This Day in Reds History: A Buddy Bell retrospective

Jim Cowsert-US PRESSWIRE

On this day in Reds history, Cincinnati acquired Buddy Bell.

On this day in 1897, former Red Hod Ford was born in New Haven, CT. Ford played shortstop for Cincinnati from 1926 to 1931.

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On this day in 1908, Reds Hall of Famer Ival Goodman was born in Northview, MO. Goodman twice led the league in triples while a member of the Reds.

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On this day in 1920, former Red Buttercup Dickerson died in Baltimore at the age of 61.

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On this day in 1985, the Reds traded outfielder Duane Walker and a player to be named later to the Rangers for third baseman Buddy Bell. Cincinnati later sent righty reliever Jeff Russell to Texas to complete the deal. Russell found success several years later as a closer with Texas and Boston, but Walker was never anything more than a bench player. Bell had been a truly outstanding player with Cleveland and Texas in his younger days, but came to Cincinnati at the age of 33 (he turned 34 in August). He was still a productive hitter in the Queen City, batting .266/.352/.414 (105 OPS+) in 1600 PA with the Reds. However, Bell's trademark defense began to slip in Cincinnati, which sapped his value. All in all, he was still a fair player with the Reds, but he was no longer the fringe MVP candidate he had been in Texas.

Could one make a reasonable Hall of Fame case for Buddy Bell? I think so, but it would rely heavily on his defense. Bell was known for his fielding, but won "only" six Gold Gloves, which is an underwhelming total for a defense-first Hall of Famer. The advanced metrics love his defense though. Baseball-Reference has him at 174 fielding runs above average for his career. He's tied with Paul Blair for ninth in that category. Was he that good? I never got to see him play, but people who saw him thought he was pretty damned fine in the field.

Let's do a Keltner list for Buddy Bell.

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

No, I don't think so. He was at his best during the prime years of Joe Morgan, Mike Schmidt, and George Brett, among others. It's hard to stand out in that crowd.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Yes, he was pretty clearly the best position player on the Rangers every full season he played in Texas. The only other decent Rangers players at the time were Jim Sundberg and an aging Mickey Rivers.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

No, as stated in question one, Bell played at the same time as Mike Schmidt, George Brett, and later, Wade Boggs. Bell may not have been any better than Darrell Evans.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

No, the Indians, Rangers, and Reds were all pretty bad at the time Bell played for them.

5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?

Yes, he was a productive player until he was 36 years old.

6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

No. Ignoring steroids-tainted players, still no. He wasn't as good as Dick Allen, for one.

7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?

No, his counting statistics just aren't very impressive: 201 HR, 1151 runs, 1106 RBI, and 2514 hits. He walked a fair amount in an era where very few people paid attention to walks.

8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

No, his counting numbers are low.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

There's no reason to think his bat was any better than his offensive numbers suggest. If his glove was as good as his Total Zone figures and some people think, then he was much better than his batting stats say.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?

Maybe? For a long time, Ron Santo was the best third baseman who wasn't enshrined. Darrell Evans has a case now, as do Ken Boyer and Heinie Groh. Scott Rolen will be the best eligible third baseman in a few years.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

He had a few seasons, notably 1979, where he was an MVP-type player, but he never won the award and probably never deserved one. Bell was never particularly close to winning an MVP award, but received votes in five different seasons, finishing as high as 10th in 1979.

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go to the Hall of Fame?

He was an All-Star-type player in six or seven seasons and played in five Midsummer Classics. There are many players with five All-Star appearances who aren't in the Hall of Fame.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

During his best years, he was good enough to be the best player on a pennant-winning team. He's right on the cusp.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

None. No.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

As far as I know, yes.

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On this day in 2005, the Reds dealt third baseman Joe Randa to San Diego for righties Travis Chick and Justin Germano.

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