- 2B, DH, SS, 3B, 1B
- December 11, 1965
- 6' 1"
- 180 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 9-29-1986 with CLE
- Allstar Selections:
- 1993 GG, 1993 SS
In sports, stardom can sometimes be an instantaneous result, easy to come by. In other situations it can be slow to cultivate, often times looking like the joyful outcome will never materialize only to sneak up and finally come to fruition. In the case of shortstop Jay Bell, stardom took longer to come than most had figured, but make no mistake about it, certainly did arrive.
Bell was the first round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins in 1984 and was dealt to the Indians with Clint Wardle and Jim Weaver for Bert Blyleven in August of that same season. Ironically his first major league at bat on September 29th, 1986 would come against Mr Blyleven. On the very first pitch Jay saw against the great hurler, he smacked a home run, becoming only the 10th player in the history of major league baseball to hit a homer on his very first pitch. The home run also turned out to be the 47th Blyleven allowed that season, breaking Robin Roberts all-time record of 46.
After the homer, it looked like the future would be very bright for the Florida native. The following season he became part of the youngest double play combo in major league history when the 23-year-old shortstop teamed up with 21-year-old second baseman Tommy Hinzo in a game. It would prove to be about the only shining thing from that season as Jay limped along with a .216 average.
The following campaign saw Bell be the starting shortstop on opening day for Cleveland. After a slow start, the young player was sent down to AA and eventually the Indians gave up on him trading Bell to the Pirates for Felix Fermin.
Pittsburgh looked like they got the best of the trade as Bell was named the teams starting shortstop by the end of the season. For the third straight season, Jay got off to a horrific start, 1-20 and was sent down Buffalo, the Pirates AAA club. Instead of lamenting in his misery Jay got hot hitting .285 in his stay and was selected to participate in the AAA All-Star game. The Bucs recalled him in July and he never looked back, hitting .275 the rest of the season, never to be sent to the minors again.
In 1990, Bell held on to the starting reigns all-season, setting a Pirate record for sacrifice hits in a season with 39, tops in the NL. He also showed that he possessed a good glove with a 39 game errorless streak.
As the years went on, Bell seemed to improve every season, and in 1991, he showed an element of his game that to this point and time had not been there, power. Jay smacked 16 homers in 1991, one less than the cumulative totals in his previous five seasons. At the time he became only one of three Pirates in the history of the franchise to hit 15 homers. Jay also accumulated 67 RBI’s, the most by a Bucco shortstop since Arky Vaughan in 1940.
To complement his power, Bell laid down a major league leading 30 sacrifice bunts, making him the first player since the Braves Johnny Logan in 1956 to have 15 homers and 30 sacrifices in the same season. His defense was also impressive in ‘91, leading the league in both assists and chances.
When the Bucs took on the Braves in the 1991 NLCS, one of the things the team was missing was an offensive prowess. Jay was one of the few exceptions leading the club with a .414 average; despite the fact he struck out 10 times.
After a 22 game hitting streak in 1992, the most by a Pirate since Dave Parker in 1977, Jay was one of the few remaining players left on the team in 1993 from their powerful three time National League Eastern Division Champions. Bell would show his grit and raise his game to a superstar level, becoming the best shortstop in the league if not the entire game.
Jay took his offensive game to another level, hitting over .300 for the only time in his career as a regular with a .310 average following a hot second half of the season where the 28-year old shortstop hit .325. Bell scored 102 runs, the most by a Bucco shortstop since Vaughan’s again in ’40, had 187 hits, a career high, and was second in the league with 55 multi hit games. For his effort, Bell was not only named to his first All-Star game, but was awarded the Silver Slugger Award also.
His first three seasons in the minor leagues, nobody would ever had guessed Bell would have been a solid defensive player as he made 129 errors. In 1993 Jay reached the top of the summit when he broke Ozzie Smith’s incredible record of 13 consecutive gold gloves when he won the honor. Bell had an NL low 11 errors, leading the circuit with a .986 fielding percentage.
Following his breakout season when Bell finally fulfilled the promise he had shown so long ago, he got off to a slow start in the strike shortened season of 1994 mired in a .213 slump after the first month of the season. Eventually he caught fire, finishing third in the NL in doubles and raising his average to .276. Jay also led the game in assists and chances at short.
1995 would see Bell’s average slip again, this time to m.262, although he got his 1,000 career hit, off Tom Glavine of the Braves on July 25th. Even though his offensive game slid, it did not affect the defense as he not only went on a 44 game errorless streak, but also was third in the NL in fielding percentage.978 mark.
Financial times were getting tough for the team and Jay Bell eventually would become a casualty of the salary purge. Before he left though, he would have a then career high 71 RBI’s in 1996 while leading the circuit in fielding percentage with a .986 mark.
Bell and teammate Jeff King both had similar pasts, high expectations, former first round picks, disappointing beginnings that turned into successful careers and both in the same infield for the Bucs for the better part of the decade. They unfortunately would have similar immediate futures as two of the classiest men ever to take the field for the black and gold, were dealt to the Royals in December of 1996.
Jay had one decent season in Kansas City, before joining the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks as a free agent. The signing was controversial as the $34 million 5-yaer contract made him the highest paid middle infielder in the game. There were many who doubted Bell should be given that kind of money, but he soon silenced his critics with a monster 38 homer, 112 RBI season in 1999 after moving to second base. Jay fell off in 2000 and 2001, but got the chance to play in his first World Series ever in ’01 and won his initial world championship.
While his career ended in 2003, Jay Bell will always be known as one of the best “citizens” the team ever produced.
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