Pittsburgh Pirates All-Time Top 100: 36. Jay Bell

Jay Bell was a 6’1” shortstop from Pensacola, FL. Born on December 11th, 1965, the right hander was originally selected in the first round of the 1984 amateur draft by the Minnesota Twins, with the eighth overall pick. He made his first professional appearance later that year with the “rookie” level Elizabethton Twins of the Appalachian League. He hit .220 over 66 contests with six home runs and 30 RBI. He opened the 1985 season with the Visalia Oaks in the “A” level California League, hitting .282 with nine home runs and 59 RBI in 106 games. On August 1st, the Twins sent him with Curt Wardle, Jim Weaver, and a player to be named later (Rich Yett) to the Cleveland Indians for Bert Blyleven.

Bell joined the “AA” level Waterbury Indians for the end of 1985 and the entire 1986 season, collecting a .281 average with eight home runs and 88 RBI over 167 games. He also made his first appearance in the show, going 5-for-14 with two walks, three runs, two doubles, one home run, and four RBI in five games with the Indians. He ultimately spent three seasons in the organization, splitting his time between AAA and major league ball. He hit .223 in 116 contests at shortstop. Just prior to the 1989 season, the Indians sent him as the “player to be named later” in an earlier trade for utilityman Denny Gonzalez (hit .294 in eight career games with Cleveland.

Bell’s first season in Pittsburgh, 1989, was split between the Pirates “AAA” club, the Buffalo Bisons of the American Association (86 games, .285, 10 home runs, 54 RBI) and the mother club. For the Bucs, he played in 78 games, batting second and eighth as the Pirates starting shortstop through the second half of the season. He hit .258 with 27 RBI, 19 walks and five stolen bases. On July 27th, down 8-7 in the top of the seventh against the New York Mets, Bell was called in to pinch hit. He hit a three run triple to right field and the Pirates eventually won, 10-8. Pittsburgh finished fifth in the NL East, at 74-88.

1990 would mark Bell’s first season in which he stayed in the majors for the whole year. He hit .258, scoring 93 runs, hitting 28 doubles, seven triples (NL eighth), racking up 52 RBI, stealing 10 bases, and walking 65 times, helping him to earn a .329 OBP over an NL fifth best 159 contests. He led the NL with 39 sacrifice hits. He batted second all season while holding down the shortstop position. In the second game of a doubleheader on August 17th, he went 3-for-4 with a solo homer and the game clinching RBI single for a 4-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds. Pittsburgh clinched the NL East by four games over the Mets, at 95-67. Bell went 5-for-20 with three runs, four walks, a double and a home run in six NLCS contests against the Reds, a series the Pirates dropped.

In 1991, Bell hit .270 over 157 games, cracking a then-career high 16 home runs with 67 RBI, 32 doubles, 96 runs, 10 steals, and 52 walks. His efforts helped him finish 12th in the NL MVP race from his familiar spot at shortstop and batting second. On June 26th, he went 5-for-5 with a double and an RBI in a 7-6 win over the Chicago Cubs. On September 9th, he went 4-for-4 with two home runs and four RBI in an 11-5 victory against the Houston Astros. Pittsburgh continued their reign as kings of the NL East, winning the crown by 14 games over the St. Louis Cardinals at 98-64. Bell earned a series high 12 hits (also leading both teams with 10 strikeouts) with two doubles and a home run, hitting .429 as the Pirates extended the Atlanta Braves to seven games before bowing out.

1992 would see Bell hit .264 over 159 games, scoring 87 runs, making a career high 36 doubles (NL ninth), nine home runs and 55 RBI. On May 13th, Bell went 4-for-6 with two doubles and game clinching solo home run in the top of the ninth inning in a wild 11-10 win over the Braves. From August 24th through September 17th, he hit in 22 consecutive games, going 34-for-97 (.351) with nine doubles, a triple, three round trippers, and 14 RBI as the Pirates went 15-7. The Pirates repeated as NL East Champs, going 96-66, nine games ahead of the second place Montreal Expos. Pittsburgh again met the Braves in the NLCS, going down swinging in a seven game setback.

Bell had what may have been his best season in 1993, earning an all-star invitation, a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger, and finishing 19th in the NL MVP vote. He hit a career high .310, with 102 runs (NL ninth), 32 doubles, nine triples (NL third), nine home runs, 51 RBI, 77 walks, and 16 stolen bases. He also led the NL with 527 assists and all shortstops with a .986 fielding percentage. He batted second all season long. On June 19th, he walked, hit a single, a double, and a triple, and knocked in three runs as the Bucs defeated the Mets, 8-3. The Pirates success, however, did not mirror that of Bell’s. They posted a 75-87 record, finishing fifth in the NL East.

1994 would see Bell (along with the rest of baseball) miss a significant portion of the season, playing in just 110 games and hitting .276 with 35 doubles (NL third), nine home runs, 45 RBI, 49 walks, and 68 runs. His fielding percentage was an NL fifth best .973. On August 7th, he went 5-for-6 with two runs, two doubles, and the game winning RBI in the bottom of the ninth in a 6-5 win over St. Louis. Pittsburgh finished in third place in the NL Central with a 53-61 record.

In 1995, Bell played in 138 games, hitting .262 with 79 runs, 28 doubles, 13 home runs, 55 walks and 55 RBI. He ranked third in the NL with a .978 fielding percentage. He batted mostly second in the order and played shortstop, although he also appeared in the sixth spot and on three occasions played at third base. On August 6th, he went 3-for-3 with a double and two home runs, collecting three RBI in a 6-3 win over the Houston Astros. The Pirates went 58-86, finishing the season in fifth place in the NL Central.

1996 would be Bell’s last season with the Pirates. In 151 games, he hit .250 with 65 runs, 29 doubles, 13 home runs, a then-career high 71 RBI and 54 walks. He finished the season with an NL fourth 215 putouts and led the league with 478 assists. He batted fifth through seventh in the order. On April 6th, he hit a single, a triple, and a home run, scoring twice and knocking two in as the Bucs set down the Mets, 5-0. The Pirates finished 73-89, fifth place in the NL Central. After the season, the Pirates sent him with third/first baseman Jeff King (.249, 55 home runs, 216 RBI over 307 AL games)to the Kansas City Royals for minor leaguer Jeff Martin, pitcher Jeff Granger (0-0. 18.00 over five innings), Joe Randa (126 games, .302, 27 doubles, 60 RBI), and pitcher Jeff Wallace (3-0, 4.67 in 90 games over three seasons).

Bell played one season with the Royals (153 games, .291, 21 home runs, 92 RBI). He later played five seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks (616 games, .263, 91 home runs, 304 RBI), finishing out his career with the 2003 New York Mets (72 games, .181, three RBI).

In Bell’s seven full seasons in Pittsburgh, he never finished out of the top five in assists and putouts at the shortstop position.

All-Time Statline: Eight seasons, 1106 games, .269/.339/.402, 1124-for-4179, 623 runs, 233 doubles, 44 triples, 78 home runs, 423 RBI, 58 stolen bases, 426 walks, 780 strikeouts, 22.2 wins above replacement.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the managing editor (Charlie) or SB Nation. FanPosts are written by Bucs Dugout readers.

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