Happy birthday to Buddy Bell, who turns 70 years old today.
Those of you who have read LSB for a while know that Buddy Bell is one of my childhood favorites. As a young ‘un I always had a strong arm and no real idea where the ball is going, and when you’re, like, 8 years old with that skill set they put you at third base. Since I was a third baseman I was drawn to professional players who played that position, making me a huge Brooks Robinson fan as a kid, as well as focusing on the third basemen for the Rangers.
So I liked Toby Harrah, who moved from shortstop to third base in 1977 and manned the hot corner for the Rangers in 1977 and 1978. He was a fan favorite back then, and one of my early memories is of me and my brother Sam, who was probably about 3 at the time, getting our picture taken with Toby Harrah one Saturday morning when they had a “come meet a Ranger and get your picture taken with him!” event at a Jack-in-the-Box out in like Duncanville or somewhere.
So I was upset Harrah was traded to the Cleveland Indians straight up for Buddy Bell after the 1978 season, but I embraced the new Ranger, and he quickly became my favorite player. He played the same position as me, he made amazing diving stops with a remarkable ability to re-gain his feet and throw accurately to first, and he was a really good hitter. Bell was the Face of the Franchise for the Rangers in the early 80s.
Bell was a solid player while with the Indians, but took a step forward once he joined Texas. As a kid I thought Bell was great and didn’t get enough appreciation or attention, despite his winning the Gold Glove in all six full seasons he was with Texas, appearing in four All Star Games, and getting MVP votes in five of those years.
Usually the in the tank homer takes you have for your favorites as a kid prove, when you are older, to be wrong, and that’s certainly true of most of those I held as a child. On Buddy Bell, though, I think I was actually right.
From 1979 through 1984 Bell had four 6+ bWAR seasons, along with a 4.7 bWAR season and a 5.7 bWAR season. Perhaps most remarkably, Bell had a 6.2 bWAR in the strike-shortened 1981 season, and a 6.5 bWAR in 1980 despite playing just 129 games due to back problems that landed him on the injured list.
Over that six year stretch, Bell had the fourth highest bWAR in baseball, with 36.1. He trailed only Mike Schmidt, Gary Carter and Robin Yount — three no-doubt Hall of Famers. The five names behind Bell are Andrew Dawson, Keith Hernandez, George Brett, Rickey Henderson and Eddie Murray — four Hall of Famers and a guy with a very good Hall of Fame case.
We have talked before about how second basemen and third basemen are underrepresented in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Players without one big time carrying skill offensively, but who are well rounded and do lots of things well, also tend to get overlooked in the Hall of Fame voting. Bell’s omission is the perfect example of both of those trends.
Bell is 13th all time among third basemen in bWAR, at 66.3. The only third basemen ahead of him who are not in the Hall are Adrian Beltre*, who is a first ballot Hall of Famer, Scott Rolen, who was at 52.9% of the vote this year and likely will be elected, and Graig Nettles, who, like Bell, was a strong defensive third baseman with a solid all-around game. If we look at the JAWS method Jay Jaffe developed, Bell is 15th among third basemen, with Home Run Baker (a Hall of Famer) and Ken Boyer, who has a solid HOF case, moving ahead of him.
* It is weird how teams seem to have runs of success at certain positions while being terrible for long stretches at others. Look at the Chicago White Sox, whose best third basemen over their history are probably Robin Ventura and Joe Crede. The Rangers, of course, can’t fill their center field position to save their lives. But they have had a long history of having quality players at third base, from Harrah to Bell to Steve Buechele to Dean Palmer to Hank Blalock to Michael Young to Adrian Beltre to, we hope, Josh Jung.
So happy birthday, Buddy Bell. You deserve to be enshrined in Cooperstown.