Shaping the Rangers: #17 Buddy Bell

Lone Star Dugout continues its look at the 20 biggest moves to shape the Texas Rangers. This time, it's a look at the 1978 trade that brought Buddy Bell to the Rangers.

December 8, 1978:Rangers trade Toby Harrah to the Cleveland Indians for Buddy Bell.

Former Ranger infielder Toby Harrah is a component of possibly one of the most even trades in the history of Major League Baseball.

Just take a look at the players involved.

One on side you had Harrah, a slick hitting infielder adept at getting on base and driving in runs. On the other was Buddy Bell, a sure-handed, at times out-spoken third baseman who possessed enough range to be a shortstop.

Their routes to the major leagues couldn't be more different: Harrah played high school ball in his hometown of LaRue, Ohio and was scouted out but wasn't signed at graduation due to the belief he'd be attending college on a scholarship. But only a few months later, MLB scout Tony Lucadello followed up and found that Harrah was in fact not attending school, but was working in a factory in the nearby town of Marion. Lucadello quickly snatched Harrah up, signing him to a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies in December, 1966.

Buddy Bell, on the other hand, was born with baseball in his blood. His father, Gus, had been known as one of the most feared hitters throughout the 1950s and played some exceptional defense in the outfield as well. Drafted by the Indians in 1969, Bell was regarded as a highly talented prospect from the very beginnings of his professional career.

But both players were also among the lone bright spots for poorly performing ballclubs.

Harrah broke into the big leagues with the Washington Senators in 1971 and followed them to Texas the following year. His numbers struggled at first, partly due to his jump from Double-A straight to the majors, but his swing progressively sprang to life during his first tenure with the Rangers. The 1974 season turned out to be the first of Harrah's five 20-plus homerun campaigns, and one year later, he finished just seven runs shy of a 100 RBI season. He also became the first Ranger to even register on the minds of baseball writers, finishing fifteenth in Most Valuable Player voting.

As the Rangers were packing up their bags to head to Arlington, Buddy Bell was busy breaking in with the Cleveland Indians. Incidentally, the longtime third baseman only played at the hot corner in just six of the 132 games he appeared in over the 1972 season, but after the Indians dealt away Graig Nettles a year later – the position was all his. Bell responded in 1973 by evolving into one of the league's best third baseman, leading in putouts and double plays, and was named to his first All-Star team.

In the late 1970's, former Rangers General Manager Eddie Robinson orchestrated a deal to exchange one exceptional talent for another, sending twenty-nine year old Harrah to the Indians for another player in the middle of his career, Buddy Bell.

Upon his arrival in Texas, Bell instantly became one of the most well-respected and well-liked players in the Rangers' clubhouse by teammates and fans alike. He quickly became a fixture at third base and Bell's bat also seemed to come alive for the first time in his career.

In 1979, his first season in Texas, Bell set a career-high with 18 homeruns, racked up 101 runs batted in, and collected 200 hits – the first time any Ranger had done so in a season. He also won the first of his six Gold Gloves to come during his time in Texas.

Along with being a star defensively, Bell was a serious line-drive hitter. His hitting prowess eventually carried him to rank first among all-time Rangers in career doubles, RBI, extra-base hits, and total bases.

But perhaps the most amazing thing about him is that Bell achieved these feats while suffering from some debilitating physical ailments. Throughout his career, the infielder was constantly handcuffed by chronic back pain and plenty of knee injuries. He was also plagued by epileptic seizures, although none occurred while on the field. The medical condition was discovered by doctors in 1976 when Bell fell from a golf cart and broke his nose. Despite vision problems and exhaustion following the incident, he played that same night and doubled in his first at-bat.

As the partnership between Bell and the Rangers wore on, frustrations between the opinionated third baseman and a consistently disappointing ballclub began to mount. In 1982, during a particularly ugly stretch of ball that saw the Rangers lose 21 out of 26 games and both Robinson and then manager Don Zimmer lose their jobs, Bell loudly voiced his concerns over the state of the team.

"It's a shabbily run organization right now," Bell said of the state of the Rangers. "They're going backwards. It's just like we're an expansion team now." It wasn't the only forthright moment of the season for the veteran, who also sarcastically stated that the 1982 team was "the best he's ever played on."

It seemed as though things had come to a head between Bell and the Rangers in 1985, when the third baseman decided more money would be required to get through the season. Bell approached then General Manager Tom Grieve about renegotiating the three years remaining on his contract, but the deal would not get done. Instead, Bell was traded to his hometown of Cincinnati the day after the All-Star break for outfielder Duane Walker and a reliever by the name of Jeff Russell. His third base position now belonged to a bright, young prospect named Steve Buechele.

Although the trade was originally poorly received in the clubhouse, the move ended up being a profitable one as Russell would go on to become a top-notch closer for the Rangers.

As for Bell, he would fail to last three years in Cincinnati and found himself traded to the Houston Astros for a player to be named later over the summer of 1988. But as luck would have it, the Rangers were in search of a designated hitter the following year and picked up an aging Bell as a free agent.

After missing sixteen games to have arthroscopic knee surgery in April of 1989, Bell returned to the lineup and hit only .183 with no homers and three RBIs in 82 at-bats. For a .279 career hitter who had won six consecutive Gold Gloves, this was an altogether new experience.

On June 23rd, following a 4-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians, Bell quietly announced his retirement citing a decline in both health and playing time as the main reasons why he felt it was time to hang up the spikes. There was no press conference for the announcement, only an assembly of media that congregated in the office of then trainer Bill Zeigler's office late one night.

By the time he retired, Buddy and his father held the all-time father-son record for hits with 4,337 and also tied for the second-best father-son total in homers with 407.


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