CINCINNATI -- No baseball player is likely as associated with the No. 13 than Reds shortstop great Dave Concepcion. "It's not an unlucky number. It's a lucky number," Concepcion said. "It was good luck for the Cincinnati Reds." In the 19 years since he played his last game for Cincinnati, the number has always belonged in spirit to Concepcion. After Saturday, it will belong to him forever. The Reds will hold ceremonies to retire No. 13 at 6:30 p.m. ET before they play the Florida Marlins at Great American Ball Park.
"I am an emotional person. I know I'm going to explode," Concepcion said Thursday before an event at the Reds Hall of Fame. Only three other Reds ever wore No. 13 -- Eddie Miller in 1946, Eddie Pellagrini from 1952-53 and Ray Shore from 1967-68. Concepcion wore it best, and the longest. He spent his entire 19-year career with the Reds from 1970-88 and was an important, but often less heralded member, of the famed "Big Red Machine" while playing alongside Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and all-time hits leader Pete Rose. The "Big Red Machine" won four pennants and back-to-back World Series in 1975-76. Concepcion's spectacular defense on the infield's left side helped make going to Riverfront Stadium as good as any show in town. "During my era, Davey was the best shortstop in baseball," Morgan said in December. Concepcion, now 59, owned a lifetime .267 average, 101 home runs and 950 RBIs. The nine-time All-Star was one of only 14 players in history to play more than 2,000 games at shortstop and collect more than 2,000 hits. He had a .972 career fielding percentage and won five Gold Glove Awards. "It's too bad Davey Concepcion played before the 'Web gem' era," Bench said last winter. "Because his defensive genius would have been highlighted on national television every night." Concepcion's No. 13 will be the ninth number retired by the Reds. It will join former manager Fred Hutchinson's No. 1, Bench's No. 5, Morgan's No. 8, manager Sparky Anderson's No. 10, Ted Kluszewski's No. 18, Frank Robinson's No. 20, Perez's No. 24 and Jackie Robinson's No. 42. The numbers are displayed behind home plate on the façade just below the press box. Accomplished shortstops from other clubs in later eras -- including Omar Vizquel and Ozzie Guillen -- have worn No. 13 during their careers in respect to the Venezuelan that is considered a pioneer among Latin ballplayers. "I have a lot of pride for that because they wore my number," Concepcion said. "They saw me and the way I played. They believed 13 was a good luck number." Venezuela will have significant representation in the crowd on Saturday. "A bunch of friends, baseball fans and Cincinnati Reds fans wanted to come, about 100 people from my hometown," Concepcion said. "It's so emotional because Cincinnati has been my second home. I'm from Venezuela, but I grew up in Cincinnati. I came here at 20 years old. I was happy to be with this club." Former starting pitcher Tom Browning, who starred for the Reds from 1984-94, appreciated Concepcion even when he was at the tail end of his career. "Best hands I've ever seen, to this day," Browning said this week. "He never really got the recognition he deserved. I think he re-invented the game at shortstop, especially on Astro Turf, which Ozzie [Smith] got all the credit for. "He was just a character and obviously a main cog in that 'Big Red Machine.' I got to be very good friends with him. I loved him. I'm happy he's getting his number retired, but he needs to be in that Hall of Fame, in my opinion." Concepcion has just one more year of Hall of Fame eligibility left on the writer's ballot before his credentials can be debated via the veteran's ballot. He has never received more than 17 percent of the vote from the writers and would need at least 75 percent to be enshrined in Cooperstown. His being overshadowed by numerous other cogs of the "Big Red Machine" has probably been one of the biggest obstacles to baseball immortality for Concepcion. But he'll have Saturday to himself. Teammates, including Morgan and Bench, will be in attendance to support him along with several thousand friends, most of them Reds fans he's likely never met. "You know what? The game was easy for me," Concepcion said. "You know what's hard for me? Talking to the people. It's really hard. It's something I could never do. But I'm going to try my best. Whatever comes out of my heart, I'll give it to them."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.