AUSTINTOWN - A celebration of the life of the late Wally Bell Sunday turned into a tale of a band of brothers.
Apparently Major League Baseball umpires have a unique family-like bond. You could feel it during a memorial service Sunday at Fitch High School for Bell, an Austintown native and 21-year veteran umpire who died last Monday of a heart attack at age 48.
Joe Torre, former New York Yankees manager and executive vice-president of baseball operations, is well aware of the close bond shared among umpires.
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Former New York Yankee manager Joe Torre walks to the funeral services for Wally Bell on Sunday.
"The one thing I've pleasantly found out since being at MLB for three years is that these umpires are that close," Torre said. "I've always believed in teamwork, and you get that on a regular basis. They care about each other. We can't go through life by ourselves. We need help. I'm very proud of how they go about their business and how they feel about each other."
The word "love" was used frequently by the four men that eulogized Bell, who ended many of his phone messages with a simple "love you, bye."
"With Wally he always meant it," said Teddy Barrett, a former umpire that has turned to the ministry. "He wanted to get to know your family. He enjoyed playing with our kids. I think he was a big kid himself."
Other eulogies were delivered by Doyle Sutherland, a cousin, umpire John Hirschbeck of Poland, umpire Marvin Hudson and close friend Scott Jones. All hit on Bell's fun-loving nature, a propensity for good-natured kidding and the deep love he had for children Jason and Lindsey.
Hirschbeck developed a close friendship with Bell following a phone conversation the two had shortly before Bell began his MLB career in 1993. Bell called Hirschbeck for some advice. When Hirschbeck, already a veteran of the profession, said stop by any time, Bell was ringing Hirschbeck's doorbell the next morning.
Hirschbeck and Bell worked the 2006 World Series together. They often traveled on the same flights, giving each time to share stories and develop strong ties. Hirschbeck told a story about the dash on gravestone markers.
"How do we fill that space (between birth and death)?" Hirschbeck said. "Wally Bell truly filled that dash."
Bell was born in Ravenna in 1965 and graduated from Fitch in 1983. A year later he graduated from the Joe Brinkman Umpire School as he began what turned out to be a quick ascension to the Major Leagues.
Health issues arose when he had heart surgery in 1999. He made a rapid recovery and went on to carve a successful career that included one World Series, four league championship series, seven division series and three All Star games.
Torre appreciated Bell for his consistent work on the field.
"Wally was a guy when he walked on the field, you sort of felt pretty good about it," Torre said. "He wasn't confrontational. He worked at his trade, and you always felt that you got a fair shake.
"Once you got to know him a little more, you enjoyed his personality. He was always in a pretty good mood. As a manager you sort of hold your breath to see which umpiring crew is out there. If Wally was on it, you knew that was a good sign for us."
Bell was known for having a large appetite for life and food. His many friends will never forget the love he showed for them.
"Wally was a 3XL," Hirschbeck said. "The reason was it's the only size that you can get a heart that big into."