09 January 2012

Clifton Blue Parker, Bucketfoot Al: The Baseball Life of Al Simmons. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011.

Al Simmons, the cleanup hitter for Connie Mack’s great Athletics clubs of the early 1930s, may be most analogous to more contemporary stars like Dick Allen or Albert Belle: a ferocious hitting talent who achieved greatness—but less of it than expected. In Simmons’ case this is because injuries only let him play as many as 140 games in one season during the second half of his career, though afterwards Simmons admitted that he could have played more and, given how close he got to 3,000 hits, wished that he had.

Parker’s biography is well-documented and easy to read, with a total focus on Simmons as ballplayer. Major personal and world events such as marriage, divorce, and war are mentioned, but mostly to provide context. This emphasis shows us how Simmons was viewed in his era (as the best center fielder in the game) and how he got there, but leaves a much weaker impression of him as a person than last year’s portrait of another Pole in the Hall of Fame, Stan Musial: An American Life. To be fair, though, Simmons died before he was sixty, and Parker give us a solid picture of a worthy and under-appreciated subject as well as a welcome light on an A’s team that, with Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, and Lefty Grove, may have been better than Babe Ruth’s Yankees.

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