Thursday, July 20, 2017

Duke Sims (#169)

Duke Sims played in the majors for 11 seasons (1964-74), the first 7 years with the Indians before moving around to other teams. Although never an every-day backstop, he got significant playing time with the Indians from 1967-70, mostly platooning with Joe Azcue. 1969 was the only season where he started more than half of his team’s games.

Sims began his pro career on the Indians' farm in 1959. After 6 seasons in the minors he made his major-league debut in September 1964, making 1 start that year on the season’s final day.

After the 1964 season, the Tribe traded starting catcher Johnny Romano to the White Sox, opening up the starting job for Azcue, who was the ’64 backup. Sims also moved up a notch, starting 33 games in his rookie season after spending the first 2 months in triple-A.

Sims was bumped down to #3 catcher in 1966, when Cleveland acquired the veteran Del Crandall (in his 16th and final season) to serve as Azcue's main caddy. The Duke still saw action in 48 games (31 starts).

With Crandall retired, Sims' fortunes improved in 1967. Not only did he return to the #2 slot, but he was on almost even footing with Azcue (77 starts to Joe’s 80 starts).

Their playing time in 1968 is misleading. Although Sims had 71 starts behind the dish to Azcue's 90, Duke began the season starting 14 straight games, and then was the starting 1st baseman for most of July (presumably Tony Horton was out of the lineup with injuries).

Azcue was dealt to the Red Sox during April 1969, meaning a promotion for Sims. He started a career-high 94 games behind the plate, with rookie Ray Fosse and journeyman Ken Suarez picking up the rest. That was to be his last season as a somewhat-regular catcher, as Fosse was primed to take over the job in 1970.

With Fosse catching 120 games in '70, Sims started a few dozen games at 1st base and a similar number in left field, while catching 38 games on Fosse’s days off.

After the 1970 season, Duke was traded to the Dodgers for pitchers Alan Foster and Ray Lamb. In LA, Sims was part of a 3-way catching carousel with Tom Haller and Joe Ferguson in 1971. The following year, he split the catching with Chris Cannizzaro (wait...Cannizzaro was a STARTING catcher for the Dodgers????), until Duke was shipped off to the Tigers in early August (joining 1971 teammate Haller, by the way).

He joined the Yankees for the last week of the 1973 season, and caught the final game at old Yankee Stadium. Sims bounced from the Yankees to the Rangers in 1974, and was released after the season.