In the National League 39 players received at least one vote, led by Bell, who got 10. At week's end Bell, 27, was hitting .303 with 38 RBIs. Since the start of the 1994 season, he has batted .319, belted 28 homers, driven in 178 runs and stolen 59 bases. But he is rarely mentioned in discussions about the game's best outfielders, and he has never even made an All-Star team. Last season he was leading the league in RBIs at the All-Star break, but he finished 22nd in the fan voting. "It was a like a slap in the face," Bell says. "How many cleanup hitters do you know who can get a base hit off a top closer in the ninth, drive in a key run, steal second and, if you don't watch out, steal third, or, if you throw a pitch in the wrong spot, hit a home run?"
Expos manager Felipe Alou voted for Bell. "I've heard stories that some people still call him Eric Bell," says Alou, referring to an undistinguished lefthander who pitched mostly in the late '80s for the Orioles. Rockies manager Don Baylor, who also voted for Bell, says, "I used to think he was kind of moody, but this kid can play. He can hit, and he got screwed out of being on the All-Star team last season. And he's doing it all again this year."
Moody? The Blue Jays pinned that label on Bell, once one of the prizes of their farm system. They traded him and outfielder Stoney Briggs to the Padres in March 1993 for outfielder Darrin Jackson, who now plays in Japan. "They felt I wasn't serious enough," says Bell. "That's not my nature. I'm not a serious person. But when I get between those lines, let's go."
Few play harder than Bell. For two seasons the Padres watched him slam into walls and break up double plays by steam-rolling middle infielders. Bell has played just as aggressively for the Astros, who acquired him along with Doug Brocail, Ricky Gutierrez, Pedro Martinez, Phil Plantier and Craig Shipley in December 1994, in exchange for Caminiti, Andujar Cedeno, Steve Finley, Roberto Petagine, Brian Williams and Sean Fesh.
Bell may not be moody, but he is just a little odd. His unusual dressing habits include wearing his uniform pants baggy one day and tight the next. "You never know what to expect from Derek," says Biggio with a smile. "But we don't care if he wears his pants inside out, as long as he keeps driving in runs."
Bell is a confessed video-game freak who has spent hours playing a legends-of-baseball game. It has helped him learn the history of his sport. Bell recalls that while growing up in Tampa he didn't follow major league baseball. "When I was 11, I didn't know who Willie Mays was," he says, "or Hank Aaron or Steve Carlton." When Bell pretended to be someone else, he was Tampa phenom Dwight Gooden, who is only four years older than he is.
Bell's Tampa team had played in the Little League World Series in 1980 and '81, losing the championship game each time to Taiwan. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who owns a home in Tampa, invited Bell's team to the Yankees clubhouse in '81. "Dave Winfield was there, Bucky Dent, Willie Randolph, Graig Nettles...they were all there," Bell says. "And I had no idea who any of them were." Fifteen years later, Bell knows all the names—but too few fans know his.
Bordick, 30, was one of 29 American League players to receive at least one vote, topping the poll with 12. He is a brilliant defensive shortstop (he had only 10 errors on 593 chances last season) with a decent bat (he's a career .262 hitter with 17 lifetime home runs), but what he does best is play the game hard and properly. "He's my favorite player that I've ever managed," says Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa, who managed Bordick for six years in Oakland. "Day in and day out, he did more to make himself an outstanding player than anyone I've been around. He's the best defensive shortstop in the league."
Bordick grew up in Maine, where, he says, "you learn to persevere. That's the frozen tundra up there." He played baseball for three years at the University of Maine, which toughened him as a player. "We played a lot of games with snow coming down," he says.
Bordick was not drafted by a major league team. But in the summer of 1986, when A's scouting director Dick Bogard and scout J.P. Ricciardi went to the Cape Cod League in hopes of signing shortstop Ken Bowen, Oakland's seventh-round choice from Oregon State, they saw Bordick, liked him better and signed him for $25,000 (they never signed Bowen). That began a slow rise through the A's chain. "Like everyone who played pro ball, I thought I had the talent to play in the major leagues, but I was so naive, being from Maine," Bordick says. "I had an awakening at spring training in '87, when I saw about 800 guys wearing the same uniform as mine, and all with the same look in their eyes—[a hunger] to get to the big leagues. I knew it would be a lot harder than I thought."