David Bell

This article was written by Phil Cola

Longtime fans of the Indians know that the team did not appear in postseason play from 1954 to 1995. The 40 years in between were difficult for baseball in Cleveland. During that time, there were three waves of major-league baseball expansion into new cities with new teams finding success before the Indians returned to the postseason. The club was not the top team in Ohio during those lean years either as the Reds made it to the World Series in 1961, 1972, 1975, 1976, and 1990 while the Tribe languished as a second-tier club. However, many exciting players and traditions engaged the fans throughout these years.

For example, on April 15, 1972, David Gus Bell, better known as Buddy, made his major-league debut as a right fielder for the Indians in a 5-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. He went hitless in three at-bats. The lineup for the Tribe in the losing effort included notable players such as Greg Nettles, Chris Chambliss, Ray Fosse, and Gaylord Perry. The first three went on to have careers with championship teams outside Cleveland in New York (Nettles and Chambliss) and Oakland (Fosse). Perry won the Cy Young Award that season for the Indians. The team had good players in 1972 and a rising star in Bell, but they finished in fifth place in the American League East Division, 14 games behind the Detroit Tigers.

Buddy Bell became an above-average player and a fan favorite in Cleveland. He was the Tribe’s third baseman for six seasons before a trade to the Texas Rangers, for whom he earned multiple Gold Gloves for another seven seasons. He finished off the productive part of his career with three years in his adopted home town of Cincinnati. Buddy’s father, David Russell “Gus” Bell, played in the major leagues from 1950 to 1964, most notably with the Cincinnati Reds from 1953 to 1961, the last of them a pennant-winning season for the club. Gus was a popular outfielder for the Reds splitting his time between center and right fields throughout his career. This introduction tells a story of a father/son combination of baseball players who both spent time in Cincinnati as major leaguers, but it is not where the family success in the major leagues, or ties to baseball in Ohio, ended.

On September 14, 1972, almost five months to the day after his major-league debut, Buddy Bell and his wife, Gloria (née Eysoldt), had a son named David. Buddy took that day off from the Indians, but he started and played center field the next day. The Indians lost to the Red Sox, 4-3, and Buddy went hitless in five at-bats from the leadoff spot in the order. However, this day became a link to a special moment in major-league history 23 years later and ironically at the start of a season in which the Indians broke their long postseason drought, and which moreover saw them win the American League pennant for the first time since 1954.

Gus Bell had moved his family to Cincinnati after a trade from the Pirates to the Reds in 1952. Cincinnati became home for the next few generations of the Bell family. Buddy had been born in Pittsburgh, but he was raised in Cincinnati and maintained his home there during his playing days in Cleveland and Texas. David was born and raised in Cincinnati.1 He remembered being thrilled to be in and around major-league clubhouses and traveling with his father since he was 6 years old.2 He loved the fact that his father was a major-league player, setting the stage for his future vocation.3 David always felt that he would never be as good as his father, who he thought was a great player. His admiration for his father as a player helped mold the young David as a player and a person. The Bell family was very close and all three of Buddy’s sons went on to be professional baseball players.4

However, before following their father’s footsteps into professional baseball, David (the eldest) followed his father’s lead to stardom in basketball and baseball at Cincinnati’s Archbishop Moeller High School. The school often known for football success has also won seven state baseball championships, with its first in 1972, the year David was born. Seventeen years later, as a junior at Moeller, David led the team to the state title in 1989.5 David was a three-year starter at Moeller and is the school’s all-time leader in doubles.6 Hall of Famers Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey Jr. both starred at Moeller. However, the school did not win state championships during either of their baseball careers, which preceded David’s career at the school.

