Buddy Bell's like Reggie Jackson without the N.Y. hype
If one does not read about third baseman Buddy Bell of the Texas Rangers as often as, say, outfielder Reggie Jackson of the Yankees, does this mean that Bell is less valuable to his team than Jackson?
Mostly what it means is that Reggie is continually controversial, has had his talents showcased frequently in the World Series, and plays in a city where the news media often write books about their heroes as well as game stories.
But the truth is, there aren't many steadlier players in major league baseball, offensively and defensively, than Bell, a 185-pound line-drive hitter who bats cleanup for the Rangers. Usually only guys with home run power draw that kind of assignment.
"If you're wondering why Buddy bats in the No. 4 position for me, it's because he's the best RBI man I've got," explained Texas Manager Pat Corrales. "Listen, I know what the theory is -- that you put hitters in the middle of your lineup who can reach the fences. But what if they only do the job once a week, then what do you do?
"I've got a guy in Bell who comes through for me almost every game," Corrales continued. "He's the first name 2 write on my lineup card every day, because I don't have to think about him. I know he'll be at the park on time, he never makes an issue of injuries, and if he doesn't get the big hit for me today, he'll get it tomorrow."
Buddy is the son of Gus Bell, a power-hitting outfielder who played 15 years in the National Leauge with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and New York. Twice during this career Gus hit .300 or better; four times he knocked in more than 100 runs; and in 1953 (with the Reds) he clouted 30 homers.
"I've had a lot of people still in baseball tell me what a fine player my dad was, and I sure appreciate this," Buddy said. "But where he was an outfielder with power, I'm a third baseman who hits mostly line drives. If I had tried earlier in my career to be like him, I don't think it would have worked. In fact, I might not even be here now.
"You know when I was small, like when I first started to go to school, I actually thought that every kid's father played major league baseball for a living. "I just accepted the fact that my father was away from home a lot as routine, and it never bothered me."
How much did Gus Bell have to do with grooming his son for a big league career?
"As far as the physical side of baseball is concerned, my father never taught me a thing," Buddy said. "Think about it for a minute. How could he? When I was playing summer ball on some playground, he was playing it in the major leagues. He just never had the opportunity to give me that kind of help.
"But he did spend a lot of time with me between baseball seasons, and I can remember that everything he ever said to me was very positive," he continued. "He was always interested in what my brothers and sisters and I were doing. You know, I've always thought of him as my friend as well a my father. We still call each other a lot on the phone and we still try to do things together whenever we can."
How does Buddy explain his success at the plate, where last year he produced 16 game-winning hits?
"If you're looking for me to put it into words, I can't," he grinned. "the one thing I'm not is a scientific hitter. I don't have the slightest idea why some guys do this and some guys do that in certain situations. All I've ever done is look for a pitch I thought I could hit and then swing. Maybe there is a better way. But if there is, I don't know about it."
Bell, who had his first 200-hit season last year while batting .299 overall and driving in 101 runs, also won his first Gold Glove.
"I'm not saying you can't teach a guy certain things," Corrales explained, "but if it's all the same to you I prefer guys who do everything instinctively. That's the way Buddy is with the bat and that's the way he is in the field.
"How can you teach a guy when to dive for a ball or when to cheat a little to his left or a little to his right in the field? The answer is that you can't. That's why I like Bell, because you don't have to tell him nothin'."