Ted Simmons and the Bizarre Brawl

Busch Memorial Stadium was the site of a strange baseball brawl involving Hall of Famer Ted Simmons in 1974. (via Missouri State Archives)

One of the benefits of working at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is the opportunity to meet newly elected Hall of Famers during their wintertime orientation visits to Cooperstown. Earlier this month, staff members had their chance to talk to Ted Simmons, who finally earned election to the Hall through the Era Committee that met and voted in December.

As a fan of Simmons, I was glad to see him earn his place in Cooperstown. I especially wanted to meet him and was not disappointed. It would be hard to meet a former player more gracious, more outgoing, and more appreciative than Simmons, who spent several minutes with almost every staff member during a meet-and-greet in the Hall’s Learning Center.

As cordial as Simmons was during his orientation visit to central New York, it’s easy to forget just how competitive he was as a player. He was a hard-nosed, rough-and-tumble catcher who played the game all-out, drawing the respect of his teammates at stops in St. Louis, Milwaukee and Atlanta during a career that touched three decades. Like many of the great catchers of teh 1970s and ‘80s, Simmons showed remarkable toughness; over a 10-year span, he averaged 135 games behind the plate, often playing with aches and pains while still maintaining a standard of hitting that belied the wear and tear of the position.

Simmons was a fiery player, too, one who could become angered in the pursuit of winning. In the latter stages of 1974, Simmons became a prime participant in one of the strangest brawls I’ve ever seen in watching the game over the past 50 years. It was not your typical baseball fight given the strange way it began, with two members of the Chicago Cubs stepping into the batter’s box at the same time.

It was September 22 of that season, St. Louis hosting Chicago at Busch Memorial Stadium. At the time, Simmons and the Cardinals were holding onto a half-game lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates for the top spot in the National League East. Meanwhile, the Cubs were on their way to a last-place finish in the East. But even as non-contenders, the Cubs tended to be motivated when playing the Cardinals, given their intense division rivalry.

Bob Gibson and Steve Stone started the game for the Cardinals and Cubs, respectively, but neither right-hander pitched particularly well, each allowing four earned runs before giving way to the bullpens. With the score tied at 5-5 heading to the top of the eighth inning, Cards manager Red Schoendienst called on his ace reliever, Al Hrabosky, to replace Gibson. Hrabosky retired the Cubs in short order in the eighth on fly balls from Billy Grabarkewitz and Rick Monday and an infield pop-up by Don Kessinger.

The bottom of the eighth also proceeded without incident. After allowing a leadoff single to Joe Torre, Cubs reliever Dave LaRoche settled down by inducing the speedy Bake McBride to ground into a double play. Ken Reitz then doubled but was left stranded when pinch-hitter Jack Heidemann flied out to right field.

With the score remaining tied heading to the ninth, Hrabosky decided to make the Cubs wait by going through his trademark routine, which he called “The Psych.” Hrabosky walked behind the mound, furiously rubbed up the ball, muttered a few words to himself as motivation, and then slammed the ball from his bare hand into his glove before stomping back onto the mound. The Cubs’ first batter of the inning, future batting champion Bill Madlock, had little interest in waiting patiently for Hrabosky to carry out the gestures of The Psych. As “The Mad Hungarian” primped his way through his pre-arranged maneuvers, Madlock stepped out of the batter’s box and walked back toward the on-deck circle.

Once Hrabosky returned to the mound, Madlock made his way back to the plate. As Madlock stepped in to the batter’s box, Hrabosky repeated his psych-up routine. He again walked behind the mound, rubbed up the ball, and then slammed it into his glove. So once again, Madlock stepped out of the box and returned to the on-deck circle.

Home plate umpire Shag Crawford, a veteran of National League games beginning in 1956, grew irritated by the delays. According to an interview in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Crawford yelled at Madlock, “Bill, get back here!” After the game, Crawford explained the situation further. “I thought maybe he didn’t hear me because of the crowd noise (created by the 43,267 fans in attendance). So I went after him and said it again.”

The Cubs were furious, feeling Crawford was essentially placing the blame on Madlock for the delay and not Hrabosky. Cubs manager Jim Marshall charged out of the third base dugout and ran to a point between the dugout and home plate, where he was met by Crawford and also joined by the Cubs’ on-deck batter, Jose Cardenal. Marshall and Cardenal began to argue with Crawford, but the umpire had little patience with the discussion. After only a few seconds , he walked away back to home plate. As Marshall and Cardenal continued their arguments with him, Crawford crouched behind home plate, pumped his first toward Hrabosky, and ordered the left-hander to deliver the next pitch.

It was an odd decision by the respected Crawford, a veteran of three World Series, and it only seemed to exacerbate the situation. With no one standing in the batter’s box, Hrabosky threw a fastball to Simmons, who caught the ball well above the plane of the strike zone. The pitch was clearly a ball, but Crawford called it a strike, further angering the Cubs.

