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