Making 13 a classy number
By John Ring
The Zephyr, Galesburg
summer of 1970 was magical in Cincinnati when it came to baseball.
The Reds won 70 of their first
100 games in cruising to the National League West championship. They moved out
of Crosley Field and into new Riverfront Stadium. The Big Red Machine was
moving into high gear. And they had three celebrated rookies that were taking
the National League by storm.
Those three were Wayne Simpson,
Bernie Carbo and Dave Concepcion.
Simpson, a righthanded pitcher,
exploded onto the scene with a dominating fastball and a mound presence similar
to Bob Gibson. His fastball had movement and he had a nasty stare. He started
off the season with a 14-1 record that included two shutouts and 10 complete
games. But Simpson blew out his arm in July and was never the same. His career
was finished in 1978 with the California Angels.
Carbo was a rookie left fielder
who platooned with Hal McRae. He was talented but quirky. He was traded to
Boston and is best remembered for a pinch hit home run in Game 6 of the 1975
World Series but he was out of baseball a few years later.
Concepcion was the least
heralded of the three. He was a skinny 160 pound shortstop competing for
playing time with Daryl Chaney that year. DaveyŐs manager, Sparky Anderson,
believed he would hit when no one else did. A wirey 6Ő2Ó shortstop gifted with
a cannon of an arm, most scouts figured him to be a typical Latin shortstop of
that era--- all glove, no hit.
They were wrong.
Concepcion went on to play 2,488 games during a career with the Reds that
lasted from 1970-1988. He was a nine time All-Star. He was a Gold Glove winner
five times. He played his entire career with the Cincinnati Reds.
And the Reds honored the
Venezuela native last Saturday night by retiring his number---- 13.
The only thing better than that
is getting voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. At this, Concepcion is 0 for
14. ThatŐs the number of times sportswriters have rejected him. They probably
will next year, too. Then, it will be up to the players committee.
Phil Ruzzuto, who was a pretty
good shortstop himself, failed 26 times before an impassioned plea by Ted
Williams got him in. Concepcion deserves no less.
the way, Dave Concepcion was a better shortstop that Phil Rizzuto.
The reasons he has been omitted
are the usual ones--- he was overshadowed by teammate Hall of Famers like Joe
Morgan, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench. He was also overshadowed by a guy named
Pete Rose, who deserves to be in the Hall as well.
He played in Cincinnati, not Los
Angeles or New York. He spoke fractured English. Writers would get a nice quote
from Rose or Bench or Morgan or George Foster but not him because it was hard
to understand and speak with him. But all of these reasons donŐt make him less
His numbers--- baseball is all
about numbers, correct?--- are
good numbers. They are better than Ozzie SmithŐs numbers, minus the back flips.
As Anderson used to say, ŇConcepcion could field shortstop with a pair of
He was an innovator—he
started the first step crossover at the shortstop position on ground balls. He
would spit the ball from the glove to his bare hand for a quick throw. On tough
throws to first, heŐd bounce it off the Astro Turf to generate more speed.
Because he had a stronger arm the Morgan, he was the cutoff man for throws from
rightfield. He would charge a popup headed towards the outfield with his back
to the infield at full speed, taking his eye off the ball. Concepcion was a
mobile, acrobatic shortstop not your ordinary run of the mill stationary
Concepcion also played on two
World Championship teams and four NL pennant clubs. In Game 2 of the 1975
classic against the Red Sox, the Reds were facing an 0-2 hole in the 9th
inning. With two outs and a runner on second base trailing 2-1, Concepcion
singled to drive in the tying run, stole second and scored the winning run when
Ken Griffey knocked him in with a base hit.
ThatŐs clutch hitting on a big
HeŐs a national hero in
Venezuela. HeŐs a local hero in Cincinnati. He never disgraced the game. For 15
years, he was the best shortstop in baseball on one of the best teams of
IsnŐt that enough?
And about the #13 that got
retired. Originally, Concepcion wanted 11 but that was worn by McRae. Then he
chose #17 but that was being used by Ty Cline. He picked 13 because his mother
was born in 1913.
It wasnŐt unlucky for him. His
only bad luck is being ignored by a bunch of sportswriters who ought to know
Concepcion was a damn good
shortstop. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He was a part of The Great
Eight of one of the best baseball teams of all time. This injustice should be
My summer next year couldnŐt be
better if both Dave Concepcion and Ron Santo were elected to the Hall of Fame.
They both deserve it. They were both great baseball players, representing
historic baseball franchises in a time when the sport needs past great players
to honor baseball with the dignity it deserves.