Buddy Bell comes from a great baseball family and had a solid career spanning 18 years. And because his best years were with the Texas Rangers of the early 1980’s, I don’t really have a memory of his 5 All Star seasons that earned him Gold Gloves and Silver Slugger Awards.
Remember a team like the Rangers, who never really contended in the early 1980’s save for the strike season, did not get national exposure and I would only see them once or twice a year when they played the Red Sox. So while he was a fan favorite in Arlington, he was just another face who kept popping up in my baseball card packs for me.
He was born in Pittsburgh when his dad, Gus Bell, was a player for the Pirates. Buddy was drafted out of Miami of Ohio in 1969 by the Indians and made it to the majors in 1972. He was a regular for Cleveland between 1972 and 1978, earning a spot on the 1973 All Star team.
In 1979, he was shipped off to Texas for Toby Harrah, who went on to appear in every single pack of baseball cards I bought in the 1980’s. He flourished in obscurity in Texas. Using the metrics that were valued at the time, he hit for a solid average, hit double digit homers each year and played Gold Glove defense.
Using more advanced metrics, Bell led the Rangers in WAR every year from 1979 to 1984.
In 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1984, he represented the Rangers in the All Star Game. In all but one of those seasons, the Rangers finished the year sub .500.
In the middle of the 1985 season, he was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds. In terms of his family legacy, it was a home coming. His dad played for the Reds over 9 seasons, 4 times being named an All Star.
It also was the first chance for Buddy to potentially play in a pennant race. The Pete Rose led squad teetered on the cusp of contention in 1985 but could not catch up with the Dodgers. In 1986 and 1987, the Reds looked like the most talented team in an uneven NL West. While no longer an All Star, Bell launched 20 homers in 1986 and 17 in 1987 while playing along side Eric Davis, Dave Parker,Kal Daniels and future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin.
Each year, the Reds faded down the stretch. Later we found out about Pete Rose gambling while managing the team. No doubt that played a part in the Reds fall.
By 1988, the 36 year old Buddy Bell was fading and in June, the Reds dealt him to Houston for a player to be named later who never made it to the majors.
Bell was keeping the third base seat warm for young Ken Caminiti. He played 74 games with the Astros and looked out of place in orange. He played for the OTHER Texas team, didn’t he?
The Astros cut him at the end of the season and played 34 unmemorable games back with the Rangers in 1989 before calling it a career.
He went on to manage the Tigers, Rockies and Royals without much success. His son David played 12 years in the majors, scoring the winning run for the Giants in the 2002 NLCS clincher. Another son, Mike, played a handful of games with the Reds, making the Bells a 3 generation big league clan.
In my mind, Buddy Bell is a Ranger. He was a player whose excellence I understood in theory but really didn’t have any memories of in practice.
Whatever memories I DID have of him sure as hell did not involve the Houston Astros.