The boat sits in a New York City marina, gently floating amid
the plastic cups and discarded tires that make the waters of the
Hudson River so inviting. Derek Bell thought about renting a
Manhattan pad--maybe an apartment in the East Village--but the
idea, like many others that dart through his brain at whiplash
speed, lasted approximately three tenths of a second. "An
apartment in New York, that's gonna run me $14,000, maybe
$15,000 per month, yo," says Bell, who's earning $5.2 million
this season playing rightfield for the New York Mets and who is
clearly talking about the higher end of housing in the Big
Apple. "Yo, I've got better things to spend my money on."
Such as hip-hop CDs (he owns nearly 2,000). And DVDs (100-plus).
And games for his Sony PlayStation and Sega Dreamcast
(300-plus). And alligator shoes (100-plus pairs). And aqua suits
and green suits and beige suits and fruit-punch-colored suits
and canary-yellow suits (each of which he wears once and then
gives to friends). And the gold-and-diamond baseball pendant
that dangles from his beanstalk neck. And sparkling diamond
studs, one for each ear. And a six-bedroom house in Tampa, his
hometown. And his five vehicles--three trucks, a 2000
Mercedes-Benz S500 and a 2000 Bentley Azure. "The Rolls is
fresh," says Bell. "Florida State maroon, with a sweet interior,
Standing in front of his Shea Stadium locker three hours before
a recent game, Bell grins from dimple to dimple. He's
odd-looking; there's no other way to say it. Sleepy,
almond-shaped brown eyes, elongated jaw, four deep creases
across a spacious forehead. A mishmash: Sam Cassell above the
nose, Mr. T below it. Bell slugs down a Mountain Dew, his fourth
of the young evening, and then chuckles. At 31 he's a man who
possesses everything...and knows it. "Who needs a house, yo?"
he asks. "Why chill on land when you can float in style?"
His yacht--"Get that right, yo. A yacht, not a houseboat"--is
named Bell 14 (for his number when he played with the Houston
Astros) and is a 58-foot Sea Ray 580 that's anchored just yards
from downtown Manhattan. ("We made a trade," says Bell,
referring to himself and the proprietors of the marina. "I do
some publicity for 'em later, and they hook up my boat, yo.")
This isn't Gilligan trying to escape that island on three twigs
and some palm leaves. The yacht has two bedrooms, two full
bathrooms, a living room, a kitchen, a garage for his Jet Ski
and all manner of video and audio convenience. "It's dope, yo,"
says Bell, who also owns a 21-foot fishing boat and a 36-foot
speedboat, both of which he keeps in Tampa. "If you know Derek
Bell, you know one thing, yo. It's about havin' fun, smilin' and
May 21, 2000
And living on the Hudson?
"That's my home, yo. The river. I like that. It's style."
For New Yorkers too young to recall the heyday of Walt (Clyde)
Frazier, the Hall of Fame point guard and fashion trendsetter on
the great New York Knicks teams of the 1960s and '70s, consider
yourselves blessed. Sartorially and stylistically, Bell is
Clyde, Clyde and more Clyde; he's Shaft 2000 with a quick bat,
soft hands and something to prove. When the Mets acquired him
from the Astros on Dec. 23 for righthander Octavio Dotel,
outfielder Roger Cedeno and a minor leaguer, the 6'2", 215-pound
Bell was a throw-in, a fading (.236, 12 home runs, 66 RBIs last
year, all full-season career lows), highly paid veteran that New
York was forced to take if it wanted to acquire lefthanded ace
Mike Hampton. At week's end, however, as Hampton (4-4, 4.66 ERA)
has only recently shown the form that made him last year's Cy
Young runner-up, Bell has been the Mets' offensive catalyst.
Batting second in the order, he was hitting .355 with seven home
runs, 21 RBIs and a .423 on-base percentage while tying for the
National League in hits (55) and lead in multihit games (18).
