Juan Bell

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Juan Bell Mathey

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Biographical Information[edit]

The brother of 1987 AL MVP George Bell and minor leaguer Rolando Bell, Juan Bell started his career as a rangy shortstop in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization in 1985. He led both the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 1986 and the Class A California League with Bakersfield in 1987 in total chances at shortstop. He was not much of a hitter, hitting .232 with no power over his first three professional seasons, while his 53 errors in Bakersfield showed that he still needed some polish even if his range was excellent. In 1988, he established himself as a top prospect by climbing all the way to Triple A, hitting .300 in 73 games for the Albuquerque Dukes of the Pacific Coast League. After the season, he was included in a blockbuster trade that sent future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray from the Baltimore Orioles to the Dodgers on December 4, with pitchers Brian Holton and Ken Howell alongside him as the O's return.

Juan had two good seasons with the Rochester Red Wings of the Triple A International League in 1989 and 1990, hitting .262 the first year and .285 the second, while cutting down on his errors. He got cups of coffee with the parent club both seasons, but only got into 13 games, going 0 for 6 at the plate. The problem was that standing between him and a major league job was Cal Ripken, who was in the middle of his consecutive games streak. Since Ripken was not going to move off shortstop, it was Bell who had to learn a new position in 1991: second base. This first year in the majors was very difficult, as he only hit .172 in 209 at bats, which put an end to his future with the Orioles. He was sent back to Rochester to begin the 1992 season, but could not regain his hitting stroke, batting .196 in 39 games. He was loaned to the Oklahoma City 89ers of the American Association in June, landed on the disabled list for two months a week later, but eventually hit .256 in 24 games.

Juan's break came on August 11 when the Orioles sent him to the Philadelphia Phillies in return for minor league second baseman Steve Scarsone. He immediately got a chance to play regularly as the Phillies' shortstop over the last two months of 1992, but still could not hit enough to justify his presence in the lineup, as he collected only 30 hits in 147 at bats for a .204 batting average, with only five extra-base hits. He made the Phillies' roster in 1993 as a backup infielder but played little, only getting used in 24 games over the first two months with a .200 average. He was placed on waivers on June 1st and claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers who gave him some more regular playing time, although mainly at second base. He had his best year with the bat, hitting .234 in 91 games with six doubles and five home runs, but this was still not enough to keep a major league job. During spring training 1994, he was released. He caught a break when the Montreal Expos offered him a contract on April 8 and sent him to the minors to get some work. He successively passed through A, Double A and Triple A ball in five weeks before being called up to the Expos on May 14th. His role was mainly to share time at second base with Mike Lansing and pinch hit, and he did well, hitting .278 with 4 doubles and 2 home runs while playing solid defense. Everything was going great for him and for the team until the 1994 strike brought play to a halt on August 12th while the Expos had the best record in the National League (and all of MLB).

With the outcome of the strike still in doubt in mid-October, the Expos tried to send Juan down to Triple A to make room on their major league roster for some prospects, but Bell opted for free agency instead. He was signed by the Boston Red Sox a few weeks later and, when the strike was finally settled at the end of March 1995, he headed to spring training with his new team. He was unable to build on the previous year's success, hitting .154 in 17 games with the Red Sox before earning his unconditional release and bringing his career to an end. He found work in Taiwan, playing in the CPBL for a time and also appeared for the Dominican team in the 2003 Pan American Games.

Largely because of his more famous older brother, Juan is considered to have been a major disappointment. He was a highly touted prospect in both the Dodgers and Orioles organizations, and there was even some speculation that Cal Ripken would move to third base to make room for him in the Orioles' lineup. In fact, he was never going to be more than a serviceable backup infielder in the major leagues, as he proved with every opportunity that he simply was not enough of a hitter to hold a regular job. If the 1994 strike had not happened, perhaps would he have found long-term employment as a useful bench player for the Expos, but it was not to be. He ended his playing days with a .212 average in 329 games with a slugging percentage below .300.

After baseball, Bell was involved in player development and, in 2011, was appointed by Major League Baseball as one of four team managers for El Torneo Supremo. He died of kidney failure in 2016, aged only 48.

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