Tuesday, December 11, 2012

#285 Buddy Bell

Card thoughts: I think all the night shots in this set are at Riverfront Stadium. I suspect that a Topps photographer was sent there to capture #206 Pete Rose’s record breaking hit (also a night shot), and took pictures of as many Reds players as he could (why not Padres players? I don’t know).

Also, a grown man still called Buddy? When anyone calls me “buddy,” I always feel demeaned.

The player: Buddy Bell was one of the premier third baseman in the 1970s/early 80s. But when this card was issued, he was having the worst year of his career.

The son of Gus Bell (and father of David and Mike Bell), Buddy broke in with the Indians as an outfielder in 1972 and hit well, for a rookie (.255/.310/.363).  Bell was moved the third base the next season, and soon became known as a standout fielder, and a decent hitter, for the Indians. Because of his range, Bell was able to play far off the line, enabling him to snag more balls than most third baseman. As recognition for his fielding (and .708 first half OPS), he was named the all star team for the first time where he got a hit in his only at bat.

The Indians teams in the 1970s were terrible, and Bell, while putting up solid batting averages, rarely had the opportunity to create  many runs (his high in runs scored with the Indians – 86 – came in 1973; his high in RBIs was a measly 64, achieved in 1977). The poor play of the Indians certainly hurt the recognition of Bell’s fielding talent, as he won no gold gloves with the Indians.

This all changed after Bell was traded to the Rangers for Toby Harrah. From 1979-1984, Bell won the gold glove each year. He also became a genuine hitting force for the first time in his career. Seemingly feeling liberated from escaping chilly, rusty Cleveland for the summery climes of Dallas, Bell exploded for career highs in runs (86), hits (200), doubles (42) and runs batted in (101) in 1979. The next season, he reached a career high in batting average (.329) and OPS (.877).

Every season Bell played with the Rangers he put up more solid offensive numbers than he ever had with the Indians, making the all-star team four times. It was during this period, that Bell was declared the second best fielding third baseman of all time behind Brooks Robinson.

In his last full season (1984) with the Rangers, Bell put up an 11-83-.315 line. But in 1985, he soured on playing for Texas (perhaps he clashed with #261 Bobby Valentine?), and asked for a trade to one of 10 pre-approved clubs. The Rangers obliged by shipping him to the Reds in July for #22 Duane Walker and Jeff Russell. Unfortunately, Bell’s slump with the Rangers (he hit in the .230s with them) continued with the Reds where he only hit .219.

There was bound to be some worry that Bell was close to being done. After all, he was 34 and, in the pre-steroid era, that was when players often declined precipitously. But Bell had two more good seasons in him, and actually reached a career high in home runs (20) in 1986. He drove in 75 runs as well, and continued his solid hitting at age 36 the next season.

Bell’s age caught up to him in 1988 when he stumbled to a .185 average out of the gate. A mid-season trade to the Astros brightened his prospects, as he was put back into a starting role at third and hit .253 the rest of the way. A complimentary swan song season with the Rangers the following year finished his career.

Since retiring, Bell had managed mostly mediocre teams to sub-.500 records. These include the Tigers (184-277), the Rockies (161-185), and the Royals (174-262). He is currently the special assistant to the White Sox general manager.

Rear guard: Bell's first homer came on a massive offensive day when he drove in 5 runs and also doubled as the Indians beat the Orioles  9-2.

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