Moreover, he was playing a superb rightfield and adding a
lighthearted, funkadelic, daddy mack presence to the 20-19 Mets,
a $92.1 million team in pennant-or-bust mode.
Along with the two players, the Astros were required to send to
New York The Derek Bell Yo! Yo! Yo! Dictionary, a must-read for
those who wish to communicate with the gregarious, mostly
incomprehensible, mumbling slugger. Among the entries:
Yo n: Derek; I
Yo ad: large
Yo vb: Run! Run! Run!
Yo question: So, baby, I was wondering if you'd like to check
out a movie, maybe get something to eat, then dance and, ya
know, kick it?
Yo deep thought: I am deeply troubled by the ongoing Bosnian
conflict, which reflects poorly on the socioeconomic impact
capitalism is having on third world growth capabilities.
"Yo is his subject, period and exclamation point too," says Mets
reliever Pat Mahomes, noting that yo! yo! yo! is branded on
Bell's bats. "Anything in the English language can be replaced
by yo. He says a lot with one word. It's D. Bell's way."
D. Bell's way is also hip-hop--strolling into the clubhouse
wearing baggy jeans with his Polo underwear visible at the
waist, bobbing up and down to Tupac and Mos Def and Q-Tip,
picking random lines--"You don't wanna f--- with me!"--and
rapping loudly to the beat, often egging on teammates to join
in. Bell owns some 100 athletic jerseys, all XXL or bigger, at
least one from every NBA, NFL and NHL team. "Sometimes I feel
like being Dan Marino," says Bell. "Other times, Edgerrin James.
It's all mood, yo." Sometimes his fashion instincts extend to
the playing field. In the Mets' Shea Stadium opener against the
San Diego Padres on April 3, Bell sported an extra-baggy Mets
jersey to honor hip-hop and then hit an eighth-inning homer that
provided the margin in New York's 2-1 win. (Afterward he was
prohibited from wearing the jersey because it doesn't conform to
Major League regulations.)
Baseball is a vanilla game, and when someone flamboyant does
come along--a Mitch (Wild Thing) Williams, for example--he
doesn't often last. Bell, who made his major league debut in
1991 with the Toronto Blue Jays, has lasted, with a unique
persona that sometimes endears, sometimes outrages and, every so
often, does both at once. "It's one thing if someone comes in
here and starts talking and is really arrogant," says Mets third
baseman Robin Ventura, "but Derek is so well-intentioned, so
harmless, you just laugh. Look at his wardrobe! Plus, he takes
the game very seriously. The production speaks."
Usually. Last year Bell--who had averaged 18 home runs and 97
RBIs in the three previous seasons with Houston--did less damage
with his bat than with his tongue. On July 15, the day Astros
manager Larry Dierker returned to his post after June brain
surgery, Bell put a damper on the day by complaining because he
was batting sixth, not second. Bell had been struggling because
of a nagging groin strain as well as the absence of hitting
coach Tom McCraw, a father figure who was undergoing treatment
for cancer. (Bell keeps an inspirational note from McCraw in his
sunglasses case.) "That whole situation with Dierker and me was
misunderstood," Bell says now. "I'm a team player, and I felt
that I couldn't hit-and-run and do the things I'm capable of
doing from the six slot. That's the only thing I was upset
about. Is that selfish? I want to win so badly. The only way I
thought we could do that was with me batting second, making
This wasn't the first time Bell had made unwanted waves. Drafted
in the second round by the Blue Jays in 1987, Bell became one of
the game's top prospects; he was named 1991 Minor League Player
of the Year by Baseball America. However, he ran afoul of Blue
Jays skipper Cito Gaston, who disliked his casual demeanor. In a
'93 spring training game against the Detroit Tigers, Bell, who
had batted .242 in 61 games for Toronto the year before, let a
lazy fly ball fall in front of him for a hit, and later was
doubled off second base on a routine pop-up. A furious Gaston
publicly shredded Bell. "Maybe you can get away with that kind
of play in Triple A somewhere," he said. "That's just being
careless. Everybody likes the kid, and I know he wants to do
well, but I think he gets caught up in trying to look good
rather than play good."
