Concepcion deserves spot in Hall of Fame

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 12, 2004

So what is it that is keeping Dave Concepcion out of baseball's Hall of Fame? Could it be the fact he wore No. 13 on his jersey throughout his entire career?

Not in Concepcion's eyes.

"Thirteen is not bad luck. I played 19 years in the big leagues," Concepcion said.

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And all 19 years were with the Cincinnati Reds where their sum totals merit Hall of Fame consideration.

Concepcion came to the Reds as a skinny, scared 18-year-old from Venezuela. He spoke virtually no English but was fortunate to have teammate Tony Perez help him through his early years.

He started during the Big Red Machine era and was the premier shortstop in baseball.

The Reds were a good team in 1969, but the addition of Concepcion at shortstop to begin the 1970s decade proved to be the missing piece of the puzzle as Cincinnati went on to its first World Series since 1961.

The Big Red Machine has Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Joe Morgan already in the Hall of Fame. Pete Rose would have beat them all if not for his gambling scandal.

Although Concepcion was often playing in the shadows of the Famous Four, he didn't take a back seat.

As a young baseball fan who attended dozens and dozens of Reds games and watched hundreds more on television, no one came close to the gifted Concepcion.

Playing on Astroturf where ground balls scooted through infields like a skater on ice, Concepcion was equally as swift and graceful. He had errors, but many were due to his ability to reach balls other shortstops could only watch skip past into the outfield, many of whom played on grass.

Philadelphia shortstop Larry Bowa, a slick fielder himself, once asked Concepcion if his first name was Elmer because every time he looked in the boxscore, it read: E-Concepcion.

Bowa was exaggerating, probably because he was not Concepcion's equal. In fact, it was common to see Concepcion fielding a ball deep in the hole at short or directly behind the pitcher's mound in shallow center field and still throw a runner out.

Concepcion has statistics that rival or surpass many of the shortstops already in the Hall of Fame. He is among the top shortstops in fielding, hitting, and runs batted in.

St. Louis shortstop Ozzie Smith has been called possibly the greatest defensive shortstop in history. The Gold Glove went to Smith almost every season.

But his reputation was enhanced by ESPN's SportsCenter highlights and acrobatic back flips. Smith's career fielding percentage was .978 while Concepcion had a .972 average.

Smith hit .262 for his career with 28 home runs, 793 RBIs and swiped 580 bases.

Concepcion hit .267 for his career with 101 home runs and 950 RBIs. He didn't run as much, but still stole 321 bases.

"If you compare my stats to the other 25 shortstops that are in the Hall of Fame, I'm in at least the top eight. Why am I not in there?" Concepcion asked.

Why indeed.

Today's voters may be influenced by current shortstops such as Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and retired Cal Ripken Jr. who brought power and higher batting averages to the position. But Concepcion brings something else to the table. He played on six postseason teams, was in four World Series and has two championship rings.

"Shortstops used to be for little guys. I was one of the biggest in the 1970s," said the 6-foot-1 Concepcion. "And if you don't have a good shortstop, you can't win."

Lucky for the Reds they had Dave Concepcion at shortstop. And his No. 13.

Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune.