Sunday, December 03, 2000

Concepcion getting short shrift from Hall voters




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        Dave Concepcion should not demand a recount. What he needs is a fresh look. If Cincinnati's most elegant and enduring shortstop is to gain any momentum toward the Baseball Hall of Fame, he must persuade voters to probe deeper, to look past the statistics, to study defense and discuss discrepancies.

        His candidacy needs context. It needs perspective. It needs voters willing to confront their biases and redress old wrongs.

        It needs help.

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Davey Concepcion was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame last summer.
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        Twelve years after he fielded his last ground ball in the big leagues, Concepcion has so far failed to capture the imagination of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He has barely captured their attention. He received 67 votes in last year's election — only 13.4 percent of those cast — and barely one-sixth the number necessary for induction.

        It is unlikely Concepcion ever will reach consensus with the BBWAA, which requires a 75-percent approval rating. Yet under the Hall's revised eligibility rules, Concepcion won't qualify for consideration by the Veterans Committee unless he can win 60 percent of the BBWAA vote at least once before 2008.

        It's going to be hard, but it does not have to be hopeless. Concepcion was a nine-time All-Star, a five-time Gold Glove winner, and generally is considered the best shortstop of his time. What holds him back from Cooperstown is that our expectations for his position have been elevated.

Higher standards
        Concepcion came up to the Reds at a time when shortstops were expected to catch everything and hit nothing. His contemporaries consisted largely of banjo hitters such as Larry Bowa, Bud Harrelson and Bill Russell. He appears on the Cooperstown ballot, however, during an era of shortstop supremacy.

COMPARISON
How Concepcion stacks up with Hall of Fame shortstops.

        Boston's Nomar Garciaparra has won back-to-back batting titles. The Yankees' Derek Jeter was the most valuable player of both the All-Star Game and the World Series. Free agent Alex Rodriguez is destined to sign the most lucrative contract in the history of the game.

        Compared to the current shortstop crop — and even to his Reds successor, Barry Larkin — Concepcion was lethal only with his leather. The question he needs asked is whether a candidate for Cooperstown should be evaluated against his peers or against a sliding historical scale weighted in favor of those who swat suspiciously buoyant baseballs in smaller ballparks, against thinner pitching, amid steroid proliferation.

Underrepresented
        Baseball evolves. Most of the shortstops who preceded Concepcion never benefitted from an Astroturf bounce. Most of those who have followed him have benefitted from conditions more conducive to offense. What hasn't changed since the days of Honus Wagner is the defensive significance of a dependable shortstop.

        Shortstops field more ground balls, start more double plays and make more difficult throws than any other position player. Center fielders cover more ground, but the difference between the two jobs is the difference between chess and checkers.

        “Nobody ever won a pennant,” said Leo Durocher, “without a star shortstop.”

        Invaluable as they are, though, shortstops are oddly underrepresented in Cooperstown. Even if you count Ernie Banks, who played the majority of his games at first base, only 19 of the 249 Hall of Fame inductees have been shortstops. Of these, only eight were elected by the BBWAA, against 11 anointed by the Veterans Committee.

        Excluding Banks, the most recent National League shortstop elected by the writers was Rabbit Maranville, who took his last turn at bat in 1935.

        There is no clear standard for what constitutes a Hall of Fame player. Other than the requirement that the player complete 10 years in the major leagues, each voter is allowed to establish his own criteria.

        Concepcion's advocates argue that he belongs in the Hall of Fame because he was better than some players who already are in. Pee Wee Reese and Phil Rizzuto both were elected by the Veter ans Committee with relatively inferior statistics. Except for triples and stolen bases, Concepcion exceeds Joe Tinker (of Tinker to Evers to Chance) in every conceivable category, and committed barely half as many errors.

        “All I ask,” Sparky Anderson said last summer, “is that people put David's credentials on the table. And then see who he knocks off the table.”

        The Baseball Writers are under no obligation to elect every candidate who exceeds the less stringent standards of the Veterans Committee. Given the quantity of deserving candidates, only the most qualified have a real shot.

        Kirby Puckett, Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly appear on the ballot for the first time this year, and the holdover candidates include such luminaries as Gary Carter, Steve Garvey, , Dale Murphy, Jim Rice and Bruce Sutter.

        Dave Concepcion, consequently, is a tough sell. Like most shortstops, he's getting short shrift.

        E-mail tsullivan@enquirer.com.

       



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