Within days Bell was traded to San Diego, where he spent two
seasons before being shipped to Houston. "He was a little
immature as a player," says Gaston, now Toronto's hitting coach,
"but he wasn't a bad kid."
The Mets knew of Bell's rep, but "nobody prejudged Derek here,"
says outfielder Jay Payton. Instead Bell endeared himself to his
teammates with his cartoonish antics, and his work ethic, says
hitting coach Tom Robson, "has made Derek a dangerous hitter
Although Bell's homer to beat San Diego won him early acclaim,
he struggled through the Mets' first nine games, batting .212
with 11 strikeouts in 33 at bats. Then, before a game at
Philadelphia on April 12, Robson and manager Bobby Valentine
noticed something odd: In tapes from two seasons earlier Bell
was starting his swing as soon as he located the ball in the
pitcher's hand. With New York he was waiting until the ball was
released. "I got to work on fixing that immediately," says Bell.
"I saw the tape and was, like, Ooooohhhhhh! I get it." That
evening Bell had three hits. Through Sunday he had batted .405
since then. "Derek's greatest gift is an ability to hit the ball
anywhere, and hit it hard," says Robson. "He's a very smart
hitter who needed a small reminder."
Growing up in Tampa, Bell played in a Little League system that
produced, among others, Boston Red Sox centerfielder Carl
Everett, Tampa Bay Devil Rays pitcher Dwight Gooden (Bell wears
number 16 in Gooden's honor) and Los Angeles Dodgers leftfielder
Gary Sheffield, as well as former big leaguers Ty Griffin and
Floyd Youmans. The oldest of three boys, Derek was raised
primarily by his mother, Chestine, a medical-records assistant
who often worked at two hospitals simultaneously and who at home
enforced strict rules. Derek was a standout shortstop and second
baseman, and after school he used to show up regularly at
Gooden's backyard, where he, Griffin and Sheffield would play
ball until the sun went down. "Derek was like a big nerd, this
big goofy kid that everybody tried to pick on," says Sheffield,
23 days Bell's senior. "He was a real sensitive guy, and we
tried to toughen him up. But he was always so big. He had a
moustache when he was 11. In Little League he always had to
bring his I.D. because everyone thought he was too old to play."
Bell never lorded over Tampa's baseball community the way Gooden
had four years before him, but he's one of a handful of American
youths to appear in two Little League World Series title games.
In 1980, Bell started in rightfield for the Belmont Hills team
that, with Sheffield pitching, lost 4-3 to Taiwan. The next year
Bell, a sidearming flamethrower, was the starting pitcher as the
U.S. fell to Taiwan again, 4-2. "It was tough going down twice,"
says Bell. "But I'll tell you something, yo: Once you got outta
Tampa, getting to the World Series [where he played with the
Blue Jays in '92] was a breeze. I'm from a city where Gooden,
Sheff, Griffin, [the New York Yankees'] Tino Martinez, [the
Arizona Diamondbacks'] Luis Gonzalez, [the Padres'] Sterling
Hitchcock, all of 'em were playing. Tampa's where it was at, yo."
Tampa is still Bell's home. Come season's end, Bell will hire a
captain to pilot his yacht back to Tampa. "I would do it myself,
but that's one long ride," says Bell. "I've got other things I
wanna get done." Bell slugs some Mountain Dew and lets out a
zesty ahhhhhh. "Most of all, I wanna enjoy life. That's what it
all comes down to--enjoying your life to the fullest. Know what
I mean, yo?"
"Derek is so harmless, you just laugh," says Ventura. "Plus, he
takes the game seriously."
"If you know Derek Bell," he says, "it's about one thing, yo:
havin' fun, smilin' and stylin'."