When the Pirates signed free-agent outfielder Derek Bell to a two-year, $9 million contract last December, new Pittsburgh manager Lloyd McClendon said the addition "sent shock waves throughout baseball." He was right. Who wouldn't be baffled by a mid-market club throwing so much dough at a 32-year-old journeyman, who with the Mets had hit .187 last season. Beyond that, the Pirates' incumbent rightfielder, John Vander Wal, was coming off a career-best year in which he hit .299 with 24 homers and 94 RBIs. How could the signing of Bell possibly make sense?
It didn't. With nearly half the season complete, Bell is the National League's biggest bust, having batted .153 with two homers and seven RBIs in 37 games. His dreadful year might seem even worse were it not for the bottoming out of White Sox shortstop Royce Clayton, the biggest bust in the American League. Clayton was acquired from the Rangers to bat second and provide middle-infield stability for Chicago, which was expected to battle the Indians for the AL Central title. However, through Sunday he was at .180 with 19 RBIs for the third-place Sox (36-36 and 17 games behind Cleveland). "You would think that it couldn't get any worse," says Clayton, 31, a career .258 hitter entering this season. "I've hit the ball hard, and mat's all I have control over."
Meanwhile, Bell has been derided regularly at PNC Park, home of the last-place Pirates (25-47), and the Pittsburgh media cited his signing as a big reason for the June 11 firing of general manager Cam Bonifay. "That's not fair," says Bell, a .279 career hitter before the season. "I'm just one guy, but I guess I'm the whipping boy."
In his 11-year, five-team career, the yappy Bell has often been his own worst enemy. In 1991 he was the Blue Jays' top prospect, but Toronto—dismayed by his lack of hustle—traded him in '93 to the Padres. Last October, after spraining his right ankle in a Division Series game against the Giants, Bell angered his Mets teammates by returning home to Tampa instead of attending the Subway Series. Already, several Pirates have said they're tired of Bell's big-talk, little-production antics.
On May 22 Bell began a 17-day stint with the Triple A Nashville Sounds to rehab a strained left knee. While there, he worked on a new batting stance that has him rising to the tips of his toes as the pitcher releases the ball. "I've tried everything," he says. "One sock. Two socks. I wore other people's T-shirts who were hot." None of it worked. While in Nashville, Bell hit .164 in 55 at bats; he had baited .238 since his return to Pittsburgh on June 15.
General Manager Bears Up
Royal Mess in Kansas City
When Allard Baird was named general manager of the Royals last June, he saw a golden opportunity. Kansas City was en route to 77 wins, its best finish in seven years. With several young, powerful hitters and a maturing starting rotation, Baird and most other members of the K.C. front office envisioned at least 82 wins in 2001, possibly even the American League wild card. "Our expectations were very high," says Baird. "Because of that, maybe our players put too much pressure on themselves."
Whatever the reason, the Royals have been terrible, with their 4-2 loss to the Indians on Sunday dropping them to 28-46, 17 games behind Cleveland in the American League Central. Much of the blame assessed in the press has fallen on manager Tony Muser, who further drew the ire of Kansas City's conservative Midwest fan base two months ago by suggesting that his players were thinking too much about religion and too little about baseball. Baird insists that Muser's job is safe and has refused to criticize new closer Roberto Hernandez, whose 4.26 ERA and three blown saves have hardly justified the trading to the A's of KC. fan favorite Johnny Damon, a .327 hitter last season with the Royals who has been a bust in Oakland.
There have been additional disappointments galore—including third baseman Joe Randa's offensive drop-off (a .261 average after hitting .304 last year), season-ending shoulder surgery for left-handed starter Jose Rosado and the inconsistency of righthander Mac Suzuki (2-5, 5.30 ERA after undergoing arthroscopic surgery last October), who was traded on Sunday. But Baird refuses to pass the blame. "I'm the G.M., and the responsibility is on me" he says. "The manager and players are not scapegoats. I'm in charge of putting together the team."
And in charge of pulling it apart. Although Baird's only move of note this season has been acquiring righthanded starter Paul Byrd from the Phillies for righthanded reliever Jose Santiago on June 5, Baird doesn't dismiss the possibility of moving more players soon. Several clubs, including the Rockies and the Yankees, have called about rightfielder Jermaine Dye, who is making $3.8 million. "We're not shopping, but we'll listen," Baird says. "Nobody is untouchable here, but we need major league value in return."