Monday, September 24, 2012

#435 - Dave Concepcion

This is the second action shot in a row of Elmer Concepcion’s young career and it appears to be taken at Wrigley, although it seems mighty dark in the background for that setting. Elmer was Dave’s nickname foisted upon him by his Cincinnati teammates for the prevalence at this state of his career to see an E – Concepcion in box scores. That certainly wouldn’t last, given all the Gold Gloves he’d rack up over his career. But even at this stage that career was looking pretty good and obviously the Topps guys agree since they gave Dave an honorary card number. By now he was the Reds’ starting shortstop after just a couple seasons in the minors and some injury-plagued ones up top. Those included his ’73 season when he was going great guns with a .287 average well over his career one and was selected to his first All-Star game. But he didn’t play in that game nor the rest of the year as he broke his ankle sliding and took a long time to recuperate. That means – for anyone who cares about such stuff – that this shot is probably from a series in Chicago in early June. Given Dave’s proximity to the bag, he may be taking a practice throw from Johnny Bench since there’s no runner and no hint of Joe Morgan backing him up. Dave also got shut out in post-season action in ’73 but like the cause of that Elmer handle, that would get rectified pretty quickly.

Dave Concepcion was playing ball in his native Venezuela practically year-round when he was signed by the Reds in ’67 a few months after graduating high school. Back then he was primarily a pitcher but by the time he reached the States in late spring of ’68 he was all infielder in A ball. After a less than inspired debut at that level he ramped things up significantly in ’69 at both Double and Triple A, by then firmly ensconced as a shortstop. That was it for his minor league career and in ’70 spring training he made the cut and would split the shortstop role with other young guy Darrell Chaney. Dave had more range and was the better hitter – and hit well in the Series – so in ’71 he was given the regular job in spring training only to give it back when he hurt his wrist. He still ended up splitting time but the injury cooled off his average a bunch. In ’72 he was relatively healthy but his average wasn’t, at least not until the post-season again. After his nice kick-off to ’73 he returned after surgery in ’74 and had one of his best offensive seasons: .281 with 82 RBI’s and a career-high 14 homers and 41 stolen bases. He also copped his first of what would be five – four consecutive – Gold Gloves. By now Dave was widely recognized as a – if not the – premier NL shortstop and the next eight straight seasons he would be an All-Star. In ’75 he was hurt a few games but returned to the post-season, this time going all the way. Then from ’76 to ’80 he averaged .279 with 73 RBI’s and excellent stolen base ratios as he gradually worked his way up the batting order as The Machine was slowly dismantled. He won another Series in ’76 and returned to the playoffs in ’79. In the strike year of ’81 he had his best offensive year, hitting .306 with 67 RBI’s in 421 at bats to win a Silver Slugger. He received the award again in ’82 when he hit .287 and then over the next three seasons his average declined to the .245 area. Beginning in ’86 Dave assumed pretty much a utility role, also playing first and then second, as he groomed his successor Barry Larkin. In ’87 he hit .319 in that role while playing mostly second base. After another year he retired at age 40. He finished with a .267 average, 101 homers, 389 doubles, and 950 RBI’s. He also stole 321 bases against only 109 picks and had a .322 OBA, awfully good for a shortstop from his era. In the post-season he hit .297 with 13 RBI’s in 34 games. Defensively he is 20th in putouts and tenth in assists all-time for shortstops. Lots of people think those numbers are good enough for the Hall.

After playing Concepcion returned to Venezuela where he played winter ball his whole career and was pretty much immediately put into his country’s hall of fame. He owns a farm and a trucking business there both of in which he has actively participated. He also is a big proponent of youth baseball there. His number 13 was retired by Cincinnati in 2007.

Topps does a nice job of spreading the star bullets between offensive and defensive achievements for Dave. The cartoon actually referred to his ’73 season which is unusually timely for those guys.

Since I missed about a week of posts, there is a bunch of music news from both years which deserves mention. Today I’ll concentrate on ’73. On September 15 the new Number One song stateside was Helen Reddy’s “Delta Dawn,” another of her pro-feminist tunes. Things then get pretty gloomy. On September 19 Gram Parsons is found dead from an overdose in a motel room. A couple days later the ex-Byrd’s body is cremated in Joshua Tree National Park per his wishes (his manager covered it with gasoline and struck a match). On September 20, Jim Croce is killed in a plane crash just when his career was really rolling. Back to the prosaic stuff, on the 22nd, the new Number One in the UK is “Angel Wings” by the group Wizzard. Wizzard was a big fan of makeup much like Slade and while the group definitely looked bizarre – think a white version of Funkadelic - this tune is sot of a throwback to the girl group type stuff of the early Sixties.

These guys were divisional rivals for a few years:

1. Concepcion and Buddy Bell ’85 to ’88 Reds;
2. Bell and Mickey Rivers ’79 to ’84 Rangers;
3. Rivers and Ken McMullen ’70 to ’72 Angels.

I also could have gone through Alex Johnson but that would take as many steps.

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