Making 13 a classy number

By John Ring

The Zephyr, Galesburg


The 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.

Dave 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.

By 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 deserving.

       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 pliers.Ó

       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 shortstop.

       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 stage.

       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 all-time.

       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 better.

       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 corrected.

       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.