The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.


                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.







The Shortstops

by Jerry Keys

Of all the positions in baseball, the shortstop position requires the most dynamics.  To play this position effectively one must be very agile and have great speed.  It is a position with lots of turnover.

Over the last 34 years the Atlanta Braves have seen 14 players at that position on a regular basis.  The Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox have seen 17.  Even the New York Yankees had 14 players at shortstop.  As you can see it is hard to find a long-term player for this spot in the infield.  Cal Ripken revolutionized the position from a defensive-minded and no-hit position to a slick fielding and power hitting position.

From 1970 to 2003 Atlanta has had the following players at shortstop on a regular basis:  Sonny Jackson (1970), Marty Perez (1971-73), Craig

Jerry Keys

Robinson (1974), Larvell Blanks (1975), Darrel Chaney (1976, 1978), Pat Rockett (1977), Pepe Frias (1979), Luis Gomez (1980), Rafael Ramirez (1981-85), Andres Thomas (1986-89), Jeff Blauser (1990, 1993-97), Rafael Belliard (1991-92), Walt Weiss (1998-99), and Rafael Furcal (2000-03).  Not exactly any stalwarts at shortstop for Atlanta over the last three and a half decades.

Late last month I saw an ending of an era in Cincinnati.  They decided to offer Barry Larkin, who wished to play one more season, a salary befitting a career-long bench warming veteran or an unproven second or third year player.  Even if all

Barry Larkin as a
rookie in 1986 and in 2001

incentives were met in addition to his base salary, it still would have been an insult to Barry.

I usually harp on players for enormous and undeserving contracts.  This is the exception.  I have the same stance here as I would have if the San Diego Padres had done this to Tony Gwynn or if the Baltimore Orioles to Cal Ripken.  Larkin, like Gwynn and Ripken, had spent his entire career with one team.  Barry had been a Red since 1986 (and is the current longest active streak for players with one team).

I was born in July of 1971.  For the 32 years I have been on this Earth the Cincinnati Reds have had only two shortstops, Dave Concepcion and Larkin.  Dave was a career Red from 1970-88 and Barry from 1986-2003. The cost of a first class stamp was six cents and the median household income was (in current dollars) $8,734 when Concepcion broke into the

majors.  These two players were more of a fixture at shortstop for Cincinnati as road construction was for inside the 285 perimeter of Atlanta.

The only years that Concepcion or Larkin were not the primary shortstop were in 1986, where Kurt Stillwell played 80 games there, Concepcion played 60, and a rookie named Larkin played 36, and in 1997 and 2001 where Pokey Reese played 110 and 70 games compared to Larkin's 63 and 42 (due to injuries).

The Reds signed Concepcion in 1967 at the age of 19 and he broke in with the Reds and was the Opening Day shortstop on April 6,

Dave Concepcion as a
rookie in 1970 and in 1988

1970.  For the next 16 seasons he was a mainstay.  Along the way he picked up five Gold Glove awards in a six year span (1974-79), was selected to the National League All-Star team in nine of ten years (1973, 1975-82), finished fourth in the NL MVP voting in 1981, and was always a threat to swipe a base.  Concepcion was a fixture and key contributor in the Red's mid-1970's Big Red Machine that culminated in 2 World Championships in 1975 and 1976.

Concepcion stayed on with the Reds as a utility player in the infield for two more years after Larkin took over and retired after the 1988 season.  Larkin was signed by the Reds in 1985 at the age of 21 and saw action for the Reds a year later.  Larkin was instrumental in the Reds 1990 World Series victory over the highly touted Oakland A's, who were making their third straight Series appearance.

After a disappointing 1991 and 1993 season, and being a cosmetic contender to Atlanta in 1992, Larkin put the team on his shoulders and guided the Reds to the 1995 NL Central pennant, a 3 game sweep of Los Angeles in the NL Division Series before losing to Atlanta in a four game sweep in the NLCS. 

Larkin was awarded the 1995 NL MVP award, won three straight Gold Glove awards (1994-96), and was named to the NL All-Star team 11 times between 1988 and 2000.  Larkin and Concepcion almost mirror one another's career marks in many areas.  Concepcion holds the edge in games (2488-2069), at bats (8723-7591), hits (2326-2240), and RBI's (950-916) and Larkin in runs (1274-993), doubles (426-389), and batting average (.295-.267).

But after 18 seasons, Larkin will file for free agency.  The only other team that even comes close to the Concepcion-Larkin legacy was the Baltimore Oriole pair, Mark Belanger (1968-81) and Cal Ripken (1982-96), who manned the position for 29 years.  For the Roaring Twenties and the Depression Era baseball fans there was the Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice and Mike Greenwell run in left field at Fenway from 1940-96.  Outside of wartime duty, occasional injuries, or brief shifts to other positions these four players patrolled the Green Monster for 57 years.

I have long been a Larkin fan and was always a Concepcion fan.  With free agency and salary crunches on team GM's, I know that a run of this length will never happen again.
Thanks Davey.  Thanks Barry.  Good luck with your new team in 2004.