Editor’s note: “As Told To Amy G” will feature exclusive conversations with Giants staff and players, as well as interesting figures around Major League Baseball, throughout the 2019 season. Second in the series: Former Giants player and executive David Bell, who’s entering his first season as Cincinnati Reds manager.
For a guy who only played in San Francisco for only one season (2002) and worked with the organization only one year as the vice president of player development (2018), David Bell might be one of the most beloved Giants of the modern era.
That’s saying a lot when you consider with whom he played -- Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent and Jason Schmidt, to name a few.
Besides his likable playing style, Bell is one of the good guys off the field, too. Approachable, laid-back, pleasant with a great sense of humor -- all a necessity for the next chapter he’s about to embark upon as Reds manager.
Bell’s hire really was no surprise, given his connection to the Reds, with both his father and his grandfather having played in Cincinnati. It makes even more sense when you find out the Bells are one of just five families in the history of the game to have three generations play in the bigs.
I caught up with David at the MLB Winter Meetings in December, and chatted about his exciting yet challenging upcoming season as a rookie manager and how his time with the Giants, while short, remains extremely special to him.
"The one downside is leaving the Giants organization. It’s hard to describe how meaningful the Giants are when I think about really the two years I spent. Next time, hopefully way down the road, I’ll stay longer than one year. It’s such a special place and means a lot to me, and I will miss that for sure. Now it's just a new opportunity, and one that i'm very grateful for.”
For most MLB players, one-and-done seasons don’t really resonate. Especially when your career consists of playing for six teams total. Obviously the fact that Bell was a member of the 2002 World Series Giants -- his head-first slide scored the winning run that clinched the NL pennant -- lent to that year being slightly more memorable than others, but there was more to it. So, I asked David why he thought his time in the Bay had been so impactful for both him and the fans.
“Looking back at my playing career, I only think of playing for the Giants. It’s funny, my memory goes right back to that season, and I think there’s so many reasons for that. One thing that really stands out is the fans in San Francisco. It’s just a different vibe there. Playing in that ballpark with those fans is something that I'll never forget, and it’s just a positive energy. An energy of people that really care deeply about the team. And it really has an impact on the players when you’re playing there.
“Of course we had a great bunch of guys that were talented. We found a way to get along. And then we had an opportunity to play in the World Series.”
When he mentioned that team “all got along,” I had a moment of pause thinking back to that roster. Specifically Bonds and Kent, who famously fought in the dugout that season after a miscommunication involving Bell on the field. So I went there, telling him: “You had some egos on that team.”
“It made it interesting. It really made it interesting. And to me, that’s really what chemistry is. When you can take individuals from all over the world, and you know different personalities and egos, and find a way to make it work on the field.”
With as much experience and history as the Bell family has in this game, I’m convinced it’s why David always is so at ease, so even keeled and fit in so well among GIANT egos within the Giants organization. Baseball is in his blood, literally.
"We've, uh, been fortunate. Grandfather [Gus] ... played the majority of his career in Cincinnati in the '50s. And then my dad [Buddy] played a long time -- 18 years in the major leagues. He also finished his career for five years in Cincinnati, so that's where the connection to Cincinnati runs deep. And, you know, we were all born there, so truly that is home. My brother, Mike, also played in the major leagues with the Reds for a couple months. Played a long time in the minor leagues, and he’s still in the game as a director of player development for the Diamondbacks. My brother, Rick, also played a long time in the minor leagues. Didn’t make it to the major leagues but played several years in Triple-A.
"It’s really been a huge part of our life, as you can imagine. So we try not to talk about baseball [laughs]"
But we know that’s not true. Of course, the Bells talk about baseball. And ironically, for as difficult as it is to actually spend time together, given the demanding schedule of this game, it still serves as the glue and common ground for the family.
"We’re very close. And I think baseball has really kept us close, because it's always the one thing we can go to that we have in common and we do see we see certain parts of the game the same way. And I think that anchor -- some may call it, you know, traditional or old-school ways of thinking -- but we do have that anchor, and we have that to go back to, and I think it has kept us together."
“Rookie manager” is Bell’s title for 2019, but it might be a misnomer. The definition of “rookie” -- a new recruit. Well, THAT, he definitely is not.
