Cleveland Indians shortstop Jay Bell & MLB’s rookie one-swing wonders

Imagine waiting three years for your one big opportunity. Then imagine knocking it out of the park on the very first pitch.

Jay Bell on 1988 Topps card #637

Jay Bell on 1988 Topps card #637

That’s how the first Major League Baseball swing played out for Cleveland Indians shortstop Jay Bell in 1986 when he connected for a homer off Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven in his first trip to the big league plate.

It turns out that after being called up from the instructional league in September of that year Bell got some solid advice from future Indians manager Mike Hargrove, who advised the struggling hitter on the way to the airport to swing at the first pitch he sees as it would likely be a fastball.

The irony was likely not lost on the baseball fans in attendance that day.

After being taken with the No. 8 overall pick out of high school by the Minnesota Twins in 1984 Bell was part of a minor league package shipped to Cleveland in exchange for Blyleven.

Cleveland also received pitcher Curt Wardle and outfielder Jim Weaver up front in the deal, and later pitcher Rich Yett. The man affectionately known as the Frying Dutchman would go on to help the Twins win a championship in 1987 just as Bell’s career was getting started.

Can you imagine how rare it must be to hit a major league home run off of the first pitch hurled your way?

Bell is just one of 29 players to have ever done it. The most recent addition to the club is Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario, who hit one off of Oakland A’s pitcher Scott Kazmir on May 6 to become the 115th player in league history to homer in their first career at-bat.

The list of players who’ve homered on their first swing is a largely forgettable bunch, though, starting with Walter Mueller. The Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder was the first to accomplish the feat in 1922 before finishing his four-year career with only two homers in all.

Jay Bell's 1992 Upper Deck card #103

Jay Bell’s 1992 Upper Deck card #103

As noted in the May 18 edition of Sports Illustrated, Bell finished his career with the most home runs among that group of 29 with a grand total of 195 long balls. The bulk of those dingers came in a three-year span while in his early 30s, from 1997-99, during which he homered 79 times.

Bell capped an 18-year career in 2003 as a World Series champion and an all-star with the Pirates in 1993 and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1999. His ultimate highlight is perhaps the night he scored the winning run for the Diamondbacks in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series against the New York Yankees.

And while guys like Blyleven and Bell eventually won big before leaving the game, the city of Cleveland is still searching for its first pro sports title since 1964. Bell spent mediocre seasons with the Indians in 1987 and 1988 before going on to land with a talented Pirates team.

Those details aside, it appears that not all of the 29 first-pitch wonders have traveled similar paths. Outfielder Marcus Thames hit 115 homers in 10 seasons and third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff hit 87 in seven years. Six-time all-star shortstop Bert Campaneris hit 79 in 19 years and finished his career with three World Series rings while with Oakland.

Currently in his fifth season, catcher/first baseman J.P. Arencibia now has 74 home runs to his credit and is one of only five active players from that bunch still in the league. Only time will tell though how soon he’s able to catch up to Bell’s total. Even if he never does, he’ll always have some interesting company to keep among quite a rarity in the sport.

Other players who have successfully swung and went deep on the first MLB pitch they saw include Clyde Vollmer (69 home runs), Junior Felix (55), Brant Alyea (38), Starling Marte (37), Al Woods (35), Chris Richard (34), Kaz Matsui (32), Daniel Nava (23), Chuck Tanner (21), Andy Phillips (14), George Vico (12), Adam Wainwright (6), Jim Bullinger (4), Jay Gainer (3), Clise Dudley (3), Bill LeFebvre (1), Tommy Milone (1), Eddie Morgan (1) Don Rose (1), Mark Saccomanno (1), Gene Stechschulte (1) and Esteban Yan (1).

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