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Ozzie says Concepcion belongs in ‘The Hall”

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ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 28: Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith throws the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game Five of the 2013 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox at Busch Stadium on October 28, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 28: Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith throws the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game Five of the 2013 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox at Busch Stadium on October 28, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Dave Concepcion is not in baseball’s Hall of Fame, which is a ball of shame.

If the man who performed shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds for 19 summers like Baryshnikov on spikes isn’t worthy, then neither are Ozzie Smith, Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese or Luis Aparicio.

The Wizard of OZ, Scooter, Pee Wee and Luis all are in the Hall and Magoo (a nickname Pete Rose hung on Concepcion) is not.

And it pains Concepcion, as it should. Nearly every time he sees me he says, “When are you going to get me into the Hall of Fame?”

If only I could, Davey, if only I could. I voted for him every year he was on the ballot but he never came close.

When he asks, I smile and say, “You should have learned to do the back flip,” which is something made famous by Ozzie Smith, who often did the back flip when he ran to his position.

The comparisons are eerie. Concepcion’s numbers when listed with the other four Hall of Fame shortstops as far as batting average, on base percentage, slugging average, home runs and RBI are comparable or better. They all are close.

And if you throw in defense, Concepcion was as good as any of them.

The numbers:
*CONCEPCION: 19 year – .267/.332/357, 101, 950.
*SMITH: 19 years – .262/.337/.327, 28, 793.
*RIZZUTO: 13 years – .273/.351/355, 38, 563.
*REESE: 16 years – .269/.366/.377, 126, 885.
*APARACIO: 18 years – .271/.324/.309, 83, 791.

OZZIE SMITH WAS IN CINCINNATI Tuesday night as guest speaker at the La Salle Stag Dinner and I put the question to him:

“Does Dave Concepcion belong in the Hall of Fame and if so why does he belong and why isn’t he in?”

Smith was as quick with his answer as he was with his hands on a baseball field.

Without hesitation, “Yes, of course he does, I certainly do.” And Smith said when he was a member of the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee he voted for Concepcion every time.

So why is he on the outside needing a ticket to get in? His short answer was that Concepcion was overshadowed by other members of The Big Red Machine, preventing him from grabbing the attention he deserves.

“Sometimes in certain situations you end up being the odd guy out,” said Smith. “The numbers catch up with you. There were so many great players on that team, Hall of Famers (Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, manager Sparky Anderson and, of course, Pete Rose would have been a first ballot selectee) that everybody couldn’t make it and he was the guy who didn’t make it.

“But in my estimation he was one of the most important pieces on that team,” Smith added. “When a team is successful you look no farther than the middle of the diamond — shortstop, center field and catching. And when I think of The Big Red Machine Davey Concepcion was the guy who stabilized them in the middle.

“He was the guy who gave the pitcher the confidence that if he got a ground ball he was going to get an out,” said Smith. “That’s what it is all about — giving pitchers the confidence to know that if I got a ground ball in a crucial situation or needed a double play I was going to get it, rather than being afraid to give up a ground ball hit to your shortstop or second baseman.

“Any time a pitcher can get away from having to strike people out, well, pitching to contact is much better for a pitcher,” he said. “When you can afford your pitcher the type of confidence Concepcion gave them — a 99.9 per cent chance he is going to get the guy out — that’s a big, big thing.

SMITH SERVED A COUPLE OF TIMES on the Veterans Committee and said, “He has always gotten my vote.”

Probably what Concepcion needed was a committee made up entirely of former shortstops and he would have been a unanimous choice.

Sparky Anderson always said when the Reds really needed a run, “Davey Concepcion was as good at producing that run as anybody on my team.”

And Smith agreed.

“Yeah, he was a guy, a guy we feared in those situations,” said Smith, who played for the San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals. “He was rewarded by the opposing pitcher because not as much attention was paid to him. You had Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Dan Driessen — they had all these other people. From that standpoint, it helped him. But as far as making the Hall of Fame it was against him.”

Smith said he learned something from Concepcion, “Actually stole something from him. I learned to bounce the ball to first base on AstroTurf. He was the best at that.”

Concepcion accidentally learned that if he bounced his throws to first base on one hop, the ball picked up speed and arrived at the base faster. He discovered it during infield practice when he made a couple of low throws and the ball shot off the turf into the first baseman’s glove.

Concepcion learned how to get the ball to first base quicker, but he never has been able to hop up on the stage in Cooperstown for induction. And that’s a miscarriage of baseball justice.


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