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Center Field, Center Of Attention:

 GUS BELL

         

    Before the Big Red Machine roared into Cincinnati and turned on the town like no other baseball team in the long and glittering history of the franchise, the most popular player quite possibly was Gus Bell, the hard-hitting outfielder who earned his cheers in the 1950s.

 

In many other eras, Gus Bell might have been the premier center fielder of his time, but he had unfortunate timing - playing when Willie Mays, Duke Snider and Mickey Mantle were plying their trade in New York.

 

Reds fans, however, considered Gus an equal to anyone and they cheered his performances. He was a dandy and performed magnificently for nine seasons for the Reds.

 

Born David Bell, he was a youngster playing baseball in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, when the nickname Gus was slapped on him. The young Bell was a catcher in those days. His cousin, a strong admirer of New York catcher Gus Mancusco, likened the little Bell boy to big­leaguer Gus. The nickname stuck and he forever after was known as Gus Bell.

 

Bell originally was signed by the Pittsburgh Pi rates after a 1947 tryout in Indianapolis. He spent three seasons in the bush leagues - nearly quitting his rookie year when his batting average in Leesburg, Florida, was a meager .220. He arrived in the majors in 1950 as a Pittsburgh outfielder.

 

He played three years for the Pirates. Then came what he considered his big break: a trade to the Reds. He came under the tutelage of Rogers Hornsby, the Reds manager who is acknowledged as the best right-handed hitter of all time.

Bell had batted only .250 the year before his trade to the Reds and he admittedly was confused at the plate.

"He (Hornsby) straightened me out on things and showed me pointers about hitting that I'll never forget the rest of my baseball career," Bell told United Press before a spring game in 1954 in Lynchburg, Virginia.

"He said for me to aim everything through the box. "Just try to knock the pitcher down. He said if I did that, I never would have a serious slump and that with my natural power, I'd get my share of home runs, too.

"Well," Bell continued, "I got 30 home runs and drove in 105 runs and had an even .300 batting average. Can't you see why I'm grateful to Hornsby?"

That was a great start and he endeared himself to the Cincinnati fans for the remainder of his career in the Queen City. Bell's hitting was normally around the .300 mark. A long bout with blood poisoning took its toll in 1958 and he slumped to .252 that season.   

 

As an outfielder, few rivaled Bell's skills. In 1959 he established a major league fielding record, playing 199 consecutive games without making an error.

"Gus is the most underrated outfielder in the league," Reds manager Birdie Tebbetts once said of Bell. "Mays and Snider get the publicity, but for my money, Bell is their equal. He doesn't get his just due because he doesn't play in New York."

Bell played with the Reds through the 1961 season. When the National League expanded in 1962, he was picked by the New York Mets in the expansion draft. The Mets traded him to Milwaukee where he finished his career in 1964.

 

Today, Bell remains a great baseball fan and follows closely the American League box scores.

 

There's another Bell playing these days - David Gus Bell. He's known as Buddy, the son of Gus, and he's a chip off the old block. Except he's a third baseman.

 

         
       

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