Dipping Into the Past: Derek Bell

Who can forget…

At another website, I wrote about what I thought (at the time) were the Blue Jays All-Time top ten prospects. I begin with the enigmatic Derek Bell.

#10 Derek Bell OF

Bell was a 2nd round pick in the 1987 draft out of high school in Tampa. By the middle of his second pro season, he had progressed as far as AA. He was named the organization’s top prospect in 1989, 2nd ranked in 1990, and the top ranked again in 1991, when he had a monster year at AAA, winning the International League batting title, and taking home both IL MVP and BA player of the year honours.

Bell had trouble cracking a solid major league outfield with the parent club, and there were whispers of an attitude problem, so he was shipped with a minor leaguer to San Diego for veteran outfielder Darrin Jackson (who slashed .216/.250/.347 in his only season with Toronto), which was probably ample evidence of what the Blue Jays thought of Bell.

Bell seemed to find himself with Padres, and had a pair of decent seasons. Early in his second season with San Diego, he and a teammate were arrested in New York City before a game with the Mets with soliciting an undercover policewoman. The charges were dropped after the season, but the Padres, perhaps tiring of his act, sent Bell to the Astros as part of a 12-player trade.

It was in Houston that Bell experienced his greatest success, driving in 108 runs in 1995, and becoming part of the famed “Killer Bees” (Bell, Bagwell, Biggio, Berkman), and was an integral part of 3 consecutive division winners.

Bell soon wore out his welcome in Houston, however. In 1999, Manager Larry Dierker was returning to the club after a month-long absence from emergency brain surgery following a seizure. He was upset that Dierker, upon his return, had dropped the slumping Bell from 2nd to 6th in the batting order. Bell was critical of his manager after the game – on the day he had returned from a near-death experience. Bell was traded to the Mets in the off-season and helped lead them to a division title, but the Mets let him walk after one season as a free agent.

The only team to take a chance on Bell after that was the Pirates, who signed him to a two-year, $9 million deal for no apparent reason in 2001. Bell hit all of .176 that year, and was told the following spring that he was going to have to battle to keep his starting job. Bell told reporters:

“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.”

    Bell left the team for his yacht on March 29th, and was released two days later. Pittsburgh sports columnist Mark Madden had the final and best observation of the Derek Bell era, with a column titled, “Derek Bell becomes ultimate pirate: Lives on a boat and steals money.”

His troubles did not end there, although his baseball career did. He was arrested in Florida on cocaine possession charges in 2006, and again in 2008. Several years later, having squandered most of the $26 million he made during his playing career, Bell put the World Series ring he earned with the 1992 Jays on ebay, but didn’t get his asking price of $17 000. For his career, Bell hit .276, with 134 HR and 668 RBI.


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