David had two brothers who also starred at Moeller. Michael Bell was three years younger than David and Ricky was seven years his junior. The Bell brothers starred in both baseball and basketball as did their father.7 After David graduated from high school in 1990 (a year the Reds won the World Series), he had a baseball scholarship waiting for him to attend the University of Kentucky, which he declined when he signed with the Indians after being a seventh-round draft pick in the June amateur draft.8

Bell batted and threw right-handed. He stood 5-feet-10 and weighed 170 pounds during his playing career. He made his professional debut with the Gulf Coast Indians in the rookie league at age 17 in 1990. He did well, moving up to the Burlington rookie league team later that year. This began a slow but steady progression throughout the minor leagues. He spent the next two years with Columbus of the Class A Sally League and then the next season with Kinston in the Class A Carolina League. In 1993, Bell moved to Canton-Akron of the Double-A Eastern League, where his batting average for the first time rose above .260 in his minor-league career – finishing with a .292 average, 9 home runs, and 60 RBIs. His career was progressing and he seemed to be playing the game the way his father had as a good-fielding infielder, while developing in a solid, if not spectacular, fashion at the plate. In 1994, he played the entire year at Charlotte of the Triple-A International League, where he blossomed into a bona-fide major-league prospect. He hit .293 with 18 home runs and 88 RBIs. This made him a player to watch by long-suffering Indians fans, especially in a year when the major-league team was developing into a contender. However, with the Indians in contention, only one game behind the American League Central Division leading Chicago White Sox, the season abruptly ended with the players strike on August 11, 1994.

It felt unbelievable in the first year of three-division play in each league, with the Indians in the leading spot for a postseason berth as a wild-card team that the season could end in this manner. However, the future looked bright with the nucleus of star players forming what became a powerhouse of an offensive team for years to come. Additionally, there were stars in the minor leagues ready to make it to the majors and contribute to what held promise of the best baseball played in Cleveland in over four decades. Longtime fans hoped Bell would contribute to the future and follow Bell’s father’s example as a fan favorite in Cleveland.

Winter was somehow much longer that year; baseball had ended in August and uncertainty for the opening of the 1995 season loomed into the spring. The 1995 season opened later than usual on April 25 and with the season shortened to a 144-game schedule. As the season drew near, there was great anticipation that the Indians would reach the postseason. In addition, Bell earned the final spot on the Opening Day roster. It was a very exciting time for Indians bench coach Buddy Bell, who was able to be with his son as he made the major-league club.9 David made his major-league debut on May 3, 1995, at the age of 22. That night the Indians trounced the Tigers, 14-7, with their high-powered offense and just enough pitching to hold them close until the offense got in gear. This was the formula for success for the Tribe, who improved to 4-2 in the young season. Bell pinch-hit for Jim Thome and replaced him at third base. Bell was hitless in his only plate appearance.

With Bell’s appearance in this game, a historic achievement occurred as the Bells became only the second family ever to have three generations of major-league players. Only the Boone family had three generations of players appear at the major-league level – with Ray, Bob, Bret, and Aaron – before David helped put the Bell family in the major-league history books.

Bell’s only other game for the Indians in 1995 came on May 7, when he pinch-hit for Thome in a 17-inning, 10-9 victory over the Minnesota Twins. This was Bell’s only game before the home crowd in Cleveland that year. He went hitless and played third base, replacing Thome. More importantly than the Indians’ victory in the Bell family that day was the sad news that Gus Bell had died at 67 in Montgomery, Ohio.

Bell did not play again that season for the Indians after a demotion to Triple-A Buffalo for more playing time. Then, on June 27, 1995, he was traded with Pepe McNeal and Rick Heiserman to the St. Louis Cardinals for starting pitcher Ken Hill. Indians fans were ecstatic to receive Hill, who had won 16 games for the first-place Montreal Expos the prior year until the strike hit. Fans were sad to see Bell go to another team without having much of a chance to prove himself in an Indians uniform. It seemed he might not assume his father’s role in Cleveland as many had hoped, but the team was on its way to the pennant and he was not going to supplant Thome, Omar Vizquel, or Carlos Baerga for playing time in the Indians infield any time soon.

Bell spent the rest of the 1995 season splitting his time between Louisville of the American Association and the Cardinals. He hit .250 for the Cardinals with 2 home runs and 19 RBIs in 39 games. He played second base in 37 games and three games at third. Playing second for the Cardinals was a treat for Bell because his keystone combination partner was future Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, whom many consider the best fielding shortstop of all time. Bell’s first major-league hit came on August 19, 1995, in St. Louis. He doubled to left field on the first pitch from reliever Brad Clontz in a 5-4 win over the first-place Braves.

