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Buddy Bell

Buddy Bell

Position(s):
3B, CF, OF, RF, DH, 1B, LF, SS, 2B
Born:
August 27, 1951
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
6' 1"
Weight:
180 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-15-1972 with CLE
Allstar Selections:
1979 GG, 1980 GG, 1981 GG, 1982 GG, 1983 GG, 1984 GG, 1984 SS, 1988 LG

One of the best fielding third basemen in American League history, Buddy Bell spent much of his career being overshadowed by the other premier third basemen of his day.  Bell never received as much recognition as the superior-hitting George Brett.  Nor did he receive the accolades bestowed upon the brilliant-fielding, power-hitting Graig Nettles, who had the good fortune to play for the era’s most colorful team – the New York Yankees.  Meanwhile, Mike Schmidt received widespread acclaim as the National League’s elite player at the position throughout Bell’s career.  Yet, in spite of the relative lack of notoriety Bell received over the course of his 18 major league seasons, he took a backseat to no one in terms of his defensive prowess.  A six-time Gold Glove winner, Bell led all players at his position in total chances per game five times, fielding, assists, and putouts three times each, and double plays twice.  A sure-handed fielder with exceptional range, Bell ranks fourth all-time among major league third basemen with 4,925 career assists.  A solid hitter as well, Bell batted over .300 twice, surpassing the .290-mark on four other occasions. 

Early life

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on August 27, 1951, David Gus Bell had baseball in his blood from the very beginning.  The son of All-Star outfielder Gus Bell, who had most of his peak seasons with the Cincinnati Reds during the 1950s, the younger Bell grew up in Cincinnati after the Pirates traded his dad to the Reds at the conclusion of the 1952 campaign.  After starring in baseball at Cincinnati’s Moeller High School, Bell was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 16th round of the 1969 amateur draft.  Originally a second baseman, he was moved to third while playing for the Sumter Indians in 1970.  After mastering his new position, Bell spent two more years in Cleveland’s farm system, before making his major league debut with the team as a 20-year-old on April 15, 1972.  Upon his arrival in Cleveland, though, Bell found Graig Nettles firmly entrenched at third base for the Tribe.  As a result, he spent most of his rookie season playing the outfield, doing a creditable job in the field while posting a batting average of .255.       

Cleveland years

Cleveland’s starting third base job became available to Bell when the Indians traded Nettles to the Yankees prior to the start of the 1973 season.  Making the most of his opportunity, Bell made the All-Star Team in his first year at the hot corner, batting .268, hitting 14 home runs, driving in 59 runs, and scoring 86 others, while also leading all league third basemen in putouts and double plays.

Bell remained Cleveland’s starting third baseman for another five years, establishing himself as one of the better hitters on a decidedly mediocre team.  Although he didn’t possess a great deal of power, he hit well for average, surpassing the .280-mark in three of those seasons, while typically driving in between 60 and 70 runs.  Bell’s solid play on the field masked the fact that he suffered from seizures during his first few years in the major leagues.  He finally decided to seek medical help after he fell out of a golf cart and broke his nose in 1976.  Doctors initially thought a brain tumor might have caused the collapse, but they later diagnosed him as epileptic and prescribed medication to control the illness.

Peak seasons with Texas Rangers

The Indians decided to trade Bell to the Texas Rangers for infielder Toby Harrah prior to the start of the 1979 campaign, ending the third baseman’s 10-year association with the Cleveland organization.  The change in scenery proved to be extremely beneficial to Bell, who had his finest season to-date.  Appearing in all 162 games for Texas, the right-handed hitting third baseman established new career highs with 18 home runs, 101 runs batted in, 89 runs scored, 200 hits, 42 doubles, and a .299 batting average.  Establishing himself as one of the American League’s best clutch hitters, Bell topped the junior circuit with 16 game-winning RBIs.  He also won the first of his six straight Gold Gloves for his superb defensive play at third base, wresting the award from Graig Nettles, who captured the honor the previous two years.  Bell’s outstanding all-around performance earned him a 10th-place finish in the league MVP voting.

Bell followed up his exceptional season by batting a career-best .329 in 1980.  He also hit 17 homers and knocked in 83 runs, en route to earning his second All-Star selection.  Bell continued to excel at the hot corner for Texas the next four years, capturing four more Gold Gloves, finishing in double-digits in homers each season, and never batting any lower than .277.  He performed particularly well in 1984, when he drove in 83 runs, scored 88 others, and placed fourth in the American League with a .315 batting average. 

Return home

A slow start by Bell in 1985, combined with the presence of prospect Steve Buechele, prompted the Rangers to trade the 34-year-old third baseman to his hometown Cincinnati Reds on July 19.  By joining the Reds, Bell gave the club five active members of the 2,000-hit club (along with Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion, and Cesar Cedeno). 

After struggling throughout the remainder of the year, Bell endured rumors the entire off-season suggesting that his best days were behind him.  However, he rebounded in 1986 to hit a career-high 20 home runs, drive in 75 runs, score 89 others, and bat .278.  Bell followed that up by hitting 17 homers, batting .284, and leading all N.L. third basemen in fielding in 1987 by committing only seven errors in 142 games at the hot corner.

Final playing days

After starting 1988 on the disabled list, Bell lost his starting job to standout rookie Chris Sabo.  Cincinnati subsequently traded Bell to Houston, and the third baseman spent the remainder of the year with the Astros, batting .253 and knocking in 37 runs in his 74 games with the club.  Houston released Bell at season’s end, enabling him to return to the Rangers as a free agent.  Projected as the team’s regular DH prior to the start of the season, Bell suffered through a first-half slump and numerous injuries that prompted him to retire midway through the campaign.  He ended his career with 201 home runs, 1,106 runs batted in, 1,151 runs scored, 2,514 hits, and a .279 batting average.  Bell finished among the league leaders in batting average, hits, doubles, and triples two times each, and he placed near the top of the league rankings in runs batted in and total bases once each.  In addition to winning six Gold Gloves, he appeared in five All-Star Games.  Upon his retirement, Bell ranked first all-time on the Rangers in career RBIs, doubles, extra-base hits, and total bases.  Meanwhile, he and his father Gus held the all-time father-son record for hits (4,337) and also tied for the second-best father-son total in homers with 407.

Post-playing career

After his playing career ended, Bell worked in the minor league programs of the Indians and White Sox, before accepting a position as infield coach of the Indians in 1994.  He continued to serve the team in that capacity until the Detroit Tigers offered him their managerial job at the end of the 1995 season.  Replacing the legendary Sparky Anderson in Detroit, Bell remained the team’s skipper until he resigned 135 games into the 1998 campaign because he “couldn’t stand the losing.”  He then managed the Colorado Rockies from 2000 through part of 2002, when Colorado management fired him after the team got off to a 6-16 start.  He subsequently returned to the Indians, with whom he served as a coach until the Kansas City Royals offered him their managerial post when Tony Pena resigned one month into the 2005 campaign.  Bell took a medical leave of absence from the team on September 20, 2006 to have a growth in his throat diagnosed and treated.  He returned to the Kansas City bench and continued to manage the team until August 1, 2007, when he announced that he intended to step down as Royals manager at the end of the year to spend more time with his family.  He has since accepted the position of Director of Operations for the Chicago White Sox Minor League system.   

 

 

 

By Bob_Cohen
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Tagged:
All Star, Baseball History, Buddy Bell, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Gold Glove, Gus Bell, Steve Buechele, Texas Rangers

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