Gus Bell was one of the all-time great center fielders, a good hitter, a good team man, a good all-around ballplayer.
- Pitcher Hershell Freeman, Bell's teammate from 1955-1958
A fixture in the outfield for the Reds from 1953 - 1961, Gus Bell combined tremendous defense with a powerful bat like few Reds outfielders before him. Bell began his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1950. Despite putting up respectable numbers for the Pirates, Bell fell out of favor with Pittsburgh management (most notably general manager Branch Rickey) over Bell's insistence that his wife and children accompany him on road trips. The Pirates' frustration over Bell's devotion to his family turned out to be a windfall for the Reds. After the 1952 season, the Pirates traded the unhappy Bell to Cincinnati for three players, none of whom made particularly significant contributions while wearing a Pirates uniform. Bell, meanwhile, developed into an All-Star.
In his first full season as the Reds' center fielder, Bell batted an even .300, belted 30 home runs, drove in 105 runs and scored 102. Bell drove in 100 or more runs four times during his Reds career and batted .292 or better six times. An All-Star in the 1953, 1954, 1956 and 1957 seasons, Bell also contributed 29 home runs to the then-record 221 home runs the Reds hit as a team in 1956.
In 1959, Vada Pinson's arrival prompted the Reds to shift Bell to right field with Pinson taking over in center. Wally Post returned to the Reds in the middle of the 1960 season, a move that cut into Bell's playing time. The emergence of Gordy Coleman as the starting first baseman in 1961 further reduced Bell's time on the field as Frank Robinson was moved back to the outfield to make way for Coleman. Pinson was the regular center fielder while left and right fields were manned by a rotation of Robinson, Post and Bell with Robinson and Post receiving the bulk of the starts. For Bell, reduced playing time coincided with reduced effectiveness. Following the season, Bell was left unprotected in the expansion draft conducted to stock the fledgling New York and Houston clubs with players. Bell was one of four Reds selected by the Mets (Houston took two Reds).
After becoming the first New York Met in history to get a base hit, Bell settled in as the starting right fielder for the club that gained much renown as one of the worst in baseball history. Batting only .149 on May 21, Bell was traded to the Milwaukee Braves. Bell finished strongly for the Braves but injuries permitted him to appear in only six games over the next two seasons, his last as a Major League player.
While Bell's playing career ended when he was only 35, his legacy carried on in the form of his son Buddy who debuted with the Cleveland Indians in 1972 and played 18 seasons in the Major Leagues (including 1985-1988 with the Reds), establishing himself as one of the top third baseman in baseball. Buddy was one of seven children born to Gus and his wife Joyce.
The Bell family made history in 1995 when it joined the Boone family in baseball's "three generation club". Buddy's son (and Gus's grandson) David made his Major League debut with the Indians on May 3, 1995, the first of 1403 career games for the steady infielder through the 2006 season. A second grandson of Gus's (and another son of Buddy's) also made it to the majors. In 2000 with the Reds, Mike Bell appeared in 19 games. The Boones (Ray, son Bob and grandsons Bret and Aaron), Bells (Gus, son Buddy and grandsons David and Mike) and the Hairstons (Sammy, son Jerry and grandsons Jerry, Jr. and Scott) are baseball's only three-generation families.
On May 9, 1995, only six days after his grandson David made his Major League debut, Gus died from complications of a heart attack he had suffered eight days earlier. A member of the Reds Hall of Fame since 1964, Gus Bell was only 66 years old.