Sunday, January 06, 2002

Concepcion caught in Ozzie's shadow




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        Ozzie Smith made the plays that didn't seem possible. Dave Concepcion made the rigorous seem routine.

        Smith was the SportsCenter shortstop, a spectacular acrobat in an age of videotape. Concepcion was solidly golden but less glittery.

        Smith is expected to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first try when the 2002 balloting is announced Tuesday. Concepcion can count on being an afterthought for the ninth straight year.

        Is the gap between them really so great?

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Dave Concepcion will have to settle for his Reds Hall of Fame plaque.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        “Ozzie Smith is the best fielding shortstop I've ever seen,” Reds announcer Marty Brennaman said Friday. “But if one of the criteria for getting into the Hall of Fame is that you were the premier player at your position for a number of years, Davey Concepcion passes that one. And he's a better all-around player than the other guy.”

        What's weird is that though Smith's passport to Cooperstown is likely to receive a rubber stamp, Concepcion will be lucky to land a quarter of the votes required for induction. Last year, his eighth on the ballot, Concepcion received 74 votes — 14.37 percent of the 515 cast — when 387 votes were required for induction.

        “The people that are voting, stop day-dreaming,” former Reds manager Sparky Anderson said. “I believe that Ozzie Smith, because of the acrobatics he could do on AstroTurf, was probably as quick as I've ever seen. But there's a whole package that's involved here.”

Defensive standouts

        Neither Smith nor Concepcion would qualify for Cooperstown on the basis of batting, but Concepcion was plainly the more productive offensive player. Defensively, the two shortstops were unquestionably the class of overlapping eras.

        Concepcion won five Gold Gloves for the Reds between 1974 and 1979 with an effortless stride and an artillery-piece arm. Smith then won the next 13 with contortions no other shortstop could consider, much less simulate.

        On the extraordinary Reds teams of the '70s, Concepcion's contributions often were overlooked. Yet his range helped mask Pete Rose's immobility and Joe Morgan's arm on back-to-back World Series winners.

        If he was less impressive at the plate, Concepcion's career numbers compare favorably to those of Hall of Fame shortstops Pee Wee Reese and Phil Rizzuto.

        “I know that those stars beat up on so many shortstops in the Hall of Fame,” Anderson said. “Jack The Ripper is a baby compared to what David did to some of those people.”

Concepcion overshadowed

        Concepcion's problem in gaining a Cooperstown consensus is that today's prototype shortstop hits for power, and yesterday's will always suffer in comparison with Smith. Though Concepcion covered more ground than a tumbleweed in a tornado, any objective analysis would show Smith had the better glove.

        From 1978 through 1985, when they were both major-league regulars, Smith averaged 110 more assists and 21 more putouts than Concepcion. That's a difference of four outs every five games — huge.

        While total chances do not always reflect relative skill, Smith handled 2,330 more chances at shortstop than did Concepcion and committed 30 fewer errors.

        The Wizard of Oz was indisputably wonderful. But is his shadow so large that it can conceal his contemporaries?

        Sure looks that way.

        E-mail tsullivan@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/sullivan.


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