Friday, October 22, 1999

Bell should have managed Reds

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Reds saw their future take a job in Denver Wednesday. Buddy Bell will manage the Colorado Rockies next year.

        Managing the Rockies is like running with the bulls or sky-diving with a discount parachute. Jim Leyland quit after a year at Coors Field, leaving $4.5 million in salary on the table. Sanity, apparently, is priceless.

        I'm not sure what they play at Coors, but it's not quite baseball. Good luck, Buddy. May you have 10 sinkerballers on your pitching staff. May the wind always blow in.

        Bell's leaving is great news for Denver, bad news for Cincinnati. Because Bell is who he is — as classy a guy as you'll meet in baseball — he wouldn't have taken the Reds managing job for next season, even if it were offered.

        Bell wanted to manage again. He wanted to stay in Cincinnati. What he didn't want was to be seen as the guy leaving tire tracks on Jack McKeon's back.

        I don't know if the Reds held the managing carrot in front of Bell's nose. Neither Jim Bowden nor John Allen returned calls Thursday. But I suspect they did.

        I'm betting Bowden said to Bell, “At some point, if you stay, you will be the manager of the Cincinnati Reds.”

        He would have been the best choice. Bell always has enjoyed working with young players. Given Cincinnati's small-market chains, Bell would have been giddy here. He was already the team's player development director.

        Bell did good work managing a bare cupboard in Detroit. Lately, the Tigers have been baseball's answer to the Bengals. Bell is regarded as honest and old-school tough. Nobody says a bad word about him.

        Given that it's only now that Allen and McKeon are sitting down to talk contract, feel free to assume the team isn't entirely sold on McKeon. The question becomes: Do the Reds bring Jack back because they want to, or because they feel obligated?

Did duty defeat logic?
        Next season is starting to look like McKeon's gold watch year. In appreciation of your faithful service ...

        Bringing Jack back is the decent thing to do. It's probably the logical thing to do. If you don't want to give McKeon some credit for 96 wins, then don't have a manager. Just sign yourself a few accomplished, respected veterans and hire some coaches the players feel they can talk to and trust.

        I like McKeon. I respect the work he has done. What was chaos under Ray Knight was peace under McKeon. But he'll be 69 in a month. He has a fractious coaching staff. He has a clubhouse of players that were less than thrilled with him. Their silence in support of Jack was deafening.

        There is also the notion that McKeon's work was excellent, but it is done. The new millennium might require new blood. What McKeon thinks is anyone's guess; he didn't call back Thursday.

        Meanwhile, Greg Vaughn probably wouldn't return to the Reds, even if he could hand-pick the manager. The money probably won't be here. He dislikes the turf. But if McKeon is back, Vaughn won't be.

Good for Buddy; bad for Reds
        The Reds won 96 games because they were that good. They were solid defensively, pitched well enough and had no easy outs in the everyday lineup. They were lucky nobody but Denny Neagle missed lots of time. They also had a rare chemistry, thanks partly to the coaching staff.

        Players knew what they couldn't say to McKeon, they could say to the coaches. That could be why when Bell left, he didn't take Ron Oester with him, or Dave Collins. After the playoff loss to the Mets, it wasn't McKeon consoling the players. It was Ken Griffey.

        Despite the summer's magical mystery tour, the Reds' goal is still to be playoffs-competitive by 2003, when their new stadium is open. Bell would have been good for that, for every reason you could think of. But now, he'll be in Denver, watching 10-run rallies in Three-Run Homer Land.

        Good for him, I guess. Bad for the Reds.

        At least his contract only runs three years.

        Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454. Fair Game, a collection of his columns, is available at local bookstores.


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