On August 30, 1995, Bell played his first game in his hometown of Cincinnati at Riverfront Stadium. Many friends and family attended that game to see him play (the extended Bell family is huge; Buddy was one of seven children) and he delivered his first major-league home run, a two-run shot off Mark Portugal. Bell was able to obtain the ball, which he hit over the left-center-field seats, with a little help from Reds center fielder Darren Lewis, who exchanged another ball with a fan in the outfield seats for the one that Bell hit. Bell gave that home-run ball to his mother after the game. The Cardinals finished in fourth place that year with a 62-81 record and 22½ games behind the division champion Reds. Both Ohio teams fared well that season; the Indians ran away with the American League Central Division, finishing at 100-44. Each team eventually was eliminated by the Braves. The Reds were swept in the National League Championship Series, and the Indians lost to the Braves in six games in the World Series.

Bell continued to go back and forth between the minors and majors the next two years. He spent 62 and 66 games with the Cardinals in 1996 and 1997. He hit only .214 and .211. He was not faring much better in the minors, where his offensive struggles continued in limited playing time. In 1997 the challenges for Bell continued as he spent time back at Arkansas of the Double-A Texas League as the Indians went to another World Series. He began the 1998 season with the Cardinals and played in four games with limited productivity until he was released. The Indians claimed him off waivers on April 14, 1998. It was an exciting time to be coming back to Cleveland as a player even though his father was no longer the bench coach. The next day, April 15, 1998, Bell started at second base and hit the first inside-the-park home run ever at Jacobs Field and the first for the Indians in nine seasons. The historic hit came off future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson in the first inning with no one on base and one out giving the Tribe a 1-0 lead in an eventual 5-3 loss.

Once he rejoined the Indians, Bell was in the majors for good. He played in 107 games with the Indians, mostly as a second baseman, and began to break out as a player offensively and defensively. He hit .262 with 10 home runs and 41 RBIs. However, his big break as a major-league player came later that year when the Indians traded him to Seattle for Joey Cora on August 31, 1998. The Indians were again in the midst of a pennant race and they felt Cora brought veteran skills to the club for the playoff drive. The team won the Central Division by nine games before beating the Red Sox in the American League Division Series. They ultimately lost to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series in six games. Cora struggled in the postseason, going 1-for-17 and played in only two games against the Yankees. His playing career was over and Bell’s was just beginning.

The Mariners had strong teams in the mid- to late 1990s with Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, and Alex Rodriguez on the roster. When Bell joined the team, Johnson was gone, but the other stars remained and the future looked great. Bell hit .325 in 21 games for the Mariners to finish out the 1998 season and was primed to compete for the second-base job in 1999. He was competing with promising rookie infielder Carlos Guillen for that spot when Guillen was lost for the season with and injury. Bell became the everyday second baseman and had his true breakout year. He established career highs in home runs (21), runs (92), and RBIs (78) while batting .268. Bell led the league in putouts (313) and double plays (118) from his second-base position. The Mariners finished 79-83 and in third place in the American League Western Division, but 16 games behind division winner Texas. It was a disappointing outcome relative to the talent on the team under manager Lou Piniella. In the offseason, David married Kristi Kimener, of Cincinnati, on November 27, 1999.10

In 2000 Bell got his first taste of playoff baseball as the Mariners won the American League wild card with a record of 91-71 only a half-game behind the division-winning Athletics. They swept the White Sox three games to none in the Division Series before losing to the Yankees in six games in the ALCS. Bell did not repeat the success of his 1999 campaign, batting .247 with 11 home runs. Mark McLemore joined the team that season and Guillen returned from injury, forcing Bell to split playing time in the Mariners infield. This began a streak of three straight postseason appearances for Bell.

The Mariners tied the record for regular-season wins in 2001 with 116 against only 46 loses. They acquired Bret Boone (of the other three-generation family) and he exploded on the Seattle baseball scene with 37 home runs and a team-leading 141 RBIs. Guillen moved to shortstop and Bell became the starting third baseman and batted 260 with 15 home runs and 64 RBIs. Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki hit .350 and center fielder Mike Cameron had a breakout season with 25 home runs and 110 RBIs. The ever-steady Martinez hit over .300 with 23 home runs and 116 RBIs as the designated hitter. The Mariners beat the Indians, three games to two, in the Division Series before surprisingly losing to the Yankees four games to one in the ALCS. It was surprising because they had won 21 more regular-season games than the Yankees, but they were flat in four out of five games against a team that subsequently lost the World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The loss to the Yankees for the second consecutive year, after the record-breaking regular season, was stunning to everyone.

