by: Scott A. Horstmeier
Many consider Dave Concepcion as one the greatest shortstops of all time. He was a main cog of the Big Red Machine and their 1975 and 1976 World Series championships. At his retirement in 1988, he was the longest tenured Cincinnati Red with 19 years of service, quite an accomplishment for one of the oldest franchises in MLB.
Concepcion was born in Ocumare de la Costa, Venezuela on June 17, 1948. Concepcion played part-time for the Tigres de Aragua, a baseball team in Venezuela Professional Baseball League, while he also worked as a bank teller. His coach, Wilfredo Calvino, was also a Reds scout and signed Concepcion for the Reds in 1967.
Concepcion made his MLB debut on April 6, 1970. In his first three seasons he was a part-time player with the Reds. His breakthrough season came in 1973 when he established himself as the Reds starting and everyday shortstop. He made the National League All-Star team that year, but dislocated his knee and broke his leg sliding into third base two days before the All-Star game. He did not let the injuries stop him. He bounced back in 1974 in a big way, by winning his first Gold Glove, hitting .281 with 14 homers and 82 RBIs, and stole 41 bases.
He continued to be one of the dominant shortstops in the 1970s by making every National League All-Star team from 1975 to 1982, and even winning the All-Star game MVP in 1982 when he hit a two-run homer to help the National League win the game. He also won Gold Gloves in 1975, 1976, 1977, and 1979. He won Silver Slugger awards in 1981 and 1982. He also finished 4th in National League MVP voting in 1981 when he produced his best hitting slash line of .306/.358/.409 and an OPS of .767.
As good as Concepcion was during the regular season, he excelled and shined when on the main stage of the postseason. His hitting slash line in the postseason, playing in nine different series, was .297/.333/.455 and an OPS of .789.
Concepcion played in the era of Astroturf fields. Playing on Astroturf gave him the idea to use the slick quick surface of Astroturf to get the ball to first base faster. He invented and perfected the one-hop throw to first, throwing the ball so it would take one bounce on the Astroturf to the first baseman, causing the ball to actually speed up and get the first baseman faster. Many shortstops copied his style.
One good natured story about Concepcion was the time Larry Bowa, a shortstop for the Philadelphia Phillies, called him Elmer. The Reds and Phillies were in competition in the mid-1970s as to who was the better National League team. On a road visit to Philadelphia Larry Bowa kept calling Concepcion Elmer. Concepcion, not understanding why Bowa was calling him Elmer, finally asked Bowa why he kept calling him Elmer. Bowa let him know that everytime he looked at the box score after a game it always said, E-Concepcion. He thought the E was for Elmer. E of course stands for error.
The Reds have honored Concepcion by inducting him into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and retiring his number 13. He has been inducted into the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame and the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame. The Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame will induct Conception into their Hall of Fame this season.
Perhaps the biggest honor to Concepcion was what his beloved manager of the Reds, Sparky Anderson, said about him. Anderson said, “Maybe somewhere there has been a man who played shortstop as well as he does, but I assure you there has never been a man that can cover the amount of ground he covers.” Quite a tribute from a Hall of Fame manager who was in baseball as long as he was.
(stats from baseball-reference.com)