Even though Bell grew up in the game, he has a remarkable work ethic, and decided to spend time in various roles with multiple organizations learning, absorbing and marinating in all aspects of baseball. He even credits his short stint with the Giants’ front office as being great preparation for the role he ultimately had his sights on -- “skipper.”
“I was a Double-A manager with the Reds organization, and right away, I knew I loved it just because of the impact that you can have on the players. Especially individually. A teammate or a coach, we all have opportunities to influence players and have an impact. But when you’re the manager, it's just a little bit different, and I think you have even more of an opportunity. So, I knew right away that I loved it.
"I didn't know for sure that I would have an opportunity to do it at the major-league level, so I just kind of trusted the path and had incredible experiences all the way through last year, which was really, up until today, the best job I ever had. Part of that being that it was with the Giants. But being a farm director, there’s a lot going on. It was busy, and you just have so many decisions to make every day, and so many opportunities, and working in that organization with so many great people is special, and I wont every forget it.”
While Bell is extremely appreciative of his time with the Giants, the move to managing the Reds isn’t just for his career. It has true sentimental value. His office is right next door to his dad, Buddy, who is vice president and senior advisor to the general manager.
“He was the first call I made. I told him that I was offered the job, and I told him I was going to think about it (laughs). And he just laughed at me. He's like, 'Yeah, right,' and then I called back about two seconds later and accepted the job. But it’s been great. Really a dream come true. I can walk over and just talk anytime I want. It's been great. It's really special. And I know we'll have our moments -- I’m sure if I make decisions he doesn't agree with -- but we've always had that kind of relationship, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Amongst all the excitement, Bell knows reality soon will hit. Come Opening Day, results are expected. And as this game continues to evolve, the face of today’s MLB manager has gotten significantly younger. Old-school ways are phased out, and younger minds are embracing the shifts, pace of play, sabermetrics, etc.
I asked Bell, who’s 46, how he planned to approach being a manager who clearly has a wealth of knowledge on how the game used to be played but also the youth to be flexible with where it’s going.
“I think it’s an exciting time to be a part of this game. There is so much information, there is so many resources that we have to be open to and we have to embrace because if we won’t, we’re going to put our players at a disadvantage, you know? They’re looking for every advantage they can get. Providing every resource that we can to them is really important.
“It comes back to the fans. That’s what supports this game. That’s what's the most important thing, so if there’s rules changes or any kinds of adjustments we have to make in this game, we have to constantly put the fans as the priority.”
I obviously couldn’t let Bell go without having him to brag a bit on the talent he was privy to seeing as the Giants’ farm director last year. So, I asked for some straight-up inside info to give fans a glimpse into what Bell considers will be a bright future for the Orange and Black.
“I do believe that the player development system for the Giants is set up for long-term success, and I say that as a person that was a part of a process where so many people came together and brought in a lot of new ideas last year. We also took a system of coaches and people that have been in the organization for a long time and have had so much success, and they were all open to making some adjustments to how they develop players, and I think there was a lot of success.
"And a lot of progress was made, and a lot of good young players, a lot of guys that are going to surprise, but I also think it's set up for long-term success. That organization, it's going to be successful. It really is, and there's so many good people there that are going to make it happen.”
Any story about Duane Kuiper is a good story. What better way to wrap up my time with David than to ask about his relationship with Kuip, who played with his dad in Cleveland from 1974 to 1978?
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If you know Duane the way I do, then you KNOW Kuip and kids are a fantastic combo. Now sometimes -- just sometimes -- Duane might teach a child something his or her mother might not approve of (I speak from experience regarding a certain “how to flick a booger correctly” tutorial for my son), but once the relationship has been established, it’s a lifelong friendship.
“It’s funny. He truly is a special friend of ours, and I think because of the relationship between Kuip and my dad, I’ve always felt so close to him. Just like a family friend really and part of the family. He says that he babysat me, and there was like a diaper-changing kind of thing, so it goes deep. I mean, it was from when I was a baby.
“I will miss so much. I will miss Kuip and so many people, but the good thing is in this game, you stay connected.”
Follow Amy G on Twitter @AmyGGiants, on Instagram @amyg, on Facebook, and, of course, watch her on NBC Sports Bay Area’s Giants coverage all season. Send her a question any time with the hashtag #askamyg