Veteran MLB umpire Bell, 48, dies of heart attack
NL crew member's resume includes one World Series, three All-Star Games
LOS ANGELES -- There was only one umpiring crew working Monday night when word of Wally Bell's death circulated, which made the ensuing hours very difficult, especially for six members of a very tight umpiring fraternity.
Bell, a veteran umpire with 21 years of Major League experience, reportedly suffered a massive heart attack on Monday in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio. He was 48.
Crew chief Gerry Davis was informed of the news about an hour before first pitch of Game 3 of the National League Championship Series between the Dodgers and Cardinals in Los Angeles.
"It was obviously very difficult, and we had to regroup rather quickly and put our concentration where it needed to be," Davis said. "We kept telling each other that that's the way Wally would have wanted it, and we know that that's really true."
Bell joined the NL staff in 1993 and umpired three All-Star Games (1997, 2000, 2013), seven Division Series (1998-99, '03-04, '06, '12-13), four League Championship Series (2000, '01, '05, '10) and the 2006 World Series, when he was behind the plate for Game 3 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
Bell was the first-base umpire in the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York and most recently was a member of the crew that worked this year's NL Division Series between the Pirates and Cardinals.
"All of us at Major League Baseball are in mourning tonight regarding the sudden passing of Wally Bell," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "I always enjoyed seeing Wally, who was a terrific umpire and such an impressive young man. On behalf of our 30 Clubs, I extend my deepest condolences to Wally's family, fellow Umpires and his many friends throughout the game."
According to the Associated Press, Bell had quintuple bypass surgery on Feb. 18, 1999. But he returned to work 11 weeks later in San Diego for a game between the Padres and Atlanta Braves.
Bell, a member of Tim McClelland's crew during the 2013 regular season, is the first active MLB umpire to die since John McSherry suffered a heart attack on the field in Cincinnati on Opening Day in 1996.
Major League umpire Joe West, president of the World Umpires Association, said in a statement: "Wally was a great umpire, a great partner and a great friend. The umpiring community is deeply saddened by this tragic loss. He will be sorely missed by many."
MLB executive vice president for baseball operations Joe Torre said he was driving to Dodger Stadium when he received a call from another veteran umpire, Jerry Layne, who informed him of Bell's passing.
"It just shocked me," Torre said. "I had just seen him in the Division Series with the Cardinals, and I just give these guys a lot of credit because there was a ton of emotion in that umpire's room. They really hitched up their belts and went out there and did a remarkable job."
Davis' crew that umpired Game 3 of the NLCS included Mike Everitt, Bruce Dreckman, Ted Barrett, Greg Gibson and Mark Carlson.
"Wally was a true umpire's umpire, and anyone who ever worked with him loved him, and I think that's not only true of the umpire brotherhood," Davis said. "But I think if you'll check with the players and teams they felt the same way because Wally always gave 110 percent on the field. We're a very-tight knit group, and it's going to be a big loss for us."
"It hits you right between the eyes," Torre said. "I think in this position I'm in now, it's certainly a different perspective of the umpires, and I couldn't be more proud of the brotherhood that they have and the caring for each other."
According to a WFMJ.com report, Bell leaves two young children, two brothers and a sister. His bio on MLB.com lists his proudest moment as "returning to the field after having open heart surgery in 1999."
Perhaps parallels can be drawn between that part of his legacy and his teammates' resolve as they stepped on the field for game time Monday night.
"One of the things that we shared in the locker room afterwards is that I'm sure he's very proud right now," Davis said.