And so we say goodby to For Whom Will Bell Toil, the long-running show that brought you laughs and tears, but didn't, for all the rumors, bring the Rangers a package from Detroit of Kirk Gibson, Glenn Wilson and Howard Johnson back in 1983. Those canny Rangers, they always drive a hard bargain.
But all good shows must come to an end, and all good Bells finally come to Cincinnati, so there was new Reds third baseman Buddy Bell in Detroit last Friday afternoon, choked with emotion, baggage in hand, saying goodby to his former Texas teammates. Bell bit his lip midway through sentences. He seemed close to tears. "I'm really very happy," he said as he headed for his flight to Cincinnati, "even if it doesn't look that way."
After years of trade rumors and a month after he began pressing Ranger management to deal him, Bell was coming home. He grew up in Cincinnati, went to Moeller High and occasionally cut across the lawn of Reds owner-to-be Marge Schott (she never knew), who lived within walking distance of his house. He played youth baseball there while his dad, Reds centerfielder Gus Bell, watched surreptitiously from a parked car and cheered by honking his horn—once for good plays, twice for great ones. Buddy had hung around the clubhouse at Crosley Field, and as he got older he had tried to emulate the team's young hustler, Pete Rose. Thirty-two years, nine months and four days after the deal that brought his power-hitting, great-fielding father to the Reds from Pittsburgh for Cal Abrams, Joe Rossi and Gail Henley—one of the worst trades Branch Rickey, then with the Pirates, ever made—Bell put on his dad's No. 25. He put behind him the dismal Ranger and Indian teams he had played on for 13½ seasons. "It's a dream come true," he said Friday night.
Ranger fans found it an absolute nightmare that the popular Bell, 33, a five-time American League All-Star, six-time Gold Glove winner and the best all-around player in the team's history, had been traded for nothing more than reserve outfielder Duane Walker (hitting .136 in 59 at bats this season) and a player to be named later, said to be minor league pitcher Jeff Russell. What particularly stung was that in recent years Texas had reportedly turned down deals for Bell that would have brought Gibson and Wilson from Detroit, or Luis Leal and Jesse Barfield from Toronto. Yet Bell's large salary, his age, troublesome knees and early 1985 slump had reduced his marketability. As one Ranger official put it, "I'd rather take a carton of tennis balls than what we've been offered."
July 28, 1985
Bell was hitting only .236 at the time of the move and was in a I for 27 slump. His 16 errors ranked him third in the AL behind Cleveland's Julio Franco (24) and Toronto's Tony Fernandez (17). But those who watched him every day spoke of Bell's spectacular defensive plays and felt he hadn't lost much from his career .286 batting form. "Any time you've got a Buddy Bell available, you've got to go after him," said Rose, the Reds' player-manager, noting that his team didn't even need a third baseman. "I don't know how [Reds general manager Bill] Bergesch did it. If I was down there [in Texas] I would have asked for more."
Unfortunately, the last-place Rangers were backed into a corner. Hoping to rebuild, they had no use for an unhappy player with a hefty contract, but they couldn't trade Bell without his permission. In three of the previous five seasons they had voluntarily renegotiated Bell's contract, raising it to $600,000; Bell had expected more this season and was disappointed with the Rangers' offer.
In late June, seeking a winning environment and more money, Bell gave Texas general manager Tom Grieve a list of 10 teams to which he would be willing to go. Bell's preference was clear because he already owned a winter home in suburban Cincinnati.
On Thursday morning Bell, who had spent the All-Star break at his summer home in Arlington, Texas with his wife and four children, got calls from officials of both clubs telling him that he had been traded to Cincinnati.
But snags in the deal developed, and Bell flew to Detroit for the start of the Tigers-Rangers series. He carried his own equipment, having separated it from the team's gear before the All-Star break in anticipation of a trade. He arrived looking beleaguered. "I haven't got much sleep the last few weeks," he admitted. "I wish I knew what was going on." In the seventh inning he lined a pinch-hit run-scoring single to tie the game at 2-2. The Rangers went on to win 3-2.
New rumors kicked around the clubhouse. Bell was going to the Yankees. No, he wasn't going anywhere. "Is there someone here from the National Employment Weekly?" joked infielder Alan Bannister. Texas manager Bobby Valentine just kept shrugging and shaking his head when asked what was happening.
"It's nobody's fault," said the genial Bell, sitting by his locker. "I knew this might happen when I asked to be traded. Trades are hard to come by these days." Relief pitcher Dave Stewart stopped by with two baseball cards for Bell to sign. One was a current father-son card of Buddy and his dad. Bell pointed to the picture of his father in one of those sleeveless Cincinnati jerseys of the 1950s. "Now there's a nice-looking Reds uniform," he said. He sounded wistful.
Official word came at 11:45 a.m. Friday in a phone call from Bergesch. The deal had gone through. Bell caught a 1:05 p.m. flight to Cincinnati, where his 56-year-old father—ironically, a full-time Ranger scout—met him, and a press conference officially introduced him. "I said to my wife as we came to the stadium," said Gus Bell on Friday night at Riverfront Stadium, " 'Isn't this strange? Our son's going to be playing in there.' "
After some razzing from his teammates for rolling his pant legs too high ("Nooooo, Buddy," scolded Tony Perez, shaking his finger), Bell had a single in four at bats on Friday as the Reds won over the Phillies 3-2. He walked twice and scored twice in Saturday's 10-6 loss and tripled in a run in Sunday's 7-6 win. The Reds, only five games out in the NL West, seemed excited about their new addition.
"Excited? The night we got him I couldn't sleep," said Reds second baseman Ron Oester. "I was tossing and turning, thinking 'Buddy Bell, Buddy Bell.' "
Gus Bell couldn't get over his good fortune. He stood by the batting cage on Friday night looking out at his son. "He's got to hold the fort for another 10 years or so," he said with a smile. "Until one of the grandchildren can come along and take over."