Hall of Fame 2012: Making Dave Concepcion's Case

Dave Concepcion (Getty Images)

Next year, Barry Larkin will probably take his rightful place in the Hall of Fame. Apparently that's not enough for some people. Over at the Dayton Daily News, B.J. Bethel's convinced that two Cincinnati shortstops belong in the Hall. And no, he's not talking about Roy McMillan. Bethel is adamant about Dave Concepcion:

ESPN motor mouth Skip Bayless has this saying of “this isn’t the Hall of Very Good,” but Concepcion was beyond good. He was a star at his position. He was one of the two best during his prime, something which would normally guarantee admission.

This is the best argument for Concepcion. He was literally a star: an All-Star nine times, Concepcion was certainly the most famous National League shortstop for a number of years. And yes, he was one of the two best shortstops in the major leagues, during his prime. Concepcion was an outstanding player for 10 years, 1973 through 1982, and his only rival was Milwaukee's Robin Yount.

It's probably true that if you're one of the two best at your position over the course of a decade, you're probably going to wind up in the Hall of Fame ... but it doesn't mean you necessarily deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. Dale Murphy was one of the best center fielders for 10 years. Don Mattingly was one of the best first basemen for 10 years. Both have their supporters, but neither is an obvious choice. And both were better players than Concepcion, who (in this discussion) was simply lucky enough to play in an era when there weren't many great shortstops.

He’s hurt considerably from the large shadow cast by his Big Red Machine teammates and one Ozzie Smith, who was always good for a jaw-dropping catch, but for years batted on the lower end of .200. Concepcion was better offensively, and he helped redefine how to play shortstop on AstroTurf.

That last isn't a Hall of Fame argument. Yes, he might have been the first shortstop to intentionally bounce a throw to the first baseman. Which is cute, but hardly a show-stopper. And Concepcion was not better than Ozzie Smith, offensively. Concepcion's supporters love to say this, but it's just not true. Concepcion finished his career with a higher slugging percentage than Ozzie, but a lower on-base percentage. Concepcion's career OPS+ was 88, which of course isn't bad for a Gold Glove shortstop. Ozzie's was 87 ... and Ozzie was significantly better as a baserunner.


2012 Hall of Fame Preview: Barry Larkin and Ron Santo are top candidates

Thanks to his walks and his steals, Ozzie finished his career with 410 runs above replacement (RAR) as a hitter; Concepcion finished with 304 RAR. I hope you don't need me to tell you that's a HUGE difference.

There's more: silly stuff about too many Yankees in the Hall of Fame (not true) and "big-city resentment toward the '70s Reds" (utter poppycock). The basic problem is that Concepcion, while a fine player for a long time, was never regarded as a great, Hall of Fame-level player. I'm not saying the voters always get it right. To this point they've gotten it wrong with Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, and they've really gotten it wrong with Alan Trammell. But to their credit, they've gotten it right with Concepcion.

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