Checking in with Buddy Bell
Royals manager Buddy Bell says he spent about two days focusing solely on his health – and half of that time unconscious.
Bell spoke to the Royals Blog Monday by phone from his home in Chandler, Ariz. He’s recovering from surgery in September to remove a cancerous growth behind his left tonsil. “I’m still getting my voice back, still fighting with my energy a little bit,” he told us, with barely a rasp in his voice. “But if spring training started today, I’d be right there.”
That’s music to the ears of everyone in Royals Country – fans, the front office, and especially the players he watched on TV finish the regular season with a sweep of the Tigers in Detroit.
Bell once managed the Tigers, and Detroit front-office folks spent much of that last weekend asking Royals staff to relay good wishes to Bell. The manager says he started hearing from people even before the surgery.
“Who didn’t I hear from?” he said, laughing. “You can’t imagine the nice letters, cards, and calls I’ve gotten.
“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to wait until the end of the season” to have the surgery, Bell said. He knew people would reach out inside baseball. He didn’t realize he’d hear from people all over the nation, from all walks of life.
“It’s really been extraordinary as far as the people who’ve taken the time to think about me. I’ve talked to people I haven’t talked to in years and years. The problem is, my voice won’t allow me to do a whole lot, so I haven’t been able to get back to everybody.”
The Royals skipper says he started noticing something wasn’t right with his swallowing, and the symptoms became too pronounced to ignore. He told his bosses before the game against the Los Angeles Angels on Sept. 20 and his players afterward he’d be taking a medical leave of absence. After the successful surgery, he watched his team come within a pitch of splitting with the soon-to-be American League Central champion Minnesota Twins and then blow into Detroit for three wild victories.
“I don’t think I ever stopped” thinking of the team, Bell said, excluding, perhaps, that 48-hour surgery and recovering period. “When I took the job, I knew it would mean a lot of patience, making a lot of decisions. I don’t think I ever stopped thinking about how we make this team better.”
The best news to come from recent check-ups: Bell says he won’t require any further treatment. That means no chemotherapy, no radiation, and a peace of mind he didn’t know whether he could expect.
“That’s good news,” he said. “If that’s what you have to do, you do it.”
Bell says doctors were pleased with the tissue around the growth they removed. They found them to be “clean,” meaning the cancer hadn’t spread. He says they also checked lymph nodes in his neck and found one isolated cancer cell. The surgery to remove the nodes left a nice scar on his neck.
Recovery Takes Time
Bell was drafted by the Cleveland Indians the same year the Royals came into existence. Back in 1969, he might not have imagined an all-star career at third base with the Indians, the Texas Rangers, and two other teams. He might not have imagined the chance to manage the Tigers, the Colorado Rockies and now the Royals. But he says he never takes a day for granted in the big leagues. Take that last week of the season. He says he’d much rather have watched games from the dugout than on the tube.
“That was probably the hardest thing I had to do, besides the physical stuff,” he said. “It was a different perspective to be watching the games on TV. When you are managing and are there, you are just going for a win. When it is on TV, it is tough, because the game is a lot slower. I can see why everybody has their opinions and second guessing. From a fan’s perspective, it just looks so much easier. As a manager watching on TV, it is so much worse because you have to wait till the end of the game to talk to anyone about what happened during the game.
He talked to Royals general manager Dayton Moore during that time.
“I remember asking Dayton, ‘You have to do this every night? Watch the good and bad?’ The last three games in Detroit were great and gut wrenching as well, but I prefer to sit on the bench.”
Thinking about ‘07
On the subject of Moore, who has retained the entire coaching staff for the 2007 season, Bell believes the franchise is about to turn some heads. He says that began happening well before his diagnosis – well before the dog days of summer heated up.
“I really think this team turned the corner after the first couple of months of the season… I don’t think there’s any question about that. We just need to keep players healthy.”
He believes the changes being made to the roster and throughout the organization will put the Royals in a position to win for years to come.
“I think our patience showed the last 80 to 90 games. I think we can look at (Detroit) for somewhat of a blueprint, if we look at where they were three years ago. However, I think the important thing for me, Dayton and the people of Kansas City is to have a consistent contender every year. We are on our way. I can live with the hard times, if in the end we can be a contender every year.”
Many of Bell’s comments in this blog entry came from questions submitted by regular readers of royals.com. Many of you asked about Bell’s off-seasons plans, well past his recovery. Bell and his wife have a few trips to take. Their daughter, Kristi, is getting married in December. Two of their sons’ wives are expecting their first children. With a 162-game schedule, half of that on the road and travel days in between, he says staying at home from October through the first half of February is vacation enough.
All in all, he feels pretty lucky.
“Everybody has things to do deal with,” he said. “I think I always have had a good outlook on this type of situation. I have never thought, ‘Why me?’ To tell you the truth, I am more of the thought ‘Why not me?’ There are worse things people go through. I have been pretty blessed in my life, and I am appreciative of that.”
Blog Note – Buddy Bell says he wanted to see the Royals 2006 first-round draft pick, Luke Hochevar, in the Arizona Fall League but didn’t get out to the Surprise, Ariz., facility before the team decided to shut Hochevar down for the fall. Doctors have since found Hochevar’s arm soreness is not the result of something serious. Also, we might have received several questions for Bell from readers after we spoke with him, and we plan to forward those related to baseball to a front office person soon for a future Blog posting.