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Happy Anniversary to “Operation Shutdown”

Mar 19, 2014, 5:56 AM EDT

Derek Bell

Yesterday was the 12th anniversary of one of the more unusual endings to a major league career. And easily one of the greatest spring training moments of all time. On March 18, 2002, Pirates outfielder Derek Bell announced the commencement of Operation Shutdown.

What was Operation Shutdown? It was Bell’s declaration that, despite playing only 46 games the previous season and despite hitting only .173/.287/.288, he was not expecting to compete for the Pirates’ right field job:

“Nobody told me I was in competition. If there is competition, somebody better let me know. If there is competition, they better eliminate me out of the race and go ahead and do what they’re going to do with me. I ain’t never hit in spring training and I never will. If it ain’t settled with me out there, then they can trade me. I ain’t going out there to hurt myself in spring training battling for a job. If it is [a competition], then I’m going into ‘Operation Shutdown.’ Tell them exactly what I said. I haven’t competed for a job since 1991.”

Bell left spring training and was released by the Pirates less than two weeks later. The Pirates ended up paying him $4.5 million for the 2002 season, in which he lived on his 58-foot yacht. Which prompted a Pittsburgh columnist to quip that Bell had become “the ultimate Pirate” in that he “lives on a boat and steals money.”

The 2002 Pirates featured Craig Wilson in right field. Wilson hit a respectable .265/.355/.443 with 16 homers and the Pirates, while still mostly in the wilderness, won ten more games without Bell than they did with him the previous year. As for Bell? He never played baseball again. The last couple of times Bell made news it was for drug-related arrests. Which suggests some serious time in the wilderness for him too. 

But if he does nothing else with his life from here on out, he at least gave us Operation Shutdown.

  1. proudlycanadian - Mar 19, 2014 at 7:33 AM

    Derek Bell is the jerk who trashed Dave Stieb’s locker after the Jays won the World Series.

    Once the Jays were so pissed off at Bell’s antics, that management decided to pull a prank on him. They announced that one fan would win a brand new car. They then drove Bell’s new wheels out onto the field and said that this was the car that would be won by the fan. Bell went into panic mode when he saw that it was his car.

    • cur'68 - Mar 19, 2014 at 8:25 AM

      I recall that. Served him right, too. That guy never had much a of sense of humour about himself and he was a pain in the ass to his teammates. I never liked his moustache either.

      • shutdownespn - Mar 19, 2014 at 9:38 AM

        What’s with the Canadian spellings? This is an American site, eh.

      • cur'68 - Mar 19, 2014 at 9:43 AM

        I’m Canadian, eh? I spell the way the our National Animal, the Noble and Mighty Beaver, intended: with teeth. “Homour” without the “u” is homour without clout.

      • historiophiliac - Mar 19, 2014 at 11:16 AM

        To the victor of 1812 go the spoils! This here is American internets. Don’t be littering it with your “u’s” and your commas outside the quotation marks and your dirty commonwealthing. It’s unAmerican, by God!

        JOBU BLESS AHMERICUHHHHH, LAND THAT I LUUUUURRRRVVVV…

      • shutdownespn - Mar 19, 2014 at 11:18 AM

        Jesus. At least seven people–at the moment, at least–have no sense of humour.

    • clydeserra - Mar 19, 2014 at 11:13 AM

      its in a TWIB highlight DVD that my kids watch. From the editing, he didn’t really go into a panic. was just a little stunned, then he got the joke.

  2. thedoubleentandres - Mar 19, 2014 at 8:22 AM

    I DON’T WANNA BE A PIRATE!!!!

  3. larrytsg - Mar 19, 2014 at 8:44 AM

    Man, I have serious mustache envy!

  4. unlost1 - Mar 19, 2014 at 8:48 AM

    this is gold- Bell had become “the ultimate Pirate” in that he “lives on a boat and steals money.”

  5. chadjones27 - Mar 19, 2014 at 8:50 AM

    Operation Shutdown: The Original, “Practice? We’re talking ’bout practice?”

    • clemente2 - Mar 19, 2014 at 3:02 PM

      I thought Iverson had a much better point.

  6. florida76 - Mar 19, 2014 at 9:28 AM

    Embarrassing moment for the Pirates, right up there with Billy Martin-Steinbrenner circus act of the 1980s, which was so funny, it was the basis of a beer commercial.

    Fortunately, “Operation Shutdown” is a minuscule incident, and was blown away by the impact of the 2013 success.

  7. thepittsburghkid - Mar 19, 2014 at 9:33 AM

    Bell’s mustache could still play in the league.

  8. stex52 - Mar 19, 2014 at 9:39 AM

    Ah, Derek Bell. One of the original Killer B’s (long before Berkman came along). For four years at Houston a really great hitter. Then the bottom fell out. But always a surly low life.

  9. yahmule - Mar 19, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    One thing Derek Bell pioneered – if that’s the word for it – was the death of the baseball stirrup. I believe he described himself as a modern day sans-culotte, but my memory has been known to play tricks on me.

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Q25TP4DgKKs/ULO3lIgqcuI/AAAAAAAAjEw/rUId7YRd1DM/s1600/derek+bell+(6).jpg

    • clydeserra - Mar 19, 2014 at 12:38 PM

      he should be banned from baseball in that case

  10. jerze2387 - Mar 19, 2014 at 10:57 AM

    I once walked into a job interview and told them, upon seeing other candidates,

    “Nobody told me I was in competition. If there is competition, somebody better let me know. If there is competition, they better eliminate me out of the race and go ahead and do what they’re going to do with me. I ain’t going out there battling for a job. If it is [a competition], then I’m going into ‘Operation Shutdown.’ Tell them exactly what I said. I haven’t competed for a job since 1987″

    Now I deliver groceries.

  11. pilonflats - Mar 19, 2014 at 11:25 AM

    Classic! Thanks for the story.

  12. superpriebe - Mar 19, 2014 at 12:19 PM

    Reminds me of one of my favorite Rob Neyer pieces….always enjoyed going back and re-reading it….

    http://a.espncdn.com/mlb/columns/neyer_rob/1354729.html

  13. barrybondsisthealltimehomerunking - Mar 19, 2014 at 12:57 PM

    Has it really been 12 years, am I really that old.

  14. hushbrother - Mar 19, 2014 at 2:10 PM

    It was a typically dopey free agent signing by the Pirates at that time.

  15. musketmaniac - Mar 19, 2014 at 2:20 PM

    wow, baseball really needs to get in gear. These posts get worse every day. History you did not bring your A game today.

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