A surehanded third baseman with enough range to play shortstop when needed, Buddy Bell won six straight Gold Gloves and led AL third basemen five times in total chances per game, three times each in putouts and assists, and twice each in double plays and fielding. By the time Buddy had retired as a player, 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. All three of his sons have played pro ball, but through the 1999 season only one — David — had made the majors.
Breaking in with the Indians in 1972 when Graig Nettles had third base locked up, Bell played outfield most of the season and was named to the Baseball Digest Rookie All-Star Team. Nettles was traded in the off-season, and in 1973 Bell showed himself to be among the league’s best third baseman, leading in putouts and double plays. A clutch hitter and smart baserunner, he also had a good batting eye. The Indians traded Bell to Texas in December 1978 for Toby Harrah, and Bell responded with his best year to that point, hitting .299 with 18 HR, 101 RBI, and a league-leading 16 game-winning RBI, winning his first Gold Glove. His line-drive hitting eventually carried him to rank first among all-time Rangers in career doubles, RBI, extra-base hits, and total bases.
A lackluster start in 1985, combined with the presence of prospect Steve Buechele, prompted Bell’s trade to the Reds on July 19. The Cincinnati native filled a long-standing void at third. By joining the Reds, Bell gave the club five active members of the 2,000-hit club (with Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion, and Cesar Cedeno). After weathering a lengthy adjustment to NL pitching and rumors that he was finished, Bell starred for the Reds in 1986 and ’87, leading NL third basemen in fielding in ’87. After starting 1988 on the disabled list, he soon lost his job to star rookie Chris Sabo and was traded to the Astros in June. (During his short stint in Houston, Bell wore his customary #25, even though it would soon be retired in honor of longtime Astro Jose Cruz.) Bell returned to the Rangers as a free agent after the season and was projected as their DH, but injuries and a first-half slump prompted him to retire.
Bell didn’t stay out of baseball for long, however. After working in the minor league programs of the Indians and White Sox, Bell accepted a position as infield coach of the Indians in 1994. Even though he’d never before managed a game at the pro level, the Detroit Tigers hired him after the 1995 season to replace the legendary Sparky Anderson. However, the success that Bell had enjoyed as a player didn’t follow him into the dugout during his first year at the helm, as the Tigers won only 53 games and lost 109, finishing 39 games behind the Yankees in the cellar of the AL East. In 1997 Bell was allowed to keep his job and the team improved to third place in the division with a 79-82 campaign.
However, the Tigers dropped some key players to reduce payroll in 1998 and Bell — upset with GM Randy Smith and demanding a better situation from the Tigers — fell victim from his team’s mediocrity. Replaced on September 1 by Larry Parrish (Detroit’s record stood at a disappointing 52-85) Bell caught on in the Reds front office, where it was widely assumed that he’d eventually replace Jack McKeon as manager. But in October 1999, he left to manage the Colorado Rockies after his old friend Dan O’Dowd (whom he’d worked with in Cleveland) was named GM. Replacing the retiring Jim Leyland, Bell was so confident he’d succeed in Denver that he decided to move West from his long-time Cincinnati home.
Bell suffered from seizures during his early years in the majors, and decided to seek medical help after he fell out of a golf cart and broke his nose in 1976. (Despite vision problems and exhaustion, he played the night and doubled in his first at-bat.) Doctors initally thought a brain tumor might have caused the collapse, but later diagnosed him as epileptic; thanks to medication, he has never had a seizure on the field.