Realizing Hrabosky now had the advantage of pitching against a phantom batter, Cardenal waved at Madlock before suddenly stepping into the batter’s box himself as a way of trying to salvage the at-bat. Now, making a frantic dash from the on-deck circle, Madlock tried to push Cardenal out of the way and take his own place in the batter’s box. All the while, Marshall was standing just to the right of Simmons, who pushed the manager away as he moved into his crouch to receive the next pitch. Moving forward in the box as the pitch came in, Madlock watched a hard fastball as it sailed high and inside, forcing him to lean backward to avoid being hit.

Given the mayhem at home plate, it was not clear whether Crawford called the pitch a ball or a strike. But that became a side issue. As Madlock took that pitch, Cardenal remained at the front of the batter’s box, creating one of the most unusual sights in baseball history: two batters in the box at the same time. To make the situation even more chaotic, there were now five men within the vicinity of the home plate area: Madlock and Cardenal, along with Simmons, Marshall, and Crawford. Meanwhile, the crowd at Busch Stadium observed the surreal setting in confusion, unsure of exactly what was happening.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Given the overcrowding at home plate and the general anger of the participants, it was inevitable the situation would deteriorate into a further conflict between the Cubs and Crawford or a conflict between the two teams. It was the latter scenario that came to pass.

Simmons and Madlock exchanged words, with Simmons appearing to start the conversation. A moment later, Simmons pushed his fist into Madlock’s face, spurring Cardenal to retaliate with a right cross to Simmons. Marshall tried and failed to restrain Simmons, both benches poured onto the field, and relievers from both bullpens soon followed them. To make the matter more complicated, both teams were playing with expanded September rosters, which added to the number of combatants gathered on the Busch Stadium infield.

After the game, Simmons tried to explain what triggered his decision to punch Madlock. “I looked up,” Simmons told the Post-Dispatch, “and he [Madlock] was standing there with his bat, looking at me. I said, ‘What are you looking at?’ And [Madlock] said, ‘Get lost.’

“Then I hit him.”

Here’s the video.

Among the fans witnessing the riotous scene was Pat Dean, the widow of Cardinals Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean. She had been invited to the game as part of a ceremony in which the Cardinals retired Dean’s uniform number. For her part, Mrs. Dean was not offended by the proceedings, either the initial conflict at home plate or the ensuing brawl. “They must have done this for Diz,” she told reporters. “It looked like the old Gashouse Gang [out there].”

In true Gashouse Gang fashion, Simmons had punched Madlock squarely in the chin. But in so doing, Simmons suffered a cut to the knuckles on his right hand. Normally, a punch like that would have resulted in an ejection, but once the melee settled down, Simmons was allowed to remain in the game, as were Madlock and Cardenal. Not a single player from either team was ejected. The only person to receive the heave-ho from Crawford was manager Marshall, despite the fact that he didn’t punch anyone and simply had tried to fill the role of peacemaker. It was the most memorable moment in Marshall’s otherwise obscure tenure as the Cubs manager in the post-Leo Durocher and Whitey Lockman phase.

Once the two teams returned to their dugouts and bullpens, Hrabosky and Madlock resumed their match-up, this time with the Cubs’ third baseman fully settled into the batter’s box. Claiming later the incident psyched him even more, Hrabosky struck out Madlock and retired Cardenal on an easy pop-up and then struck out LaRoche, his mound counterpart, to end the inning.

And then came the bottom of the ninth in a situation that demanded Simmons do something dramatic after coming to blows with Madlock. After LaRoche struck out Hrabosky to start the inning, Lou Brock singled. Following a strikeout by Ted Sizemore, Reggie Smith walked, putting Cardinals runners on first and second with two outs. The next scheduled batter? It had to be Simmons, who promptly lined a single to center field, scoring Brock to win the game, 6-5.

It was a storybook ending to a game filled with drama, controversy, and surreal moments. It would make for even better theater if the ’74 Cardinals had gone on to win the National League East. Alas, they lost their next two games of the season to Pittsburgh and ultimately fell short of winning the division by a game and a half. Those losses delayed Simmons’ first foray into the postseason by seven years, when he would appear in the strike-created Division Series as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Now, 46 years after that bizarre brawl with Madlock and the Cubs, Simmons will have to settle for a calm and peaceful berth in Cooperstown.

References & Resources

  • “RetroSimba” Blog
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Bruce Markusen has authored seven baseball books, including biographies of Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Ted Williams, and A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, which was awarded SABR's Seymour Medal.
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3 years ago

I think the link for Pat Dean might be… not quite the right Pat Dean.

3 years ago

Madlock was a rookie that season so it might have also affected Simmons response

3 years ago

Would have liked to see what happened had Marshall, in a sort of John McEnroe type of way, simply called his players off the field and challenged the ump to declare a forfeit or to actually call strikes and get the game moving another way.

3 years ago

I was handed a full size Jack Heidemann bat during the Bat Day promotion at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium in 1971……………I was not overjoyed,but I still have that bat(my late father varnished it at one point) and a memory triggered by Mr. Markusen’s story.

Thank you!

The Duke
3 years ago

Bruce – there has to be video of this somewhere. Any chance of finding it – it would be brilliant to see this unfold on tape

Great, great story

3 years ago

This is a case of an umpire losing his cool and a much rarer case of an umpire provoking a bench- and bullpen-clearing brawl. Not Shag Crawford’s finest moment. But it makes for a great story. Thanks for telling it.