Simmons, Hubert - Bert
HUBERT ‘BERT’ SIMMONS
Bert played as a pitcher (righty) and as an outfielder from 1941 to 1952:
Read an interview with Mr. Simmons from the 2/21/2004 Baltimore Sun Newspaper.
The following article about Bert Simmons appeared in the July 8, 2002 edition of the Daily Southerner Newspaper, Tarboro, North Carolina:
TARBORO - The Fourth of July weekend is when Hubert Simmons is at his best.
His hometown Baltimore Orioles are reaching the midpoint of their season, and this former "boy of summer" can return to his roots - both classroom and diamond. And hearing about the completion of renovations to Municipal Stadium, located three blocks from his childhood home, especially attracts his attention.
"I took a peek through the fence when I came down last year. That's where I grew up," the former Negro Leaguer said Friday, while in Tarboro for the annual W.A. Pattillo High School Alumni Association Reunion.
Simmons, 78, played for the Baltimore Elite Giants in 1950, after three years playing at North Carolina A & T State University and at the Negro minor league level. Despite his experience, Simmons received $200 per month and paid his own rent and meals.
While a pitcher and outfielder with the Elite Giants, he once played at the polo grounds in New York City, to a crowd of 50,000 people.
"It was quite an experience for me playing in front of all those people. It was a highlight," he said.
While in New York, Simmons met Negro and Major League baseball immortals such as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and Larry Doby. And he was never upset that he didn't have the opportunity to compete with great white players of the time, such as Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio.
"I enjoyed playing baseball. I was doing what I wanted to do," Simmons said. "I took every chance I got. The Negro Leagues offered me the opportunity to do what I liked to do."
After retiring in 1952, Simmons coached at the Little League, American Legion, high school and college levels for more than 40 years. During that time, his youth and high school teams won league and conference championships. He is now an advisor to youth baseball teams.
Simmons grew up watching the likes of Solly Myers, Soup Campbell, Buster Maynard and Snake Henry play in Tarboro at what was then called Bryan Park. He had dreamed of playing on that same field since age seven, but segregation stood ominously in his path.
"If you caught a foul ball outside the gate, they would let you in, but I wasn't allowed to play in it," Simmons said. "They had separate seats, and the only way I could get in is if I was working."
After years of using foul balls as his golden ticket into Bryan Park, Simmons met Harry Holmes, who was the groundskeeper at the time. Holmes allowed the teenager to shine baseball shoes, and rake the basepaths and the field.
"I considered that my job," Simmons said. "I realized that baseball was what I wanted to do."
But the locale hindered his development. Pattillo High School did not have a baseball team, limiting his experience to pickup and local Boy Scout games.
After graduating in 1941, Simmons joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and was based in Raleigh. For two seasons, he played second base for the Raleigh Tigers, which was managed by baseball Hall of Famer William "Bill" Foster. In April 1943, Simmons enlisted in the U.S. Army.
After his December 1945 discharge, Simmons enrolled in North Carolina A & T State University. He had experience at all nine positions, but decided to try out for the baseball team as a second baseman.
"The coach needed pitchers, and the coach got me to pitch," Simmons said. "I could throw curves, so I decided to give it a shot. It worked out."
Simmons estimated that he went 35-7 on the mound for A & T. He was on three championship teams, and had twice made All Conference. In 1978, he was elected to the university's Sports Hall of Fame.
"I didn't strike out people - I threw strikes. I had a good knuckleball," he said. "I was fortunate to have a good team behind me."
Simmons supplemented his collegiate career with the Greensboro Redwings and the Asheville Blues of the Negro Southern League, and with the Atlantic City, N.J.-based Farley Stars, an independent team managed by baseball Hall of Famer John Henry "Pop" Lloyd.
After Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball's color barrier in 1947, many Negro League teams folded. After leaving the Baltimore Elite Giants and spending two years with the independent, Baltimore-based Yokely Stars, Simmons decided to hang up his cleats.
"I came along a little too late. I wish I had had the opportunity to play here in Tarboro and get the background that I needed," he said. "I had no coaching to speak of. I did what I could.
"I was getting to the age where I needed to be good at what I was doing. I needed to make more money doing what I was doing or get out of it. I was 27 or 28, and the big leagues wouldn't pick a rookie that age. I knew I had played my time."
Simmons married his wife, Audrey, 47 years ago and settled in Baltimore. He taught high school business courses for 30 years and had opened a sportswear business.
Now, in the days of hundred-million-dollar contracts and with a possible major league strike looming, Simmons' love for baseball has not wavered.
"That's the problem with baseball. They're playing and they can't even pitch seven innings or nine innings, and they're making $2 or $3 million a year. That's beginning to hurt baseball. "I never think of strikes - I don't approve. That shows that they're not playing for the love of the game, they're playing for money. The more money, the worse it got."
Simmons offers this advice to the kid hoping to become the next Ichiro or Alex Rodriguez: "First, they have to want to be a baseball player. They have to work hard at it, and maybe they can be a ballplayer," he said. "They have to love the game, and practice and observe other people play. "He has to know how to play all positions, instead of just one position he likes best. It starts at Little League. Practice is the key - you have to practice."