Wally Bell, an Austintown native who umpired in the major leagues for 21 years, died of a heart ailment Monday at Northside Medical Center. He was 48.
Bell, who had open- heart surgery in 1999, was in town for the Austintown Fitch Hall of Fame dinner over the weekend and was admitted to the hospital Saturday, when he suffered a heart attack, according to The Vindicator’s broadcast partner, 21 WFMJ-TV.
He died Monday afternoon. Bell leaves two children, Lindsey, 13, and Jason, 14, and a fiancee, Renee Rouser of Youngstown.
A 1983 Fitch High graduate, Bell attended the Joe Brinkman Umpire School in 1984 with fellow Fitch graduate Brian O’Nora, who is now an MLB umpire.
“He was a heck of a nice guy, always upbeat, very positive about most things,” said John Rorick, who was one of Bell’s baseball coaches at Fitch and became one of his closest friends. “He had a lot of determination and desire.
“I was like a brother to him. We could talk about anything. That’s what I’m going to miss most.”
Bell began umpiring in the New York-Penn League in the summer of 1984 and spent nine years in the
minors before moving on to the majors in 1993. He worked the 2006 World Series with Poland’s John Hirschbeck and also has worked two All-Star games, four League Championship Series and five Division
Series, including this year’s Pirates-Cardinals series.
“One of my dearest friends,” Hirschbeck told WFMJ-TV. “We worked
together for 11 years. He was like a son to me. It’s
Rorick said Bell had been struggling with health
issues in recent years and has a history of heart problems in his family. On his MLB.com biography, Bell said his biggest career
resuming his career in 1999 after open-heart surgery.
“He was absolutely genuine,” said local sandlot umpire John Mang, one of Bell’s close friends. “In all the years that I knew W,
he’d never say no to a fundraiser or charity event. He may have worked out of his suitcase, but his two children were his priority and he was just an excellent
father to both of them.”
Bell and O’Nora both got their start in the Mahoning Valley Umpires organization.
“You could just tell back then that they were
major-league material,” said Greg Patory, a local umpire who worked with Bell in Youngstown’s Class B and Class AA leagues. “They loved the game, were very professional both on and off the field and represented our area in a first-class manner.”
Boardman’s Rob Luklan, who is a back judge for the Atlantic Coast Conference, played Class B baseball with Bell for Buckeye Elks in the early 1980s. They also refereed local high school basketball games, which Bell would do in his offseason.
“It’s a sad, sad day for me because he was a great friend, and at 48 years old, that is way too young for anyone to die,” Luklan said.
Former Boardman High and YSU pitcher Mike
Glinatsis, who pitched in the Giants’ and Dodgers’
minor-league systems, was familiar with Bell from Youngstown’s Class AA.
“I was always impressed with the way he was able to control a game,” Glinatsis said. “His strike zone was always consistent, but most of all, he knew the rules of the game.”
Nick Siciliano, a 1993 Fitch High graduate and former minor-league baseball umpire, said Bell was the reason he wanted to
become an umpire.
“He was so instrumental, along with coach [Rich] Coppola and coach Rorick, because all three taught us the right way to do things,” Siciliano said. “When I didn’t handle a situation the right way, it was Wally who took who took me aside and reminded me that while things aren’t always going to be handled perfectly, just handle them the right way and to the best of my ability and everything would work out.”