Concepcion No. 1 to Reds fans
Longtime Cincy shortstop has place in backers' hearts
CINCINNATI -- Living almost 1 1/2 hours north of Cincinnati, Jeff Noble and Robert Holsinger got to see Dave Concepcion play in person perhaps once a season.
Once a year was enough for them to form the opinion that Concepcion, in Noble's words, is "probably the greatest shortstop ever to play the game."
That is debatable, but there's no question that Concepcion certainly is one of the two greatest shortstops in Reds history, a stature immortalized on Saturday night when his uniform No. 13 was retired in ceremonies before Cincinnati's game against the Florida Marlins.
In seeing his number retired, Concepcion joined six other former Reds: managers Fred Hutchinson (1) and Sparky Anderson (10), catcher Johnny Bench (5), second baseman Joe Morgan (8) and first basemen Ted Kluszewski (18) and Tony Perez (24).
All except the late Hutchinson and Kluszewski were on hand for Saturday's ceremony, along with members of Concepcion's family and two other Big Red Machine teammates, left fielder George Foster and right fielder Ken Griffey. The event started with a tribute by Reds chief executive officer Bob Castellini.
"How many times did Reds fans say, 'How did Davey do that?'" Castellini recalled. "He made the No. 13 bad luck for anyone who hit the ball to the left side of the infield. It's most fitting that no other Reds player will wear No. 13, since there will never be another Dave Concepcion."
The ceremonies included a video board tribute from San Francisco shortstop Omar Vizquel, who wears No. 13 because Concepcion wore it, and notes from former Reds president and general manager Bob Howsam and former shortstop Barry Larkin, who succeeded Concepcion as the Reds shortstop and went on to match his predecessor's club-record run of 19 consecutive seasons in a Cincinnati uniform.
Besides seeing his number unveiled on the facade of the press box, Concepcion received a painting of himself fielding a ball and throwing to first -- replicas of which were handed out to the fans in attendance -- and a sculpture with his number framed by a glove and flanked on both sides by his accomplishments.
Current Reds shortstop Alex Gonzalez -- like Concepcion, a Venezuelan -- got permission from Major League Baseball to change his number for the night from 2 to 13.
Concepcion, the defensive anchor on Cincinnati teams that won six National League West Division championships, four NL pennants and back-to-back World Series in 1975 and 1976, had difficulty maintaining his composure during his speech, wiping away tears as he paid tribute to his predecessors among Venezuelan shortstops, Chico Carrasquel and Luis Aparicio, whose No. 11 he wanted to wear before settling for No. 13.
"I want to thank God for giving me the ability to play beside a great bunch of players -- the players on the Big Red Machine," he said.
Several hours before the ceremonies, Concepcion joined his long-time manager, Anderson, and several former teammates at a news conference during which Morgan credited Anderson for recognizing before anybody else how far the shortstop could go.
"We all thought Davey had potential, but Sparky saw the greatness," said Morgan, Concepcion's double play partner said. "He told me one day after I got here, 'He's going to be the greatest shortstop you'll every play with.' Sparky saw that -- not me, not Tony."
With 8,723 at-bats in 2,488 games, Concepcion ranks second in club history in both categories behind Pete Rose. Since 1900, he ranks among the franchise's all-time leaders in hits (2,326, third), doubles (389, third), stolen bases (321, third), runs scored (993, fifth), total bases (3,114, fifth) and RBIs (950, sixth).
Concepcion, 59, was a nine-time NL All-Star and his five Rawlings Gold Glove Awards are second only to Bench's 10. He was the Most Valuable Player of the 1982 All-Star Game. He was voted the Reds' MVP in 1981.
"Unfortunately, I think we've overshadowed his accomplishments," Morgan said. "Sparky and Johnny and myself, we're in the Hall of Fame, and I think we tend to overlook what he did on a daily basis. Guys like Davey and Foster and [Lee] May and Griffey don't get their just due."
Noble, of Waverly, Ohio, would agree.
"He never got the credit he deserved," said the 47-year-old, wearing a Concepcion gray road jersey. "He was definitely the best defensive player I ever saw."
Concepcion belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame, said Holsinger, 47, also of Waverly.
"It's not even borderline for me," Holsinger said. "You stack his numbers up -- and he revolutionized his position."
Mark Schmetzer is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.