PEORIA, Ariz. - In his playing days, teammates called him "Simba," because he was a beast at and behind the plate - and for 21 years, Ted Simmons mauled major league baseballs.
He batted .285, hit 248 home runs, had 1,389 RBI as a switch-hitting catcher who was an eight-time All-Star.
That was so long ago, many Seattle Mariners fans don’t remember Simmons as a Hall of Fame-caliber player who last swung a bat in 1988. What he’s done since is nearly as remarkable.
And what he says is about to happen with the Seattle Mariners? Well, you may not believe it – but Simmons does, and he has the ear of general manager Jack Zduriencik.
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“I’ve done it all in baseball, and I bring it all here,” Simmons said. “I help bring perspective to Jack.”
Hired last fall as Zduriencik’s “senior advisor,” Simmons has a résumé off the field that few can match. He’s been a farm director (St. Louis), a general manager (Pittsburgh) and a vice president of baseball operations (San Diego).
Simmons has worked in banking and baseball. He’s been a scout and a coach. He has been part of the rebirth of two franchises in the last three years – the kind of thing the Mariners noticed.
He was a bench coach with Milwaukee in 2008 when the Brewers made the playoffs for the first time since 1982. Simmons helped the ’82 Brewers reach the World Series.
Then he moved on to the San Diego Padres.
“Two years ago, I was in San Diego after they’d lost 99 games,” he said. “They lost 87 my first year there with (manager) Bud Black, but they won 90 the second year. I didn’t turn those teams around, but I helped.”
And now, the Mariners.
“This is a similar situation, a team that lost 101 games,” he said. “I’ve been in that environment before. I’m no seer, but I can help change that.
“If you get it right here – and we will – this team has the capacity financially to keep it going. In San Diego, they couldn’t. That’s why their first baseman is in Boston.
“The budget here is much higher than it was in Milwaukee or San Diego.”
Budget, obviously, is not a solution in and of itself. The Brewers and Padres had quick turnarounds, but can the Mariners?
“It can happen quickly and it will happen here,” Simmons said. “The manager won’t stand for it not happening here.
“Eric Wedge uprooted his wife and children and moved to Seattle. He’s here for the long haul, he is committed. When he talked to this team on Day 1, he told them exactly what kind of player he wanted – and made it clear that if you weren’t that kind of player, he’d find someone else who was.”
“We’re going to find those players here or bring in those players. It will be turned around, and it will keep going,” he said.
What’s the formula?
“I’ll give you the simplest answer: When 25 guys unite, they become a team. To win, you need all 25 players to lock arms, so that your weakest link is between two of your strongest links – which makes that weak link stronger,” Simmons said.
“You want a ‘they can’t beat us, they can’t get us’ attitude.”
How do you get one of those?
“(Catcher) Miguel Olivo is one of those links. No matter what he hits, I know what I saw from him in Colorado, in Kansas City,” Simmons said. “He won’t let guys drift apart. You’ve got to have those guys on a club.
“In the beginning, maybe you’ve got four or five guys together. Then there’s seven of us and then 19-20-21 until even the guys who don’t want to be part of it feel like they have to be, just to see what happens.”
If this all sounds vaguely nave, Simmons insists it is not. He understands the game as few others in a front office do – he has played on good and bad teams, been the GM of a division winner in Pittsburgh and coached teams that made this transition.
“When I was a general manager, former players would approach me and tell me they’d like to stay in the game, coaching or managing,” Simmons said. “I’d ask them one question: Do you know what extended spring means?
“Almost none of them did. I said, ‘When you find out, call me back.’ Once they found out, most never called back.
“Most former players didn’t want to go to spring training, then stay with rookie players in Florida, where it will get to 100 degrees, or in Arizona, where it will be 100 degrees, through June.
“I didn’t mind. I was the GM in Pittsburgh – and I knew what extended spring was.”
Now, Simmons insists he can see these rag-tag Mariners becoming a team, then a winning team, more quickly than almost anyone else.
“A lot of today’s GMs are young guys who know the game but never played it. They’re bright, they’re workaholics and if they surround themselves with good people they will get it right,” he said.
“You have to be able to crunch the numbers, yes. But you need someone who can help you make a subjective decision on players, too. I can help here. It’s why I came.”