To lead off this Derek Bell “Blast From the Past” article, I will make an honest confession. When looking up his statistics during his time with the Blue Jays I was very surprised. For a guy who made such a memorable appearance in the 1992 World Series video with his “trenches” speech, he really didn’t do a whole hell of a lot for the Jays. I knew that he didn’t last long in Toronto due to his trade to the Padres after the ’92 World Series victory, but I thought he made more of an impact than he actually did.
In his two seasons with the Blue Jays, Bell only had 189 at-bats in 79 games. He hit .228, with a .645 OPS, 2 HR, 16 RBI, and 10 SB. While it’s true that he wasn’t given much of a chance in Toronto (with Carter, White, and Maldonado ahead of him on the depth chart), I never realized his numbers were that low. Especially considering that Turner Ward and Ed Sprague, other members of the trenches, did well enough to stick around for the 1993 World Series win, it was kind of shocking that the most notable “trench guy” didn’t. What is even more strange is that Derek Bell actually had an interview piece in the 1992 World Series video, considering his only contribution was walking in the ninth inning of game two, and scoring on Sprague’s HR.
But Derek Bell made a much bigger name for himself after his time in Toronto. In fact his career can be easily split into three parts: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
After winning the 1992 World Series with the Jays, he was shipped to San Diego for Darrin Jackson, where he spent the next two seasons as a starting outfielder for the first time in his career. He hit well for the Padres, but was soon traded again, this time in an enormous 12-player deal with Houston. In his first four years with the Astros, Bell was fantastic. He hit .334 in 1995 and finished 14th in NL MVP voting. In ’96 he knocked in 113 runs, and in ’98 he had his most complete season – .314, 22 HR, 108 RBI. Together with Bagwell and Biggio, Houston made the playoffs three straight seasons (1997 – 1999).
In 1999 he suddenly fell apart. His average dropped to .236. He publicly feuded with manager Larry Dierker and was dropped from the starting lineup. He managed to snag a few at-bats in the playoffs, but did nothing with them. In fact, he owns one of the worst postseason batting averages ever – 3 for 34 (.088), with a .315 OPS. He was traded again, this time with Mike Hampton to the Mets – but as a player Houston forced the Mets to take, not as a necessary piece.
After the Mets refused to re-sign him, Bell signed a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates – one of the worst contracts ever signed in baseball. In his first year with the Pirates he tore up the NL to the tune of a .173 average, .576 OPS, 5 HR, and 13 RBI. Coming into spring training in 2002, Bell was told that he would have to compete for a job in the exhibition season due to his declining performance. He then unleashed a verbal tirade, some of the greatest quotes ever said:
“Nobody told me I was in competition. If there is competition, somebody better let me know. If there is competition, they better eliminate me out of the race and go ahead and do what they’re going to do with me. I ain’t never hit in spring training and I never will. If it ain’t settled with me out there, then they can trade me. I ain’t going out there to hurt myself in spring training battling for a job. If it is [a competition], then I’m going into ‘Operation Shutdown.’ Tell them exactly what I said. I haven’t competed for a job since 1991.”
Somehow those words didn’t sink in with management, and Bell quit the team at the end of March. He never played again.
To summarize: he had a few good years, constantly disappeared in the playoffs, and had his career end in disgrace.
But hey – at least he’ll always have his Blue Jay years.
At least he’ll always have the trenches.
Derek Bell: Career Major League Statistics
11 seasons (1991 – 2001)
5 teams (TOR, SD, HOU, NYM, PIT)
.276 average, 134 HR, 668 RBI, 642 R, 170 SB, .757 OPS
*Blast From the Past is a feature dedicated to bringing back the memory of classic Jays from days past – the lesser known the better. If you have any suggestions please contact 500 Level Fan.