Erardi: Hit King weekend shows Reds Hall of Famers still have their camaraderie

CINCINNATI — Pete Rose zinged Davey Concepcion pretty good during Rose’s number retirement ceremony Sunday afternoon at Great American Ball Park.

“When I benched Davey many, many years ago (as Reds manager),” Rose recalled, “he was ready to kill me. Well, Davey, I notice the guy I replaced you with is sitting to your left and his number’s hanging up there (Rose pointed to the number-retirement wall fronting the press box at GABP). So I knew what the hell I was doing.”

Concepcion broke out in a wide grin, as always when being skewered. Say what you will about the slick-fielding Venezuelan, he can take it.

So what else is new?

The Big Four of Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez have been zinging the kid since he arrived in spring training 1970, and Joe Morgan began zinging him in spring training 1972, which is when Morgan arrived here.

“They still do it,” Concepcion said this weekend. “Nothing’s changed even though I’m no longer the kid. (He’s  68). But when it comes time to promote me for the (National Baseball) Hall of Fame, or say what I meant to the Big Red Machine, they do it. I know they’re only kidding on the other stuff.”

At Saturday’s press conference, Rose complimented many of the Reds Hall of Famers sitting next to him, and behind him, for aging well. He then turned the needle on, who else, Concepcion.

“What’s the matter, Davey? Don’t they have hair color in Venezuela?”

There was a lot of good back-and-forth this weekend.

During the video tribute at GABP that showed hit after hit by Rose during his quest of Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record, Bench leaned over to Rose and said, ‘Where the hell are the home runs?’’’

Rose got a good laugh of that, even bringing it up during his acceptance speech Sunday afternoon.

“Leave it up to Johnny and Tony to bring up home runs,” Rose said.

The Cincinnati native showed the depth of his baseball connection, a sense of the moment and ability to connect with the crowd – GABP was about two-thirds full during the 12:30 p.m. ceremony – right off the bat. He again motioned to the number-retirement wall, and gave a personal review of each retired number:

42. “I had the privilege of meeting Jackie Robinson when I was a youngster at Crosley Field.”

1. “The guy (Fred Hutchinson, the Reds manager) who gave me the (second baseman’s) job back in 1963.”

5. “Johnny Bench, greatest catcher in the history of baseball.”

20. “The next guy I played with in ’63, ’64 and ’65. He really taught me a lot of right ways to play the game. Frank Robinson – one of the top five players in the history of baseball.”

8. “Greatest second baseman in the history of baseball. Joe Morgan.”

18. “Next guy in my eyes was the greatest batting coach in the history of baseball (not to mention a heck of a hitter and slugger in his own right). He made me a better hitter… He made us all better hitters, and that’s big Ted Kluszewski.”

On Saturday, Concepcion told a good story about Klu’s teaching methodology with his young pupil way back in 1970.

“You know how big he was – huge – with those huge hands,” Concepcion said “He stood facing me, looked me in the eye with those vice grips on either side of my face. And he said, ‘Davey, you know what I’m going to do with my hands if you don’t listen to me, right?’”

In recalling those moments, Concepcion pretended he was Big Klu, making a sharp, twisting motion with his hands as though he was snapping the neck of a chicken.

“Yessir, yessir,” recalled Concepcion in his best Barney Fife impersonation.

24. “The next guy, the greatest RBI guy ever. I don’t understand (how it could be that we were first-year pros back in Geneva, N.Y., in 1960) and 56 years later he looks so damn much older than I do. That would be (pausing, to let the anticipation build,) Tony Perez!”

Big ovation.

10. “And, of course, the next guy, the guy we all loved, the greatest manager I ever played for – Sparky Anderson.”

13. “I probably took two years off his career, because when I moved to third base (in 1975) and he had to cover so much ground on that side of the field, (shortstop) Davey Concepcion.”

11. “And the next guy was obviously the best who ever played for me… 1986, 1987, 1988, 1999, Barry Larkin from Moeller High School!”

And, finally, there was one.

Reds president Bob Castellini called for the black drape – labeled with the famous Cincinnati “C” and dated “June 26, 2016” -- to be lifted.

And so it was.

Let the sun shine in.

No. 14, for the ages.

The fans got what they came for, just as they had when they came to watch No. 14 play for the Reds, 1963-78 and 1984-86.

It was the best ovation of the weekend, an ovation that figures to linger for a long, long time.

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