The thing that caught my eye about this Fleer card was being amazed that Dave Concepcion was still cashing a check in the major leagues as late as 1988. I so associate him with the mid 1970’s that he seems out of place here. There is a odd time warp quality to this card.
He is wearing the same uniform as his Big Machine Days and he is in great shape, if a little older.
The Reds signed Concepcion out of his native Venezuela in 1967 to be a pitcher in their organization. He was converted to the infield and became a mainstay in Cincinnati. He arrived in the big leagues in 1970, and it was a good time to be with the Reds then.
In his 4th game in the majors, he went 3 for 4 with 2 doubles off of future Hall of Famer Don Sutton and 2 RBI as the Reds beat the Dodgers 3-0.
Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez all started in that game. They would start in many more games to come.
Concepcion hit well enough to stay in the lineup, batting .260 that rookie season. But it was his glove that made him a stand out. He started the last 3 gams of the 1970 World Series against the Orioles, driving in 2 runs in Game 3.
In 1972, he was the starting shortstop on the NL Champion Reds, this time falling short to the A’s. By 1973, he was named to his first All Star Team, batting .287 while playing sparkling defense. 1974 led to his first Gold Glove and 1975 saw him return to the All Star Game.
He would be named to every single NL All Star Team between 1975 and 1983, earning the reputation of his dynamic defense (that earned him 5 Gold Gloves) and being part of the best starting lineup in baseball.
Everything clicked in 1975 as the Reds starting lineup of Rose, Perez, Bench, Concepcion, Joe Morgan, Cesar Geronimo, George Foster and Ken Griffey was second to none in the decade and maybe all time.
Sparky Anderson rode the team to an easy division title. In the NLCS, Concepcion batted .455 with an OPS of 1.227 and a homer as the Reds swept Pittsburgh to go to the World Series.
In Game 2 of the 1975 World Series, he tied the game with a 2 out, top of the 9th single and set up Johnny Bench’s go ahead hit. Had he not come up there, the Red Sox would have taken a 2-0 lead to Cincinnati and the whole tone of the World Series would have been different. The Reds would win the classic in 7.
In 1976, he would help the Reds make it back to back titles by batting .357 in the World Series sweep against the Yankees, doubling and tripling and putting up a .971 OPS. No National League team has won back to back World Series since.
His final post season appearance happened in 1979 when he batted .429 and slugged .500 in the 1979 NLCS loss to the Pirates.
The one time all field and no hit shortstop developed into a quality hitter as his All Star seasons kept piling up. He hit over .300 in several seasons and in 1979 hit a career high 16 homers. He finished 4th in the 1981 NL MVP vote when the split season stupidly kept Cincinnati out of the post season.
Concepcion made his final All Star Game count in 1982 when he homered and became the game’s MVP.
Eventually, while being managed by his former teammate Pete Rose, he became a trusted utility man and mentor to Barry Larkin.
He was not brought back after the 1988 season, thankfully for him missing the turmoil of the Pete Rose suspension in 1989 but narrowly missing the 1990 World Series title. He tried out with the Angels in 1989 but didn’t make the team.
Beloved in Cincinnati, he lives full time back in Venezuela, returning for Big Red Machine reunions. Between 1994 and 2008, he was on the Hall of Fame ballot every year, watching his teammates Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez get elected along with 1979 teammate Tom Seaver and his manager Sparky Anderson.
He could never break 20% of the vote and did not get in. His protege, Barry Larkin, did make it in.
Concepcion was part of one of the great lineups of all time and held his own. Who knows if he didn’t tie that World Series game, maybe the Reds would not have won in 1975.
But he did and they did. And perhaps that was part of the reason he hung around with the Reds for another 13 years.