Back in the early 1980s, weight training had yet to catch on in a big way, even at the upper levels of professional sports.
There were plenty of beer league physiques running out on Major League Baseball diamonds every day, for expample.
But one young athlete who built his love for physical fitness and baseball into a powerful ball-smashing machine was outfielder Nelson Simmons.
Drafted by the Detroit Tigers out of Madison High School in San Diego in the second round of the 1981 MLB Draft, Simmons got to work right away — he smacked ten home runs in just 69 games of Rookie ball that summer.
He kept right on mashing as he climbed Detroit’s minor league ladder, culminating with a .307 batting average, 22 home runs, and 83 RBI for Triple-A Evansville in 1984. That performance earned Simmons a call-up to the big club in September, where he had a front-row seat as that historic Tigers team finished off their steamroll to a division title.
For his part, Simmons went 13-for-30, batting a cool .433 — but with no home runs.
It was enough to get him more MLB playing time in 1985, and he clubbed ten homers in 75 games with Detroit, but is batting average fell to .239.
The card companies took notice of Simmons, though, and Fleer included him in their Update set that fall, with Topps and Donruss ponying up for Simmons cards in their base 1986 sets.
Alas, the Tigers sent Simmons back to the minors to open the 1986 season, then released him in late April. The Orioles came calling with a free agent deal in May, and he spent the rest of the year with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings.
With Baltimore trying to figure out what their future held (answer: a few really awful seasons), they brought Simmons up ten games into the 1987 season. He stayed with the big club about three weeks, collecting one more dinger and batting .265 in 54 plate appearances over 16 games.
Then it was back to the minors, and then … traded to the Seattle Mariners in August for Mike Brown. Neither of those guys ever made it back to the Majors, but Simmons did make it onto an Orioles card in the scarce 1988 Topps Cloth set, which is almost mythical but does seem to exist.
(Making Simmons something of a latter day Reggie Jackson.)
If you like your cards a little more, um, attainable, though, you still have an option for seeing Simmons in an O’s uniform.
See, in 1991, Crown Petroleum and Coca-Cola teamed up to produce a set of black-and-white cards, one for each of the 450 or so players who had suited up for Baltimore by that point in their history.
The cards were given away at Orioles games and also sold at Crown gas stations, and at least a few former players took exception to their existence.
Still, the cards are out there, and proof that a once-mighty slugger once wore the orange and black — even if hardly anyone noticed.
Dewey Proof, Too!
Another dude who had a brief dalliance with the Orioles was Red Sox superstar right fielder Dwight Evans. Dewey finished up his near-HOF-caliber career with the O’s in … you guessed it … 1991.
Though his stint in Baltimore didn’t yield much more than Simmons’ did, this current eBay listing (affiliate link) gives us a bit of proof it happened. A game-used, signed hat with the classic Orioles bird? Yeah, that qualifies as a nifty collectible … and then some!
Check it out here (affiliate link).