Simmons, Porter star in St. Louis tale of two World Series catchers

By , Sports editor of The Christian Science Monitor

There's been plenty of human drama on both sides in the 1982 World Series, but nowhere more so than in the travels and travails of the two catchers.

Milwaukee's Ted Simmons, of course, has the mixed emotions of a man who spent more than a decade as a big star and fan favorite in St. Louis, then got traded away only to come back in an enemy uniform for the biggest games of his career.

Cardinal receiver Darrell Porter, meanwhile, traveled in the opposite direction. He launched his big league career in Milwaukee and eventually wound up in St. Louis - only to struggle through two sub-par seasons and become the favorite booing target of fans still angry about the loss of Simmons.

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With all these tangential concerns swirling through both players' heads, it wouldn't have been surprising if their performances had suffered. Instead, each has been a key man for his team throughout post-season action.

To begin with, they've done the job on defense, which is really the most important function of any catcher. Each knows the other team's hitters, of course, to a far greater extent than is usually the case in a World Series. And both have done everything from blocking potential wild pitches to providing the last line of defense against enemy base runners. In this case both men have provided sizable bonuses with their bats as well.

Simmons did so with a flourish, smashing dramatic home runs in each of the first two games in Busch Stadium, where the fans gave him an emotional welcome. But Porter actually has been the steadier contributor on offense throughout post-season play, batting .556 to win MVP honors in the playoffs, and coming through again as one of the Redbirds' most consistent hitters in the fall classic.

With the Series opening in St. Louis last week, Simmons was thrust on stage first - and he made the most of his moment. Ted went out twice, but then he smashed a tremendous solo home run and was treated to a prolonged ovation.

''That meant a lot to me,'' he said afterward. ''I spent 11 wonderful years here and made a lot of friends. I didn't feel like an intruder; I felt like a friend coming back to visit. It was a very special moment.''

Simmons singled later in that contest, then hit another homer in Game 2. His offensive production tailed off in the games at Milwaukee - partly, no doubt, because the St. Louis pitchers started giving him extra attention (he led all players on both teams in walks through the first five games).

Behind the plate, of course, Simmons has been faced with the task of keeping the Cardinals' best-in-the-majors running game within limits. No catcher is going to stop Lonnie Smith, Willie McGee & Co. completely, and the Redbirds did steal six bases in the first five games. But that's just about par for them, and meanwhile Ted gunned down two other would-be base thieves, including Smith in a key attempted steal of third in Game 5.

Simmons was one of the key men in the big trade between Milwaukee and St. Louis two years ago, and it took him awhile to adjust to American League pitching. A career .298 hitter who had batted over .300 six times in the National League, he hit only .216 in his first A. L. season. He raised that to . 269 this year, and although that still isn't up to his old standards, he and the club were more than satisfied with his overall production, which included 23 home runs and 98 RBIs.

''There are many reasons I haven't hit for as high an average,'' he says. ''There are a lot of adjustments to make when you're facing a new set of pitchers. And there were adjustments off the field too. I'd been in St. Louis 11 years. I was away from my family. There was a lot of physical and emotional strain.

''And even that first year I was hitting homers, driving in runs, and contributing. That's the key thing. If I hit .300 with five homers and 40 RBIs, I don't think anyone would be very happy.''

The trade is still a topic of conversation, partly because the players Milwaukee obtained (Simmons, 1981 MVP Rollie Fingers, and this year's Cy Young Award candidate Pete Vuckovich) are so much better known. But the Cardinals got a potential star in young outfielder David Green, plus pitcher Dave LaPoint, and they used the other players they obtained as parts of subsequent deals that brought them their leading 1982 hitter, Lonnie Smith, and 12-game winner Steve Mura.

Anyway, these things are always difficult to evaluate for awhile - and it's pretty hard to knock either side of a trade when both clubs wind up in the World Series. So perhaps Simmons put the best perspective on it.

''Maybe it was necessary for me to go to Milwaukee to play in a World Series, '' he said. ''And maybe it was necessary for me to go to Milwaukee for the Cardinals to play in a World Series.''

Porter's situation playing Milwaukee didn't really have the same homecoming aspect. Darrell spent only four years with the Brewers and didn't become nationally prominent until he was traded to Kansas City. And of course he then came into Milwaukee in another uniform regularly for several seasons.

But Darrell has had other emotional extras to contend with the past two years. Although he wasn't part of the trade for Simmons, it was his signing as a free agent that made it possible, and he symbolized it as Ted's replacement. So when he failed to hit for either average or power in 1981, the fans got on him - and they kept it up this year.

Cardinal pilot Whitey Herzog, a Porter fan from the years when he managed Kansas City, never wavered in his faith in his man, though - and with good reason.

''He's a good catcher and a winning player,'' Whitey said. ''Look at his record. Five of the last six years, the team he's been with has had the best record in its divisions.''

And Darrell has certainly justified his manager's confidence. After getting five hits and five walks and being involved in several key rallies in the playoffs, he had two hits in the Series opener, was the star of Game 2 with a two-run, game-tying double, a single in the winning eighth inning rally, and a big defensive play when he threw out Paul Molitor in the ninth to snuff out the last Brewer threat.

He too tailed off offensively in Milwaukee, but still had a couple of important hits and posted the second highest batting average on the team through five games. And by now even the most disgruntled fans are beginning to be won over.

''It was hard for me,'' Porter says now of all the booing. ''I just wanted to do well, but I think I put a lot of extra pressure on myself. Ted Simmons is a great player. The people loved him. I wanted to prove Darrell Porter is a good player too, but the harder I tried the worse it got.''

Bad as it was, though, Porter could always take consolation that he had already come through a much worse ordeal in conquering a serious alcohol problem a couple of years ago.

''That has made my struggles in baseball less difficult,'' he said. ''Things like the booing and my inability to do better were still hard to handle, of course, but any time it got too bad I could always look back and say, 'Wow, this is nothing compared to that.' ''

When he does look back, Darrell was asked, does he sometimes think about how what he accomplished then really means a lot more in terms of an example to others than anything he will ever do on the field?

''Yes, I think of that,'' he said. ''I hope it does.''

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