By NICK LECO
September 17, 2008
The Reds of the 1970s were one of baseball’s all-time great teams. Known as the “Big Red Machine,” the squad offered an interesting mix of dynamic players and personalities, many of whom left an indelible mark on the game. One player who played an integral role on that team was shortstop Dave Concepcion. While he was overshadowed by some of the other stars on that team - most notably Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench - Concepcion was a very good player in his own right and enjoyed a long and productive career. The question is, was that career was good enough for the Big Red Machine to get one more of its members into the Baseball Hall of Fame?
DAVE CONCEPCION -
At Bats: 8,723
Home Runs: 101
Stolen Bases: 321
Many people consider Concepcion - who played a total of 19 seasons, all with the Reds - the best shortstop of the 1970s. A slick fielder, he won five Gold Gloves (1974-77, 1979) and was named to nine All-Star teams, taking All-Star Game MVP honors in 1982. Concepcion also worked hard over the years to improve his hitting and his efforts were rewarded with Silver Slugger awards in 1981 and 1982. Concepcion had his best offensive season during the strike-shortened 1981 campaign, placing fourth in the MVP voting after finishing third in the National League in hits, third in doubles, fifth in RBI and ninth in batting average.
Concepcion may be best known as part of the Reds’ “Great Eight” starting lineup during their World Championship seasons of 1975 and 1976. For his career, Concepcion played in four World Series and five National League Championship Series. In 34 career postseason games, he batted .297. In 2007, Concepcion joined a distinguished roster of players who have had their numbers retired by the Reds when his number 13 was permanently shelved.
While Concepcion will never be mistaken for Cal Ripken or Ernie Banks, his numbers do compare favorably to some Hall of Fame shortstops. He is statistically similar to Pee Wee Reese, a 10-time All-Star who was one of the key members of the famed Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s. Here’s a look at their numbers:
G AB H R 2B HR RBI AVG
Reese 2166 8058 2170 1338 330 126 885 .269
Concepcion 2488 8723 2326 993 389 101 950 .267
Concepcion’s fielding won’t keep him out of the Hall of Fame, but his hitting might. Though he worked hard to improve offensively during the course of his career, Concepcion still rates as an average to below-average hitter. His .267 career average is low, especially for a Hall of Famer, and his career .322 on-base percentage is paltry by any standards. Despite hitting in one of the greatest lineups ever for a good part of his career, he failed to score more than 100 runs in any of his 19 seasons and only topped the 80-run mark once (91 in 1979). He averaged just over 52 runs scored per season during his career.
To some extent, defense-first shortstops like Concepcion have been overshadowed by the power hitters who have dominated the position in recent years. In the 1970s and early ‘80s the shortstop position was manned by good-glove, no-hit players to whom Concepcion compared favorably. However, guys like Miguel Tejada, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter have transformed the shorstop position to a spot from which offensive production is required.
2008 was Concepcion’s last year of eligibility under the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) and he garnered only 16.2 percent of the vote, which was actually his best finish ever. Concepcion’s Cooperstown destiny is now in the hands of the Veterans Committee, which votes every other year. The fact that Concepcion has failed to get more than 17 percent of the vote in any of his 15 years on the ballot suggests that the voters don’t feel his case for Cooperstown is very strong.
The fact that Concepcion - along with Larry Bowa - is considered one of the best shortstops of the 1970s is quite a testament to his career, but it is also a testament to the lack of good shortstops during that time. He was a defensive anchor and solid contributor for a team that dominated the National League for a decade, but for his career, Concepcion can be categorized as a good - but not great - player. His offensive numbers are just not up to Hall of Fame standards, and as we’ve said before, great players get into the Hall of Fame, while good players like Concepcion simply do not.
Nick Leco’s Cooperstown Bound? column runs every Wednesday here on National Pastime.
Photo by Getty Images
Be sure to check out our previous Cooperstown Bound? columns: Roberto Alomar, Jack Morris, Omar Vizquel, Don Mattingly, Curt Schilling, Andre Dawson, Kenny Lofton, Fred McGriff, Alan Trammell, Mark McGwire, Bert Blyleven, Lee Smith, Mike Mussina, Jim Rice, Andres Galarraga, Jim Kaat.