Baseball fan and genealogist David Lambert, the Online Genealogist at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, recently discovered a living professional baseball player who is now 110 years old. The problem was that no other baseball historians knew he existed. David did some research in records that genealogists often use: the World War I Draft Registration. Sure enough, there he was, and everything seemed to match. David then used other records to trace the man's life, right up to today
Silas "Si" Simmons will turn 111 on October 14 and is believed by the Society of American Baseball Research to be the oldest former professional player. Simmons pitched for the New York Lincoln Giants of the Eastern Colored League in 1926. He would become the new standard-bearer for the oldest former players, breaking the mark of Chet Hoff, who was 107 when he died in 1998.
Simmons never generated much publicity. His own family members knew that he had played baseball in his youth but were unaware of the historical significance. Simmons has now outlived all five of his children.
Silas Simmons now lives in a St. Petersburg, Florida, nursing home. He was born on Oct. 14, 1895 - the same year as Babe Ruth. He started playing professional baseball in the early 1910's. He played at the highest level of black baseball while a boy named Satchel Paige was still in grade school.
At the age of 110, Simmons is confined to a wheelchair, but his mind is still active and clear. A baseball historian recently visited Simmons in the nursing home, carrying a picture of the players of the 1913 Homestead Grays, a Pittsburgh-area baseball team that played before the Negro leagues were even born. When asked if he recognized anyone in the picture, his finger pointed to one player.
"That's Si Simmons," he said.
Really? Was he sure?
"That's me," he declared. "Oh, we had good times."
Negro league historian and researcher Wayne Stivers said, "We were aware there was a Si Simmons and that he played. But we didn't know he was still alive. We figured, 110, no - this man is not alive. My reaction was, 'We need to talk with him immediately.' "
"I had a good curveball and a good fastball," said Simmons, who added that he was paid about $10 a game.
On October 14, a special 111th birthday party will be held for Si Simmons at the nursing home where he lives. Thirty to forty former Negro League Ball players are on the guest list, including Hall of Famer Monte Irvin.
One other special guest will also be at the birthday party: genealogist David Lambert, who started the search for Mr. Simmons, has been invited to attend and will present a plaque to Si Simmons in recognition of his place in history.