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Monday, September 21, 2009

Dave Concepcion – Best Shortstop of the 1970’s

The biggest injustice of the Hall of Fame is that they refuse to allow the great shortstops of the 1960's and 1970's through the door.   The only exceptions are Luis Aparicio and Robin Yount.  The Dean's Cards player of the Week is Dave Concepcion who played in four World Series and was named to the All-Star Game 9 times between 1973 and 1982. 

The Hall-of-Fame selection committee prefers the hard hitting first basemen and outfielders to the slick fielding infielders – but the saying goes “you can not win a pennant unless you are strong up the middle”.  As much as I like Concepcion’s old road game roommate and Hall-of-Famer Tony Perez – Concepcion would have been much harder for the Reds to replace than Perez.  In fact, the Reds had Danny Dreissen waiting in the wings for four years until they decided to trade Perez for a couple journeyman pitchers.

Shouldn’t there be at least one shortstop in the Hall of Fame for every 1B or every LF?  OK, I realize that hitters are more exciting. What about just one SS for every three 1B?  If that were the case you would see guys like Jim Fregosi, Maury Wills, Don Kessinger, Larry Bowa, Bert Campaneris and Davy Concepcion elected.  They were the best at their position during their time.

The first game that I ever attended was at Crosley Field on April 16, 1970.  My parents took me to the game as the Reds were going to move to the new stadium after the All-Star game that year.  The Reds beat the Dodgers 12 to 2.  Nineteen year-old Rookie Don Gullett relieved (soon to be retired) Jim Maloney for the first win of Gullett’s career.  Gullett also had a triple and a stolen base.  Concepcion went 0 for 4.

I was 5 years old at the time and did not notice any of those things.  What I do remember is that about a dozen Reds signed my glove.  At Crosley Field, the players had to walk past the fans to get from the clubhouse to the dugout.  With only 6100 people in the park that night, almost all of the players stopped to sign my glove.  You just do not see that anymore.

Concepcion was a 21 years old rookie who would start his 7th major league game that night.  Dave was so tall and skinny (6'2", 155 pounds) that he towered over me.  He handed me his "super sized" Coke through the green wrought iron fence that separated the fans from the players- which I needed both hands to hold - while he signed my mitt.   I was a bit surprised when I had to return the Coke to him because I assumed it was a gift!  My mother later told me that she was afraid that I would spill the Coke all down Concepcion’s bright white uniform.

Davy was very nice, but could not speak a word of English. At just 5 years old, I had never met someone who didn't speak English and I remember being worried for him because he could not communicate with other people to get food or find his way around.  My parents reassured me that the other Spanish speaking players on the team would help take care of him.  This is how I will always remember Dave Concepcion.

It is doubtful that many more of the great shortstops of the 1960's and 1970's will make the Hall-of-Fame anytime soon, especially since the shortstops in today’s game now routinely hit 25 HR’s and bat .300 each year.