ST. LOUIS -- Little about David Bell's first extended stay in St. Louis stands out on the stat sheet these days. He tallied only 440 at-bats while being used largely as a utility infielder. The bulk of his big league playing time came later, once he left the organization and continued a career that would span a dozen years.
But back in those early days, as Bell passed the time on the bench, he immersed himself in observation. There was something about watching now Hall of Famer Tony La Russa manage a game that captivated Bell's attention. And it got him thinking to the future.
"I got to spend a lot of time watching," said Bell, a third-generation Major Leaguer. "I think playing for him got me intrigued with the idea of one day managing."
Bell did go on to manage for four years in the Reds' farm system before finding his way back to St. Louis, where he has joined manager Mike Matheny's staff as assistant hitting coach. In between, he served as the third-base coach for the Cubs for one season.
It was there that, for 19 games, he had a front-row seat to watch the Cardinals' offense, one coached by Bell's former teammate John Mabry. The impression it left was strong, which is why he leapt at the chance to join the organization when the Cardinals called him regarding a coaching vacancy.
"I've really admired the way the organization has gone about things, and I have admired the way the team plays the game, the way they compete, the way they battle, their aggressive approach," Bell said. "Just their approach, they have played the game to this degree for some time, but what Mike has been able to do to get them to approach the game this way just really sets them apart from other teams. It's something I have watched from the other side and admired."
It was a natural fit, too, because of long-existing friendships. Bell and Matheny have known each other since they were teenage teammates on an amateur team in Ohio. They later played against each other in the Majors. Mabry and Bell were then teammates both in St. Louis and Seattle.
"I always enjoyed being his teammate and had a lot of respect for the way he played the game and his knowledge of the game," Mabry said. "Every player gains the knowledge as they go through the playing career. The separation is the passion and the caring for others, and those who have it are the ones who go on to coach. David had that his whole career. His passion for the game is evident."
Bell takes a coaching slot that has endured annual turnover for the last four seasons. It was held by Mike Aldrete (now bench coach) in 2011, followed by Mabry the next year and Bengie Molina a year ago.
Preparation for the new position has been literally a lifelong process. The grandson of former Major League outfielder Gus Bell and the son of big league third baseman/manager Buddy Bell, David Bell was born into a baseball bloodline. He learned the game from his family and then from an array of coaches as he played for six different organizations.
"I think because of my experience and people I've been around and successes and many, many failures, I think there's a lot that I can bring," Bell said. "I'm excited. I feel like I can add a lot while also taking an approach of sitting back and listening. I think that will help me really find areas where I can be of value. It's all going to be a process.
"Hopefully I'm able to relate to the current Major League player since it wasn't too long ago that I was playing. I think that's an advantage. Hopefully that will never escape my memory or how I do this job because it's something that I see as an advantage."
Mabry said he'll view his working relationship with Bell as a partnership, with no one person carrying a greater voice. Work will be distributed, though the nature of the position will afford Bell the chance to work, in particular, with the bench players. Bell and Mabry believe they can complement each other with their varying skill sets.
"We were teammates, so I understand what a great guy he is and that his intentions are always so in line as far as doing whatever he can to help these guys any way he can," Bell said of Mabry. "I know John well enough going in, that that's going to be an easy fit. My plan is to do a lot of observing and listening because these guys have had a lot of success for a lot of reasons over the years. The reason I'm doing this and the reason I'm involved in the game is to bring value through my experience in the game and my approach."
Added Mabry: "The whole gig is about serving the players. We got along great as teammates. We got along great as friends. And hopefully, we get along great as coaches."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.