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Bell brings Phils class, dedication
New Phillies third baseman David Bell has never made the All-Star team.
It's not his mission in life, but deep within his heart of hearts, Bell would consider his career complete if he could make the starting lineup just once.
It would be a tribute to his grandfather, Gus Bell, a slugging outfielder who played the majority of his career with the Cincinnati Reds. And it would help make up for the start that was taken away from his grandfather by baseball commissioner Ford Frick in 1957. Loyal Cincinnati fans turned out in force that year to vote seven Reds into the starting lineup. Frick didn't like the results of a system he had put in place, so he made some changes. Gus Bell was one of three Reds he sent to the bench.
Any pain Gus Bell might have harbored about that slight was eased when his beloved grandson David, son of five-time All-Star third baseman Buddy Bell, became baseball's second third-generation player (following Bret Boone), making his major-league debut with Cleveland on May 5, 1995.
Four days later, Gus Bell passed away.
''I know how much it meant to him to know I had made it,'' said Bell, who spent lots of time playing ball with his grandfather in the back yard.
Bell's courteous, respectful and dedicated ways reflect the loving, family-oriented environment he was raised in.
Ask anyone in baseball to describe Bell in two words and the answer will always be ''consummate professional.''
You'd expect nothing less from someone who was practically born and raised in a big-league clubhouse.
''I've been coming to spring training since I was a little kid,'' Bell said. ''My dad wanted us around, so he'd take us out of school for a month every year. When I signed at 17, I felt like I'd been there before and knew how to act around a clubhouse.''
Bell took full advantage of his annual opportunity by learning from a Who's Who of major leaguers. Buddy Bell invested lots of quality time to complete the accelerated baseball education.
''My dad taught me to play hard and hustle,'' Bell said. ''That's the foundation of my game.''
Buddy Bell also did his best to try to see his three sons' games.
''When I was in the Little League, he never wanted to make a big fuss with his presence,'' Bell said. ''So he'd always sit in his car in the outfield. He'd let us know he was there by honking.''
David Bell will never honk his own horn, so Phillies fans probably won't know he's around much this season.
Bell's peers know he's there. They know his lifetime .256 average doesn't reveal the countless times he advanced runners an extra base by hitting grounders the other way. Or the extra pitches he took so someone could steal a base. Or his willingness to play hurt or to play all four infield positions or to bat anywhere in Dusty Baker's lineup, including the dead zone that is the No. 8 hole.
The San Francisco Giants voted Bell, not Barry Bonds, the 2002 Willie McCovey Award as the most inspirational player on a club that came within a few outs of winning the World Series.
''Winning the World Series, getting a ring, that's the ultimate,'' said Bell, whose grandfather and father neither ever got one. ''That's what you play for. I realize that more than ever now after coming so close.''
Bell knows how to win. His 1989 Moeller High team won the Ohio State title. His 1988 Mickey Mantle and 1989 Connie Mack World Series clubs were champions. He's been to the playoffs the last three seasons, including with Seattle's 116-win team in 2001, and thinks the run can continue here.
''There's no substitute for stability, leadership and experience,'' Phillies manager Larry Bowa said. ''That's what Bell brings. He knows what has to be done. He knows there are no shortcuts.''
Bowa came to appreciate Bell's approach when the two were in Seattle. He's counting on Bell's intensity, impeccable work ethic and unselfishness to rub off here.
When Bell signed a four-year, $17-million free agent contract with the Phillies on Nov. 24, he could have asked for No. 25.
''It would have meant a lot to me because that's the number my grandfather and dad wore,'' Bell said.
Instead, he graciously accepted No. 4, just in case his friend Jim Thome, who had always worn 25, might want to come to the Phillies. He then began recruiting Thome.
Bowa wouldn't be surprised if Bell, 30, tops his career year of 1999 (.268, 21 HR, 78 RBIs) now that he's in user-friendly Veterans Stadium, batting sixth or seventh in what could be the club's most potent lineup since the halcyon days of Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski.
The 5-10, 195-pounder is an accomplished defender who ranked third among N.L. third baseman with a .973 fielding percentage last season. His range and arm won't make anyone forget Scott Rolen, but he'll make the routine play 99 times out of 100.
This ultimate gamer is another reminder that Old School is back in session in Philadelphia.