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Macho Low, Part 5: Juan Bell was there when it all began, but not when it ended

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The Phillies’ opening day shortstop in 1993 was one of the rare misses, team chemistry-wise.

JUAN BELL PHILLIES

There were some big personalities on the 1993 Phillies. But they weren’t the only ones. As part of a commemoration of the team’s 25th anniversary, we’re taking a look at the back-ups, drop-ins, and less-remembered Phillies who didn’t make it into a lot of the archival footage.

Juan “Tito” Bell, SS

Position: Future no longer the shortstop

Age: 25

Stats: .228/.311/.322, 76 SO in 24 G

In the opening of “Whatever it Takes, Dude,” the 1993 Phillies video yearbook, Dale Murphy figures prominently. John Kruk gives his legendary crack about how the 1993 Phillies were simply Murphy’s “mission” as a Mormon. Murphy, in turn, got along with the team despite his calmer demeanor and religious background, but nevertheless, he didn’t get to be a part of this story because GM Lee Thomas traded him to the Rockies before the season began.

Still, though. Murphy didn’t play a game for that team, and they gave him his own segment. But one man who was in the Phillies’ opening day lineup is barely referenced in the entire video. Here is one of his few appearances:

After a section on Darren Daulton’s leadership in the clubhouse and value to the team, the opening day lineup is on screen, on which we learn that a man named “Bell” was the starting shortstop and hitting eighth. His name is rarely mentioned out loud and, barring any brief shots in the background, he barely shows up in any footage.

He was Juan “Tito” Bell. And he was once traded for Eddie Murray.

It was 1988. The team that had drafted Bell four years prior, the Dodgers, sent him to Baltimore after four years of slowly ascending their farm system. Though it hadn’t been hard for Bell to improve over the years, considering he hit .160 with a .412 OPS through his first 106 AB in the Gulf Coast League. Nevertheless, he joined the Orioles at the Triple-A level and even got four at-bats with the big club (he went 0-for-4 with a strikeout).

Joining Bell in the Murray trade were the Dodgers’ Brian Holton (who had recorded a save in Game Five of the 1988 World Series) and Ken Howell (who was traded four days later to the Phillies and eventually lost his toe to diabetes). Bell’s next chapter would come in mid-August 1992, when the Orioles traded him to the Phillies for Steve Scarsone, an infielder who had been called up to plug the Phillies’ numerous injury holes.

The Phillies finished in last place in ‘92 with a team that wasn’t one of their worst last place teams: They won 70 games, with Juan Bell appearing in 21 of them. He dragged that .204/.292/.256 slash line through them all, including a rare six-game win streak in which Bell himself exploded for a 2-for-25 rampage against National League pitching. He had six errors in 46 games that year, and was the frequent recipient of boos from the vaunted philosophers of Veterans Stadium.

On April 26, 1993, Giants pitcher Brian Hickerson would hopefully spike the last baseball of his life. During an 8-0 romp over the Phillies at The Vet, Hickerson, on the mound, snagged a line drive off the bat of Wes Chamberlain, one of the few solidly struck balls the Phillies had seen on a rain-drenched, frustrating night. For some reason, I guess because he had an 8-0 lead and felt like he couldn’t die, Hickerson spiked the ball after catching it, which sparked a nine-run meltdown by the Giants, who proceeded to famously lose the game to those plucky ‘93 Phils.

In the game’s final inning, the bottom of the tenth, Bell led off and worked one of the five walks he’d see that year. With a man on and the game tied, Lenny Dykstra and Mickey Morandini flew out, so it wound up being a throwing error on a Jim Eisenreich grounder that saved the day.

Bell is seen in footage and mentioned in a recording of the broadcast—“There goes Bell to third,” Chris Wheeler shouts as the Eisenreich ground ball sets up the winning play during the following at-bat: a wild pitch past Dave Hollins that allowed Bell to score. But the narration avoids mentioning him, for reasons that become clear.

Bell’s defense was unreliable and his hitting wasn’t there either, which was odd, given how it was already in his blood; Juan’s older brother, George Bell, terrorized American League pitchers with the Blue Jays in the mid to late eighties. Ralph Avila, the scout who discovered the Bell brothers, once designated the chief difference between the two:

“Tito was not as strong as George. George was the best of the two. He was bigger and stronger. Tito didn’t have the strength George had. Tito was a very good player, but he had a quick temper. That was his main problem, a quick temper.’’

So the older Bell got the big bat, while the younger brother, during his time with the Phillies, brandished a “prickly attitude”* and was considered “one of the less endearing players in the game.”**

“The Phillies got off to that great start, but they were getting hurt badly at shortstop with Juan Bell. The ‘93 guys were smart baseball players. They knew over the long haul they weren’t going to win without a solid shortstop.”

—Chris Wheeler, “More than Beards, Bellies, and Biceps: More than Beards, Bellies and Biceps: The Story of the 1993 Phillies”

As prominent of a moment in the 1993 season as it was to score the walk-off run during an epic comeback, it wasn’t enough for Bell to win the Phillies over. When the game finished, a Bell had only 12 more appearances as a member of the Phillies, and the Phillies actually won nine of them. In fact, Bell went 2-for-3 in his last game with a double, but the Phillies outrighted him to the Brewers anyway, exactly a month after his feet crossed the plate to solidify Brian Hickerson’s shame.

Milwaukee, which won 69 games in 1993 and remained in something of a post-disaster stupor the next season, was considering making Bell a part of their future: “The Brewers seem somewhat shell-shocked by their disastrous season and are talking about installing Juan Bell at shortstop and moving Pat Listach to second,” read one scouting report.

But he would not be. In fact, Bell became a part of the infamous ‘94 Expos, who were on a meteoric rise of their own thanks to talent and team chemistry. This time, Bell fit in a bit more seamlessly, getting comfortable enough to the point that he once laughed in the face of a pissed-off Larry Walker.

“A lot of times, some of the players would put bubble gum on the top of other players’ hats. Walker used to do that to me,’’ Bell told me back in 2012. “One time in Pittsburgh, I did it back to him and he got mad. Everybody was laughing.

”Why did you do that to me?’’ Walker shouted at Bell. “You can’t do that to me.’’

Chuckling, Bell told me, “He was angry, mad at me but that’s what made it fun.’’

The Curse of Juan Bell, a phenomenon that the Phillies refuse to acknowledge, was incurred by the team immediately upon Bell’s departure. Kim Batiste stepped into his role at shortstop, only to pull a hamstring. The next man up was Mariano Duncan, who had beomce fevered with illness. The Curse of Juan Bell then came to an end when a diseased Duncan was forced into action and had six hits in two games anyway.

Bell filtered on and off of minor league rosters, and was still playing in 2000 in the Mexican League. He passed away in 2016 of kidney disease in the Dominican Republic.

A former Expos teammate tweeted out his condolences, having known him since they were rookies.

*Macho Row: The 1993 Phillies and Baseball’s Unwritten Code, by William C. Kashatus

**Phillies ‘93: An Incredible Season, by Rich Westcott