Little Davey a Goliath on the field

Concepcion’s glove, bat made him indispensible cog in Big Red Machine

November 04, 2013
2014 Expansion Era candidate Davey Concepcion. (NBHOF Library)

In an era where shortstops were fielders first, Davey Concepcion was one of the best.

In an era where shortstops were not expected to contribute much offensively, Davey Concepcion emerged as one of the most consistent hitters on Cincinnati’s legendary Big Red Machine.

Now, as the Expansion Era Committee considers candidates for Cooperstown, Davey Concepcion stands on the verge of the Hall of Fame.

Concepcion, who played each of his19 big league seasons for the Reds, is one of 12 finalists on this year’s Expansion Era ballot that will be considered by the committee on managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The 16-person committee will vote on Dec. 8 at baseball’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla., and the results of the vote will be announced Dec. 9.

The 12 candidates on the Expansion Era Committee ballot are: Bobby Cox, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Tony La Russa, Billy Martin, Marvin Miller, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry, Ted Simmons, George Steinbrenner, Joe Torre and Concepcion. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2014.

The Committee consists of Hall of Famers Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk, Whitey Herzog, Tommy Lasorda, Joe Morgan, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro and Frank Robinson; executives Paul Beeston, Andy MacPhail, David Montgomery and Jerry Reinsdorf; and media members Steve Hirdt, Bruce Jenkins, Jack O’Connell and Jim Reeves.

Born June 17, 1948, in Aragua, Venezuela, Concepcion signed with the Reds as an amateur free agent in 1967. Three years later, rookie manager Sparky Anderson was impressed enough with Concepcion’s effortless defense at shortstop to keep the 21-year-old infielder on the Reds’ Opening Day roster.

That year, Concepcion batted .260 in 101 games, helping the Reds win the National League pennant before falling in the World Series in five games against the Orioles.

“I never thought he’d be much of a hitter,” Anderson said. “I’m just glad… I was wrong. (But) it’s Concepcion’s great range that makes him the best shortstop I’ve ever seen.”

Concepcion struggled with the bat the next two seasons, failing to hit as high as .210 but maintaining his grip on the Reds’ shortstop job with his exceptional fielding. Then in 1973, Concepcion – working with Reds hitting coach Ted Kluszewski – raised his average to .287, driving in 46 runs in his first 89 games. On July 22 of that year, however, Concepcion broke his left leg sliding into third base – ending his season.

He was named to the All-Star team that summer, and the following season Concepcion continued to sparkle offensively with a .281 batting average, 14 homers, 82 RBI and 41 stolen bases. Concepcion also won his first of five Gold Glove Awards that year en route to a 14th-place finish in the National League Most Valuable Player Award voting.

In 1975, the Concepcion and the Reds – who followed their 1970 NL pennant with another in 1972 and an NL West title in 1973 – put it all together. Cincinnati won 108 games, swept the Pirates in the NLCS and then defeated the Red Sox 4-games-to-3 in a memorable World Series. Concepcion hit .274 that year, then followed that up with a .281 average and 69 RBI in 1976 as the Reds won another World Series crown.

The Big Red Machine began to slow down following the 1976 title, producing just one more playoff season (an NL West title in 1979) during the rest of Concepcion’s career. But the gritty shortstop continued to shine, amassing nine All-Star Game selections from 1973-82 along with his five Gold Glove Awards in that span.

In nine postseason series between 1970 and 1979, Concepcion hit .297 with 13 runs scored and 13 RBI.

Concepcion led the NL in shortstop assists in 1974 (536) and 1976 (506), and led the loop in shortstop putouts in 1976 (304). Offensively, Concepcion averaged almost 70 RBI a season from 1974-81, setting new standards for shortstops at the plate.

As his career wound down, Concepcion – now the Reds’ captain – became a valuable bench player. He ended his career following the 1988 season after 19 years with a .267 average, 2,326 hits, 321 stolen bases and two Silver Slugger Awards at shortstop, in addition to his five Gold Glove Awards and nine All-Star Game selections.

“Davey Concepcion was the best shortstop I ever played with,” said Hall of Fame second baseman and former Reds teammate Joe Morgan, “and the best shortstop I ever saw.”

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum