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Five Gold Gloves At Short: DAVE CONCEPCION

         

    For a guy who in his first two seasons as a regular shortstop in the Reds starting lineup batted .205 and .209, Dave Concepcion has come a long way.

He has come such a long way that when he finally decides at the end of this decade that he has had enough, they just might have to clear some space for him in Cooperstown. He certainly has all the earmarks of the Hall of Fame's next shortstop.

 

Concepcion has developed into one of baseball's best all-round players. His tremendous range and strong arm have earned him five Gold Gloves, symbolic of defensive greatness. After the slow start at the plate, his composite batting average in the following nine seasons, from 1973 through 1981, was .281, and twice he hit over .300. When he batted .300 in 1978, he became the first Reds shortstop in more than 50 years to do so.

 

He can run bases, too. Entering the 1982 season, Concepcion had stolen 236 bases with a high of 41 in 1974. And he has been named to the National League All-Star team eight times.

 

"George Foster has a lot more power," said Houston Astros manager Bill Virdon, "but if there's a runner in scoring position and the Reds need only one run, then Concepcion's the guy I don't want to see up there at the plate.

 

    "Pee Wee Reese, Alvin Dark, Roy McMillan and Dick Groat were among the best I've seen, but for all-round ability, especially range, I can't put any of them  ahead of Concepcion."

David Ismael Concepcion was a skinny, 19-year-old kid from Venezuela when the Reds signed him in 1967. There was no questions that he could "pick it." That's the way baseball players describe superb defense. But Virgilio Mata, another Venezuelan shortstop, signed at the same time with Concepcion, and Mata appeared to be much further advanced. It seemed in the beginning that Mata would be the real plum.

Mata, however, peaked somewhere at about the Class AA level in the minor leagues. Concepcion kept improving, and by 1970 he was in the major leagues. He shared the shortstop position that year with Woody Woodward on the National League pennant-winning team.

 

Although Concepcion hit .341 in a part-season at Class AAA Indianapolis and then .260 playing part-time in his rookie National League season, his bat didn't scare anyone in 1971 when he won the starting job with the Reds. He hit only .205 that season, then followed it with a .209 average in 1972. But his defensive prowess made people overlook his problems at the plate.

   

 

    It was in the following year, 1973, that his bat came alive, too, and it has been cooking ever since. Davey batted .287 in 1973 and was named to the All-Star team. Two days before the All-Star game, however, he suffered a broken ankle and missed the remainder of the season.

 

The big question remained: would he have the mobility to play shortstop after the injury? The answer was a resounding yes.

 

Concepcion came back in a big way. He played with reckless abandon in 1974. He stole 41 bases in 44 tries. He batted .281. And he won his first of five Gold Gloves.

   Through the years Reds fanshave always liked their shortstops. The first great one was George Wright on the 1869 Red Stockings. He was considered the best baseball player of his time. In the late 1890s and early 1900s, Tommy Corcoran was a favorite.

Larry Kopf, Hod Ford, Leo Durocher, Billy Meyers and Eddie Miller followed. Then came Roy McMillan in 1951. He was acknowledged as the best the Reds had ever had.

But Concepcion has replaced McMillan at the top of the list. He was the best shortstop in baseball during the 1970s. And someday he will sit alongside some of the other great ones in the Hall of Fame.

  

         
       

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