Last shot for writers to elect Concepcion
Reds great in final year of eligibility before turning to veterans
CINCINNATI -- One final shot. One last chance.That is what Reds shortstop great Dave Concepcion is facing when it comes to his eligibility for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the writers' ballot. Players are limited to 15 years on the ballot and this is year No. 15 for the man that wore No. 13 in Cincinnati. Not only was Concepcion a member of the legendary "Big Red Machine" that won four pennants -- including World Series championships in 1975-76 -- he is viewed as a trailblazing pioneer for generations of Latino ballplayers enjoying thriving careers. Among those inspired by Concepcion's dazzling skills were two other No. 13's, ranging from Ozzie Guillen to another defensive great, Omar Vizquel. "I used to see every move he made," Vizquel once said of Concepcion. "For me, that was like a school. Just watching him during the game was a big inspiration for me." "I have a lot of pride for that because they wore my number," Concepcion said. "They saw me and the way I played. They believed 13 was a good luck number." The Hall of Fame election results have been nowhere near as lucky. Concepcion has never received more than 16.9 percent of the vote -- which he garnered in 1998. In 2007, the 59-year-old received just 13.6 percent of votes. A candidate must get 75 percent to be elected. It's a longshot to expect Concepcion can make such a huge jump in votes in just one year after 14 unsuccessful tries. Once his writers' ballot eligiblity expires, he would have to rely on the more challenging veteran's committee process. In a 19-season career spent entirely with Cincinnati from 1970-88, Concepcion owned a .267 average, 101 home runs and 950 RBIs. The nine-time All Star is one of only 14 players in history to play more than 2,000 games at shortstop and collect more than 2,000 hits. As the shortstop position has been revolutionized by more offensively gifted players like Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada and at one point, Alex Rodriguez, Concepcion's numbers lack the gusto voters often desire. But during his era, Concepcion was considered the gold standard at his position, along with Ozzie Smith. Inducted in 2002, Smith batted .262 with just 28 homers and 793 RBIs in his 19 seasons, while posting a .978 career fielding percentage.
Concepcion compares closely to Smith with a .972 fielding percentage and five Gold Glove Awards. His numbers -- both offensively and defensively -- rival or better others already with plaques at Cooperstown, including Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese and Bill Mazeroski.Former starting pitcher Tom Browning, who starred for the Reds from 1984-94, appreciated Concepcion even when he was at the tail end of his career. "Best hands I've ever seen, to this day," Browning said last summer. "He never really got the recognition he deserved. I think he re-invented the game at shortstop, especially on AstroTurf, which Ozzie [Smith] got all the credit for." Since he was a member of the "Great Eight" starting lineup on the Big Red Machine with Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, George Foster and Pete Rose, it'd be easy for someone to diminish Concepcion's accomplishments. It'd also be a mistake. Concepcion loomed quite large in many of the Reds' biggest stages, and he batted .297 in his postseason career. His many spectacular defensive plays dazzled a generation of fans that most of the time could only watch them on the "Game of the Week" or "This Week in Baseball." His teammates considered his contributions crucial to Cincinnati's success during the 1970's. "It's too bad Davey Concepcion played before the 'web gem' era," Bench said last year. "Because his defensive genius would have been highlighted on national television every night." Because he had difficulty commanding English, Concepcion was rarely offered endorsement deals or asked to do interviews after big games. As a result, he often blended into the background when he should have been front and center. "Sometimes you'll have writers that are lazy," Concepcion said. "And they don't want to come to the guys that don't speak English. They would only go to the guys they could talk to." The Reds haven't waited to recognize Concepcion's achievements. He was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame in 2000. Last summer, his No. 13 was finally retired, even though no other Red wore the number since he exited from the game. If Concepcion's long shot bid Cooperstown is realized, expect big joy and some relief. "I will pass out. I've been waiting for it all my life," Concepcion said. "I'm excited about it. I can't tell you how happy I'm going to be."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.