Pirates’ Josh Bell refuses to say ‘I told you so’ to critics
CLEVELAND — The world was listening.
Media from all over the globe, men and women carrying all sorts of video equipment, cellphones and cameras, gathered around Josh Bell’s table Monday at Huntington Convention Center.
He talked about everything from the Pittsburgh Pirates’ pennant hopes in the second half of the season to how his father never allowed his linebacker-sized son to play football.
Inevitably, someone asked about the criticism leveled against him before the season by an anonymous scout in a Sports Illustrated article.
“Josh Bell can’t play,” the remarks began. “He’s not a good defender. He’s a big lump. He has bad agility, bad footwork. He can’t run. Supposedly he’s a big power threat, but he hit 12 home runs at first base (in 2018). This is not a kid! This is his third year in the big leagues! I don’t think he’s got the ability to get better.”
Could that scout have been more wrong?
Bell arrived in Cleveland as the favorite in Monday night’s Home Run Derby and the National League starter as the DH for the All-Star Game on Tuesday night at Progressive Field.
At the season’s break, with less than half a season remaining, Bell leads the majors in RBIs (84) — 13 more than runner-up Cody Bellinger and 17 more than Mike Trout, recognized by many as the game’s best player. Bell has hit 27 home runs an average distance of 414 feet.
With such credentials, it would have been easy for a lesser person to say, “Hey, look at me now.”
But Bell isn’t wired that way. At the age of 26, he was being diplomatic, but he was also being himself.
“Everybody’s entitled to their opinion,” he said. “For me to have confidence in myself is the most important thing.
“(Those remarks) didn’t waver my confidence. It didn’t change the fact that I worked my tail off the whole offseason. That was just one guy’s opinion. Hopefully, that changes next year.”
Bell’s priorities go far beyond what others think of him.
“I think it’s more important to think about my parents being here, my hitting coach from high school (Dallas Jesuit) is flying up.
“I don’t think saying ‘Hey, pie in your face’ is the right atmosphere to take into a special place like this.
“Every single guy in here had someone doubt them. Every single one of the guys, except for the No. 1 overall pick, had a different team pick somebody else (in the draft).
“We’re all here for a reason.”
Bell has so much on his mind — the Derby, the game Tuesday, the Pirates moving to within 2½ games of first place — but he was in a good place mentally and emotionally Monday morning.
He woke up, had breakfast with his parents and best friend and Derby pitcher Jon Schwind and went back to bed, sleeping through the street concert and general mayhem going on outside his hotel room.
“That’s my routine, stay off my feet,” he said. “Try to save my bullets for (the Derby).”
With all the demands on his time, Bell knows he is expected in Chicago’s Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon for the resumption of what really matters — the pennant race in the tightly bunched National League Central.
Can the results be different this season?
The Pirates were nine games out of first place at last year’s break, but management thought enough of that team to trade three players (including two former first-round draft choices) for starting pitcher Chris Archer.
Bell said he doesn’t think the current edition of the Pirates needs much tinkering.
When asked about possible moves management might make at this year’s trade deadline, Bell said, “I feel like it’s, first and foremost, above my pay grade.
“But I did have a conversation with Archer two days ago (after the Pirates scored five runs in the ninth inning Friday night to force an extra inning). We ended up losing that game, came back from a huge deficit, gave ourselves a chance to win.
“Hey, this is the squad we need. We may need one or two (more) guys here and there, but the guys we have right now are the guys who are going to take us to the next level and the guys who are going to take us to the postseason.
“We have confidence. We have belief in ourselves. I feel like that’s all it takes at this level.”
The Pirates have two players on the National League All-Star squad for the seventh time this decade, with closer Felipe Vazquez named Saturday.
Vazquez offered to pitch to his teammate in the Derby.
Bell declined, laughing. “I’m trying to win. I’m not trying to break a bat.”
He joked perhaps “a push bunt” might be the best was to get on base against Vazquez, who has 20 saves and often hits 100 mph on the radar gun.
“I don’t know. He has so many weapons and he’s not afraid to throw any of his off-speed pitches for strikes,” Bell said. “For the most part, you have to get lucky. I feel like I’ve seen a lot of swings and misses and lot of broken bats (when Vazquez is pitching). I’m glad he’s on my team.”
Note: The Pirates reinstated pitcher Trevor Williams from the paternity list and optioned infielder Kevin Kramer back to Triple-A Indianapolis.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .