As a Diamondback, Jay Bell scored the run that ended the Yankee dynasty in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Now he’s the manager of the Tampa Yankees advanced A team in the Florida State League. Is the connection something he’s asked about a lot? “Just by reporters,” Bell said laughing.
Watching the 1977 and 1978 World Series between the Dodgers and Yankees, Bell became a Dodger fan because Don Sutton was a Pensacola, Florida guy like Bell. “The Yankees were part of my history in baseball from an early age,” Bell said.
And after playing the 1997 season with the Royals, the Yankees had interest in adding the infielder but wanted to wait until after the expansion draft. The Diamondbacks came in and offered Bell a contract too good to turn down. Owner Jerry Colangelo told Bell that “we want a team full of character, not a team full of characters.” He also added that they wanted to be the Yankees of the West.
“They’ve been a big part of my life over 40 years,” Bell said. “To have the chance to finally work with them is pretty thrilling.”
Bell added, “I’m a big fan of what they talk about, I’m a big fan of the Yankee code, and it fits right in with my personality.”
Gary Denbo is the Yankees Vice President for Player Development, and was the Yankees hitting coach in 2001. Bell is now working for a man that he played against back in Double-A. “Now to have him as a boss is pretty ironic I guess, but it’s been an extreme pleasure also,” Bell said.
Bell played 18 seasons in the majors, but it didn’t look he would last long. Batting averages of .216 and .218 in his early seasons with the Indians gave him doubts about a lengthy career but he thought about managing. He went to the Pirates, where he played from 1989-96. Bell was an All-Star in 1993 and got to play for Jim Leyland.
“The guy I wanted to emulate more than anybody else is Leyland,” Bell said of his managing. “I constantly asked him questions about the game. He was extremely willing to give me information during my playing days so that I could be a manager on the field, I could guess along with the other manager.”
Bell was part of the Pittsburgh teams that won three straight NL East titles from 1990-92. Leyland’s superb game management was matched by his ability to deal with guys like Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla. “He really gave me good insight into the world of managing,” Bell said.
“One of the things he handled extremely well was he handled a number of different personalities on a daily basis as well as anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Bell also played under Buck Showalter for three seasons, including Arizona’s 100-win 1999 season, during which Bell hit 38 home runs and was an All-Star. “Nobody was as prepared as Buck to manage a baseball game,” Bell said. “He understood exactly what he wanted to do, he understood exactly what he wanted to accomplish throughout the course of a game in order to best the opponent.”
His playing days ended with the 2003 Mets but Bell served as bench coach under Bob Melvin, Clint Hurdle and Bryan Price. “Hopefully I’ll gain a little bit of something from all of them,” Bell said.
Bell noted that he was initially surprised by how fast the game can move as a manager, when everyone is looking at him for answers. He doesn’t brag about his playing career and his generally laid back. “I’m not gonna go out of my way to put signs on so that I can affect the game one way or the other,” Bell said.
“I want these guys to prepare and to take care of each and every situation they’re involved in. For me to get involved would be a little egotistical. I think there’s a time and place for a manager to get involved but for the most part I want to be their biggest fan.”