Bell was solid in the ALDS against the Indians with five hits in 16 at-bats for a .313 average. He hit his first postseason home run in Game Two of the series. It was a solo drive to left field off Tribe starter Chuck Finley. However, Bell struggled, as did most of the team, in the Yankees series, hitting a paltry .188, but with four runs batted in. He became a free agent after the season, but re-signed with the Mariners in December. The Mariners traded him in January to the San Francisco Giants for Desi Relaford and cash. Bell said his time in Seattle and the lifelong friendships made there were some of the most memorable points of his career.11

Bell was the starting third baseman for the Giants in 2002 and played in 154 games, batting.261 with 20 home runs and 73 RBIs while playing a solid infield defense. He was a steady performer much like his father before him. He was overshadowed by monster seasons from Barry Bonds (.370, 46, 110) and Jeff Kent (.313, 37, 108), but the Giants made the playoffs, finishing 95-66-1 under the guidance of Dusty Baker. They were 2½ games behind the division-winning Diamondbacks, but they beat the Braves in the Division Series, three games to two and the Cardinals, four games to one, in the NLCS to advance to Bell’s first and only World Series. He struggled in the Division Series but had an outstanding Championship Series that saw him go 7-for-17 (.412) with his second postseason home run. Bell scored the winning run in the pennant-clinching Game Five against the Cardinals. He coming home from second base on a hit by former Indians teammate Kenny Lofton.

Bell described playing in the World Series against the Angels as his career highlight. “It was that feeling” of playing in a World Series “that is the thing, I think about the most, by a long shot.”12 The Angels beat the Giants in seven games.

The Giants had all the momentum after a 16-4 bombing of the Angels in Game Five. They did not win another game. With their backs to the wall, the Angels made a historic comeback in Game Six, then bested the Giants in Game Seven for the title. Bell started all seven games at third base in the series. He won Game Four with an eighth-inning RBI single that scored J.T. Snow. He hit .304 with one home run and four RBIs, continuing his above-average postseason play. His World Series home run, in Game Two at Edison Field in Anaheim, was was a solo shot off Kevin Appier to center field in the second inning of a frustrating 11-10 loss. In the most famous play from this World Series, Bell was sprinting home with a run in the Game Five blowout after a triple by Lofton. Snow had already scored and as he crossed the plate, he grabbed Giants manager Dusty Baker’s 3-year-old son, batboy Darren Baker, who was retrieving Lofton’s bat, and carried him off the field, avoiding a potential serious injury. After the season, Bell won the Willie Mac Award (named after Giants Hall of Famer Willie McCovey), as voted by his teammates and the coaching staff, for team spirit and inspirational leadership.

Bell became a free agent in October 2002 and he signed a contract with the Phillies in December 2002. His first year in Philadelphia (2003) was a bust; he played in only 85 games and batted.195. He rebounded in his second year with the Phillies, hitting .291 with 18 home runs and 77 RBIs. He reunited with Jim Thome in Philadelphia in 2003 and 2004. On June 28, 2004, Bell hit for the cycle in a 14-6 Phillies rout of the Expos. He doubled in the second, homered in the fourth, and singled in the sixth. His seventh-inning triple was controversial: The ball appeared to hit of the hands of a fan in deep center field before bouncing away from the Expos’ Brad Wilkerson. Expos manager Frank Robinson protested the call and the umpires met while Bell stood on third base, but the umpires ruled it a triple, much to Robinson’s chagrin. Bell said he “was unaware that he hit for the cycle until third-base coach John Vukovich told him to enjoy the moment.”13 It was the first time in major-league history that a grandfather and grandson had both hit for the cycle.14 Gus Bell had accomplished the feat on June 4, 1951, for the Pirates. Bell said he was happy to have hits in a game his team won and that he “realized that hitting for the cycle is something that doesn’t happen very often.”15

Bell’s next two years with Phillies saw his offensive productivity in moderate decline though he remained the starting third baseman. The team was up-an- coming (once again in David’s career), but it failed to make playoffs by very close margins in 2004 and 2005, finishing in second place each of those years behind the Braves. Ryan Howard had replaced Thome at first base and Chase Utley was emerging along with Howard and Jimmy Rollins as superstars in the Phillies infield. In 2006 the Phillies once again finished frustratingly second, this time to the Mets, and just three games off the wild-card pace. He spent 3½ years playing third base for the Phillies until a trade to the Brewers for Wilfrido Laureano on July 28, 2006.

