transitioned from a hard throwing pitcher to a deceptive master with a rather nasty curveball that just devoured left handed batters. Among all of this he served his nation when called in 1950. The Cardinals needed every win to reach the World Series in 1964 and Simmons delivered a career high of 18. The young hard throwing pitching staff of Gibson, Sadecki and Washburn needed a veteran to teach them how to pitch, and Simmons was that veteran. Fans of the current players wearing the Birds on the bat need to remember this amazing pitcher. Another unforgotten Cardinal.