From 1984, when he became a regular in the Blue Jay lineup, through 1988, Bell averaged 31 home runs and 104 RBI per season to establish himself as one of the American League's dominant power hitters. Drafted by Toronto from the Phillies' organization at the end of 1980, he spent the next four seasons either on the Toronto bench or with the Blue Jays' Triple-A team at Syracuse. A torrid spring training served as a springboard for his 1984 season of 26 homers, 87 RBI, and a new team record of 69 extra-base hits, and established him as a regular, with Lloyd Moseby and Jesse Barfield, in what was perhaps baseball's finest outfield of the 1980s. His home run, RBI, and extra-base-hit totals climbed in each of his next three seasons. In August 1985 he clubbed homers in a Blue Jay-record four consecutive games. Two of the homers cleared the roof at Comiskey Park, and another landed in the centerfield bleachers. His high point as a slugger came in 1987 as he set team records with 47 home runs, 134 RBI (which led the AL), 16 game-winning RBI, 83 extra-base hits, 369 total bases, and a .605 slugging average.
Bell's selection as the 1987 American League MVP generated quite a bit of controversy in light of his poor performance in two crucial series at the end of the 1987 campaign against the Tigers, who defeated Toronto on the final day of the season to win the division. No stranger to discord, the hot-tempered native of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic had incurred the hatred of Boston fans by directing a karate kick at Red Sox pitcher Bruce Kison, who seemed to be throwing at Blue Jay batters. His general surliness, lackadaisical defensive play, and team-record outfield errors incurred the wrath of Toronto management and fans, and prompted manager Jimy Williams's 1988 spring-training announcement that Bell would be moved to DH in order to improve team defense and save his knees. Bell bristled, then hit three home runs on Opening Day (the first player ever to do so). Nevertheless, a bitter, season-long feud with Williams ensued and played a decisive role in the downfall of the 1988 team. In the process, Bell set a team record with 15 errors in left.
The volatile slugger was bouyed by the dismissal of Williams early in the season, but run-ins with umpires and opposing players helped him rack up three ejections and two suspensions over the course of the year. After new manager Cito Gaston moved Bell to the third spot in the lineup in mid-August, Bell responded with his best month of the season, hitting .370 with six homers and 26 RBIs. A host of minor injuries slowed him over the next few seasons, but Bell's bat continued to be one of the most feared in the American League. A late-season slump tarnished an otherwise fine campaign (.265, 21, 86) in 1990; after the season, Bell signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Cubs worth nearly ten million dollars. Suffering from a groin pull and turf toe at various points during the year, Bell turned in an All-Star campaign (.285, 25, 86) in his first National League season despite committing a league-leading 10 errors in left field.
The following spring, Bell was dealt to the White Sox for Sammy Sosa and reliever Ken Patterson and immediately surprised South Side fans with his willingness to DH. "I'm not really ready to be a full-time designated hitter," Bell announced. "But I know I'm going to have to do some of it." Yielding to Tim Raines in left field, Bell DHed in all but 15 of his 155 games with the White Sox, posting a career-low .255 batting average but slugging a team-high 25 home runs and driving in 112 runs, second only to Frank Thomas' 115.
Bell's attitude adjustment was refreshing, but a disappointing performance the following season (.217, 13, 64) soon soured his sunny disposition. Surgery to repair cartilage damage in his right knee caused Bell to miss most of the second half of the season; he finished the season 0-for-26 and in a surly mood. During his team's ALCS appearance against the Blue Jays, Bell brought back bad memories of his earlier outbursts in Toronto by slamming manager Gene Lamont. Ironically, this time Bell was annoyed because he wasn't DHing. Instead, the once-feared slugger had been benched. "I don't respect Gene Lamont as a manager or as a man," Bell asserted after being shunted from the Game Three lineup in favor of Bo Jackson. "Geno was in that Triple-A league [the NL] when I had my best years so he doesn't really know what I can do."
Lamont was not amused by Bell's colorful quotes. After the series finished, Bell's career came to an end when he was unceremoniously released. (TF/JGR)
FROM THE BASEBALL CHRONOLOGY
»July 9, 1985: In the bottom of the third inning of a game between the Blue Jays and the Mariners, Phil Bradley is on second with one out when Gorman Thomas singles to right. Jesse Barfield's throw to Buck Martinez nails Bradley, though Martinez breaks his ankle in the collision. When Thomas tries to take 3B on the play, Martinez' throw sails into LF. Thomas tries to score but George Bell's throw to Martinez beats him. Buck makes the catch and tag while sitting on the ground. Whitt takes over catching and the Jays win in 13 innings, 9–4. The big blow is a grand slam homer by George Bell in the 13th —the first extra inning slam in club history—to break a 4–4 tie.
»September 14, 1987: In an 18–3 rout of the Orioles, the Blue Jays erupt for a ML-record 10 home runs. Ernie Whitt leads the parade with three round trippers, Rance Mulliniks and George Bell hit 2, and Lloyd Moseby, Rob Ducey, and Fred McGriff each add one. Mike Hart hits one for Baltimore to tie the 2-team major-league record of 11. In the 7th inning, the Jays Kelly Gruber makes an out and, in his next at bat in the frame, hits into a DP tie a major-league record for most outs-inning. Cal Ripken's streak of 8,243 consecutive innings (908 games) is broken when he is lifted in the 8th for pinch runner Ron Washington.
»November 17, 1987: George Bell becomes the first Blue Jay ever to win the American League MVP Award, edging Detroit's Alan Trammell 332-311. Bell hit .308 last season with 47 home runs and a league-leading 134 RBI.
»April 4, 1988: Toronto's George Bell, the defending American League MVP, hits three home runs as the Blue Jays beat Kansas City 5–3 on Opening Day in Kansas City. Bell will go 5-for-5 in Toronto's 2nd game of the season.
»May 15, 1989: The Blue Jays fire manager Jimy Williams and replace him with hitting coach Cito Gaston. Williams led the club to a 12-24 start and had several publicized run-ins with star slugger George Bell, who refused to be the DH.
»August 18, 1989:
In a 9–2 Toronto win, Baltimore SS Cal Ripken plays in his 1,208th consecutive game, passing Steve Garvey for the 3rd longest streak in ML history, George Bell leads Toronto with two singles, a double and a home run.
»September 22, 1999:
In Toronto's 14–9 win over Boston, Carlos Delgado fouls a ball off his right leg in the 8th inning resulting in a season ending fracture of the leg. Delgado has 44 home run, 134 RBI and tied George Bell's Blue Jays record for RBI in a season.