Tim Raines, one of baseball’s most prolific base stealers, was finally picked to be a member of the 2017 Hall of Fame class. It was a long time coming for the Montreal Expo great, but he is now a baseball immortal and won’t live in Rickey Henderson’s shadow any longer. Raines stoles over 800 bases in his day, which led to a success rate of 84 percent, one of the best in baseball history. That’s all fine and dandy, but today we want to talk about one of the worst base stealers of all time: Buddy Bell.

Let’s get acquainted with this Bell fella. David “Buddy” Bell was the son of a major leaguer, Gus, and the father of another, David. He was drafted by the Cleveland baseball team in the 1969 draft and made his MLB debut three years later, where he went hitless against the Milwaukee Brewers. There were no stolen bases or caught stealings for him in this game, but soon enough, the caught stealings came in bunches.

In his inaugural year, Bell stole five bases, but was caught stealing six times. That really is nothing too special for a 20-year- old already in the big leagues. He was a success by just making it to a place where many dream of being, in the greatest baseball league in the world.

The next season, 1973, Bell made the all-star team but it certainly wasn’t for his performance on the bases. He had 22 stolen base attempts. Would you like to give a guess how many times he recorded a stolen base?

Seven times. Yes, Bell was only successful 32 percent of the time on his stolen base attempts. If you are in school, this is a true flunking percentage. This isn’t one of those almost passing grades in the 60s, no, this is truly something he must be trying to do.

Throughout the rest of his career it was similar levels of defeat, more caught stealings than stolen bases. You can only imagine that he must have been picked off multiple times throughout his 18-year career. Nonetheless, he stole 55 bases and was caught stealing 79(!) times. Rickey Henderson leads the way with 335 caught stealings, but Henderson may have swiped a couple more bases than Bell (1,341 more to be exact).

A 41 percent success rate in Bell’s career puts him third worst among qualified batters (the bottom two each had double-digit attempts). The negative value accrued by Bell on the basepaths did not offset a good career. Baseball Reference pegs him as a 66.1 WAR player. His defensive WAR adds up to 23, and the defensive metrics might not be the best parameter for his success, but look no further than his 47.3 offensive WAR to see a productive player for the time period.

Bell lacked good baserunning skills, but that did not deter him from a lengthy career with Cleveland, Texas, Cincinnati, and Houston. He currently serves in the White Sox front office, but he may be best remembered for his managerial stints from ’96 to ’07 with Detroit, Colorado, and Kansas City. Incidentally, his record at the helm was .418, just a few points higher than his stolen base success rate.

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2 Responses to “Buddy Bell: Bad Basestealer”

  1. Jim Turvey

    I remember reading somewhere that Bell, along with fellow poor SB% legend Duane Kiper, were victims of a manager who obsessively put his team into hit-and-runs even when the hitter and/or runner was clearly over matched. Pretty funny to see those two guys with sub-50% steal success as a result

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