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.