Bell takes over club with league's worst record

Updated: June 1, 2005, 10:35 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Buddy Bell faces a daunting rebuilding project with a team that could be headed for record losses, and he's promising no quick turnaround for the Kansas City Royals.

Bell took over the Royals on Tuesday and earned a 5-3 victory over the New York Yankees, boosting Kansas City's major league-worst record to 14-37. He was given a contract only through 2007, even though returning the Royals to respectability could take longer.

"I really don't think the length of the contract has anything to do with the situation here," said Dan Glass, president of the Royals and son of owner David Glass.

"If he performs well and we all perform well and give him the ammunition he needs from the front office standpoint, we'll all be in good shape. Two and a half years in today's baseball world is a long time."

Bell met David Glass' insistence that the new manager have previous major league managerial experience. Bell replaces Tony Pena, who resigned on May 10.

"It's going to take some time to figure this out," Bell said in a news conference at Kauffman Stadium. "Right now we are looking for small victories."

General manager Allard Baird told ESPN.com that he was prepared to wait until the end of the season to hire a new manager, but said he decided to act quickly because he was convinced Bell was the right fit for the organization.

"We're in a rebuilding mode," Baird said, "and it's all about direction, development and winning ball games. Buddy has been involved in a rebuilding mode in Cleveland for a couple of years, and he has a presence about him.

"The other thing I like is that he was brought to the big leagues at 20 years old, and by age 21 he was on his first All-Star team. He knows the challenges for young kids, and we have a lot of 21, 22 and 23 year-old kids."

Baird also said that Bob Schaefer, who had been serving as interim manager, will return to his job as bench coach under Bell.

Bell, 53, beat out Art Howe, Jerry Manuel, Terry Collins and Schaefer for the job. The position became vacant when Tony Pena resigned May 10 after the Royals got off to an 8-25 start. The Royals were 5-12 under Schaefer.

Bell, a five-time All-Star third baseman, was bench coach with the Cleveland Indians. He takes over a struggling franchise that hasn't made the postseason since winning the 1985 World Series and is on pace to have one of the worst seasons in modern baseball history.

"We're very excited about this," Baird said. "If you look at his career -- 18 years in the big leagues -- he's a teacher, a communicator.

"He's been there and has experienced it as a player and as a teacher. He has patience but is extremely demanding."

Bell will need patience.

Lacking speed, power and experience, the Royals are 20½ games behind the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central. Their record after 51 games was the same as the 1962 New York Mets, who lost a major league record 120 games, and one game better than the 2003 Tigers, who lost 119.

The 53-year-old Bell managed at Detroit in 1996-98 and Colorado in 2000-2002, compiling a record of 345-462. He is the first Royals manager in about two decades with previous experience as a major league skipper.

"I think it's critically important at this stage of our development," David Glass said Tuesday. "We haven't hired an experienced major league manager since Dick Howser."

Howser managed the Royals in 1981-86, going 404-365.

Dan Glass also indicated the Royals might expand a payroll now second lowest in the majors at nearly $39 million.

"The flexibility is still there with the payroll and if all of us get our act together in the front office and acquire those players who will help him toward winning, better than we have, we'll do that," Dan Glass said.

Bell has had plenty of experience with struggling teams. In his first year with the Tigers, Detroit lost 109 games. But Bell rebounded the next year to go 78-83, a 26-game improvement that had him second in voting for AL manager of the year.

He was fired by the Rockies in April of 2002 when the team started 6-16.

"Managers change jobs. Managers seemingly don't manage one team for a long period of time," David Glass said from his office in Bentonville, Ark. "Each time they're forced to make a change, they wind up being better the next time. With an experienced manager, you get someone who's tried it and failed and is a better man because of it in almost all cases."

Bell said he didn't mind the challenge of taking over a struggling team.

"Over the years, I have made a lot of friends in this great game of ours, and I don't necessarily have to manage," he said. "If I was going to manage again, it was going to be in an organization that I can help thrive.

"This was the best situation for me and the Kansas City Royals, and that was very important to me."

He said the key to success is not asking players to do more than they're capable of.

Pena was AL manager of the year when the Royals went a surprising 83-79 in 2003. But the next year, despite adding such high-profile veterans as Juan Gonzalez and Benito Santiago, the club lost a franchise-record 104 games.

"This will be a great loss to our major league team and organization, but we're ecstatic for Buddy," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said. "This is a great opportunity that he wanted and that we are confident he will succeed in."

Bell and his father, Gus, combined for 4,337 hits -- the second-best father-son duo after Barry and Bobby Bonds, who have 4,348. Bell's son, David, plays for the Philadelphia Phillies.

"We're very excited to get him," David Glass said. "He's a good baseball guy, from a good baseball family. He will be good working with young players. He will buy into the youth movement. He's tough but fair, and I think he will make a very good manager for the Royals."

Information from The Associated Press was also used in this report.

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