The boat sits in a New York City marina, gently floating amid the plastic cups and discarded tires that make the waters of the Hudson River so inviting. Derek Bell thought about renting a Manhattan pad-maybe an apartment in the East Village—but the idea, like many others that dart through his brain at whiplash speed, lasted approximately three tenths of a second. "An apartment in New York, mat's gonna run me $14,000, maybe $15,000 per month, yo," says Bell, who's earning $5.2 million this season playing rightfield for the New York Mets and who is clearly talking about the higher end of housing in the Big Apple. "Yo, I've got better things to spend my money on."
Such as hip-hop CDs (he owns nearly 2,000). And DVDs (100-plus). And games for his Sony PlayStation and Sega Dreamcast (300-plus). And alligator shoes (100-plus pairs). And aqua suits and green suits and beige suits and fruit-punch-colored suits and canary-yellow suits (each of which he wears once and men gives to friends). And the gold-and-diamond baseball pendant that dangles from his beanstalk neck. And sparkling diamond studs, one for each ear. And a six-bedroom house in Tampa, his hometown. And his five vehicles—three trucks, a 2000 Mercedes-Benz $500 and a 2000 Bentley Azure. "The Rolls is fresh," says Bell. " Florida State maroon, with a sweet interior, yo."
Standing in front of his Shea Stadium locker three hours before a recent game, Bell grins from dimple to dimple. He's odd-looking; there's no other way to say it. Sleepy, almond-shaped brown eyes, elongated jaw, four deep creases across a spacious forehead. A mishmash: Sam Cassell above the nose, Mr. T below it. Bell slugs down a Mountain Dew, his fourth of the young evening, and then chuckles. At 31 he's a man who possesses everything...and knows it. "Who needs a house, yo?" he asks. "Why chill on land when you can float in style?"
His yacht—"Get that right, yo. A yacht, not a houseboat"—is named Bell 14 (for his number when he played with the Houston Astros) and is a 58-foot Sea Ray 580 mat's anchored just yards from downtown Manhattan. ("We made a trade," says Bell, referring to himself and the proprietors of the marina. "I do some publicity for 'em later, and they hook up my boat, yo.") This isn't Gilligan trying to escape that island on three twigs and some palm leaves. The yacht has two bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a living room, a kitchen, a garage for his Jet Ski and all manner of video and audio convenience. "It's dope, yo," says Bell, who also owns a 21-foot fishing boat and a 36-foot speedboat, both of which he keeps in Tampa. "If you know Derek Bell, you know one thing, yo. It's about havin' fun, smilin' and stylin.' "
And living on the Hudson?
"That's my home, yo. The river. I like that. It's style."
For New Yorkers too young to recall the heyday of Walt (Clyde) Frazier, the Hall of Fame point guard and fashion trendsetter on the great New York Knicks teams of the 1960s and '70s, consider yourselves blessed. Sartorially and stylistically, Bell is Clyde, Clyde and more Clyde; he's Shaft 2000 with a quick bat, soft hands and something to prove. When the Mets acquired him from the Astros on Dec. 23 for righthander Octavio Dotel, outfielder Roger Cede�o and a minor leaguer, the 6'2", 215-pound Bell was a throw-in, a fading (.236, 12 home runs, 66 RBIs last year, all full-season career lows), highly paid veteran that New York was forced to take if it wanted to acquire lefthanded ace Mike Hampton. At week's end, however, as Hampton (4-4, 4.66 ERA) has only recently shown the form that made him last year's Cy Young runner-up, Bell has been the Mets' offensive catalyst. Batting second in the order, he was hitting .355 with seven home runs, 21 RBIs and a .423 on-base percentage while tying for the National League in hits (55) and lead in multihit games (18). Moreover, he was playing a superb rightfield and adding a lighthearted, funkadelic, daddy mack presence to the 20-19 Mets, a $92.1 million team in pennant-or-bust mode.
Along with the two players, the Astros were required to send to New York The Derek Bell Yo! Yo! Yo! Dictionary, a must-read for those who wish to communicate with the gregarious, mostly incomprehensible, mumbling slugger. Among the entries:
Yo n: Derek; I
Yo ad: large