Bell ready to become full-time father
Royals manager to step aside after Sunday's season finale
KANSAS CITY -- Two weeks were left in Buddy Bell's managerial tenure and the Royals were enduring a tough September. But they held off the Indians for a one-run victory at Cleveland and Bell was unusually emotional as he talked of how hard the Royals were playing.
Bell, at least publicly, rarely allows his feelings to show. But on this afternoon, there was a telling quaver in his voice as he praised his players. The main thing it told was how much he cared about his team, his mission and his profession.
His tenure as Royals manager comes to an end on Sunday when he steps out after nearly three seasons on the dugout hot seat. He'll become senior advisor to general manager Dayton Moore and, most importantly, senior advisor and full-time father to his family.
What made Bell's emotions leak that day at Cleveland?
Go back to May 31, 2005, the day that then-general manager Allard Baird unveiled Bell as the Royals' new manager. Tony Pena had unexpectedly resigned earlier in the month, and an air of uncertainty prevailed.
"I've been thinking about this. This has been a real unstable situation since I got here," Bell said after the club returned from Cleveland.
"It was a mess when I got here and for a while they were talking about the GM [Baird] getting fired and he eventually got fired. When the new general manager [Moore] came in, they talked about me getting fired and bringing his own guy in. Then the organization couldn't figure out if they wanted to fire me or not keep me on, so there was instability there."
In the meantime, the Royals tried to formulate the right mix on field. Players came and went, but the losses kept mounting. Bell did some deep thinking, stepped back and tried to detach himself.
"There has been no stability here at all as far as the players and the coaches, and I'm concerned, and the thing that irritates me most is that our players and our coaches never get the kind of credit they deserve for being able to do what they've done during this period of time. Which I think is pretty remarkable," Bell said.
"It's been very hard for the coaches and hard for the players in particular, because you always want to know what direction the organization is going ... and a lot of guys have not really had that. That can wear you out, and it's worn me out at times."
Bell got a real test at the end of the 2006 season, when the cancer alarm went off. His throat was afflicted, surgery was necessary and he missed the last 10 games. The operation lasted six hours, but recuperation seemed like an eternity. Bell, with plenty of time, did a lot of soul-searching. He was a baseball lifer, but there was another life -- at home, with wife Gloria and with daughter Traci, who needs special care because of Down's syndrome.
Recovered, he made it to Spring Training, but eventually decided that 2007 would be his last season as Royals manager. Gloria, Traci, his other four children, his grandchildren, his mother, his brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews were on his mind. Time was zooming past. He needed to spend it with them, they needed to spend it with him.
"If I wouldn't have gotten sick, though, I don't think I would've done this," he said. "It just kind of screws your whole mind up, it prioritizes things. But I doubt if I'd have ever come to this conclusion [without the cancer]."
Bell feels good now. His energy has gradually returned. The doctors keep giving him a thumbs-up. Face it, though, cancer can be a life-threatening curse.
"It can be in the long-term ... It's somewhat progressive, so you never know what's going to happen there," he said.
"That's kind of where I am with that. There are things that I want to do now -- not that I'm not going to be able to do them 20 years from now -- but I want to kind of cover my rear."
Bell chuckled. He's so busy that he rarely thinks about cancer and the risks. But he's realistic.
"If you have it once, you've got a pretty good chance for it to come back," Bell said.
His wife Gloria was skeptical about the managerial resignation, even tried to talk Buddy out of it. There had been about nine years of this, plus all that time as a coach and front-office guy. Never mind those 18 years as a standout Major League third baseman.
"She probably tried to talk me out of it more than anybody, just because she knows how much I cared about it and how much time we've put into it," he said. "We spent all those sleepless nights and now, all of a sudden, things are getting a little bit better."
The Bells plan to move from Arizona to Cincinnati, where they grew up. Buddy's dad, Gus Bell, was a popular outfielder with the Reds. His mother lives there.
"She's 78 and she's good. She's all fired up. She and Traci are tight, too, so she'll be able to hang out with Traci as well," Bell said.
Traci remains her father's biggest fan.
"She's rather high-maintenance and Gloria never complains, but it's wearing her out," Bell said. "I'll be able to take her to the ballpark and my mom and my brothers and sisters are there, so she'll be able to spend a lot of time with them. She'll be able to get away from us at times, too."
He has six brothers and sisters in the Cincinnati area along with son Ricky and one grandchild. His other kids, David, Mike and Kristi, are in the Phoenix area. The three sons were all professional players and David, a 12-year Major Leaguer, is mulling a comeback from a hip injury. Mike manages Yakima in the Diamondbacks' organization, Ricky is in the financial business and daughter Kristi is a special education teacher.
Bell, who has lived in Chandler, Ariz., will work out of Cincinnati, but also will spend time at the Royals' training camp at Surprise. He'll probably scout teams and players that come through Cincy and do other special assignments for Moore.
One of them might be advising Moore as he ponders candidates to be Bell's successor.
"I think there's going to be some continuity on what we've done here and that he's going to pick a very good person," Bell said. "I like working with the guy because basically he sees the game the way I do, which is unusual for a young guy like that. He's had a lot of old-time influence in his baseball life already. I was like that."
Bell's earliest influences came, of course, from his father. Gus Bell played 15 Major League seasons -- those golden, almost fable-like years from 1950 to 1964.
"My dad, who was my best friend and the guy who I would talk to the most about life and my kids and baseball, would always tell me you had to play this game with emotion -- but you can't let anybody see it," Bell said.
"When I was young, that was a tough thing for me to understand because I was really out of control. I had a bad mouth, even when I was in grade school. I think I learned a lot of that from the clubhouses I was in. But I would lose it if I'd strike out or make an error or a teammate would screw up or not hustle. It was just stupid and he was real easy on me -- 'You can't do that. I understand, but you can't do that.' It kind of evolved into me just keeping it in my gut and trying to be as unemotional on the outside and kind of churning on the inside."
Bell, as he developed into a leader, tried to keep his emotions contained. Sure, he could pop off once in a while with umpires but he conveyed a steady, in-control approach with his players.
"With the players, I want to be as consistent as I can possibly be," he said, "but yet I want them to know that I know. And I think I do OK with that."
Although he's leaving as manager, Bell realizes that he could never entirely cut his ties with the game. In fact, he doesn't rule out managing again. He's 56, from a baseball family, and has earned respect throughout the game.
Bell feels fortunate to have had an excellent working relationship with Baird and Moore. He's especially grateful to his coaching staff -- "You can't do any better than that. That they continued to do their job under these circumstances is just incredible." And he's proud of what his players have accomplished.
"Nobody knows and nobody wants to talk about what a mess this organization was in," Bell said. "If a manager comes in, the players don't know where they are going to stack up with a manager or stack up with the GM. It's like, 'What's going to happen next? What's going on with my career?' The best thing I could explain to them was to say, 'Hey, you've just got to keep on playing.' And they've done that."
Bell feels the Royals' environment is stabilizing and the hiring of a new manager will help that. Players won't have to be guessing about who will be the skipper or the GM. They should feel the leveling process.
"Things are OK, but it's still not where it needs to be in terms of where all the real solid organizations are. I'm going to be a part of it and I'm looking forward to that," he said.
Bell sees the Royals turning things around, and he's been a big part of that.
"When these guys get good, I'm always going to feel like I had something to do with it," he said. "Even when I was a coach at Cleveland and we got to the World Series, I felt like I was a part of it, but it was all pretty much up to the players."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.