Bell’s career ended after he played out the 2006 season with the Brewers. He became a free agent and retired with an eye toward coaching and managing, once again following in his father’s footsteps. He finished his 12-year career with a .257 batting average, 123 home runs, and 589 RBIs. In three trips to the postseason with the Mariners and Giants he batted.282 with three home runs. Bell certainly had a solid, if unspectacular, playing career in terms of productivity.

Bell managed the Double-A Carolina Mudcats, a Reds affiliate, from 2009 through 2011. He then managed the Louisville Bats of the Triple-A International League in 2012, an affiliate of the Reds He spoke hopefully about continuing to manage in the Reds’ system and eventually perhaps coaching or managing with the big-league club in his hometown.16 He spent 2013 as the third-base coach with the Chicago Cubs while his father was assistant general manager of the White Sox.17 Bell was with the Cardinals in 2014 as an assistant hitting instructor before a promotion to bench coach for the 2015 season.18 After spending three years as a bench coach for manager Mike Matheny’s Cardinals, Bell accepted the role of vice president of player development for the San Francisco Giants after the 2017 season.19 The position allowed Bell to be closer to his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he and Kristi live with their daughter, Brogan, and son, David, whom they call “Gus” just like his great grandfather.

 

This biography was published in "1995 Cleveland Indians: The Sleeping Giant Awakes" (SABR, 2019), edited by Joseph Wancho.


Notes

1 Chadwick Fischer, “Q&A with New Bats Manager David Bell,” MiLB.com, January 31, 2012, milb.com/milb/news/q--a-with-new-bats-manager-david-bell/c-26525502.

2 “David Bell,” Baseballlibrary.com, accessed November 25, 2014, baseballlibrary.com/ballplayers/player.php?name=David_Bell_1972.

3 “David Bell.”

4 “2009 Cincinnati High School Sports Hall of Fame -- Bell, Bell, Bell, Mitts, Richter, Coaches Russo,” Larosas MVP.com, accessed November 25, 2014, larosasmvp.com/fame/2009_inductees.htm.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid. “David Bell Minor Leagues Statistics & History,” Baseball Reference.com, accessed November 25, 2014, baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=bell--004dav.

9 Derrick Goold, “Baseball Is Family Tradition for Cards’ Bell,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 19, 2016, stltoday.com/sports/baseball/professional/goold-baseball-is-family-tradition-for-cards-bell/article_644365cf-04d4-5c88-b2ab-bf8d80ecfc63.html.

10 “2009 Cincinnati High School Sports Hall of Fame - Bell, Bell, Bell, Mitts, Richter, Coaches Russo.”

11 Nick Piecoro, “What’s Up: Ex-MLB Player David Bell,” Arizona Republic, October 21, 2009, sec. Sports, archive.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/sports/articles/2009/10/21/20091021spt-whatsup.html.

12 Ibid.

13 “Like His Grandfather, Bell Hits for the Cycle,” New York Times, June 29, 2004: D6.

14

15 “Like His Grandfather, Bell Hits for the Cycle.”

16 Fischer, “Q&A with New Bats Manager David Bell.”

17 Toni Ginnetti and Gordon Wittenmyer, “David Bell and Father Buddy on Opposite Sides of City Rivalry,” Chicago Sun Times, May 27, 2013.

18 Jon Doble, “David Bell Named Bench Coach; Cardinals Roster Moves,” Redbird Dugout, November 3, 2014, redbirddugout.com/david-bell-named-bench-coach-make-roster-moves/.

19 Jenifer Langosch, “Bench Coach David Bell Departs Cardinals,” MLB.com, October 20, 2017, mlb.com/news/bench-coach-david-bell-departs-cardinals/c-259191112.