Former AL MVP George Bell still cherishes his time with the Toronto Blue Jays | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Former AL MVP George Bell still cherishes his time with the Toronto Blue Jays

VANCOUVER - Don't ask George Bell to recall the good old days of his 1987 American League MVP season.

"It's too far back, man," the former Toronto Blue Jays slugger said Monday as he visited the Vancouver Canadians, one of the club's single-A farm teams.

"It's 20-odd years — 25 years ago, man. I can't recollect most of the things that happened."

Bell hit a franchise-record 47 home runs while posting a .308 batting average, 134 RBIs and 111 runs scored that year while helping the Blue Jays get within two games of an AL East title.

But by the time he left as a free agent and joined the Chicago Cubs after nine seasons in Toronto, Bell had a fractious relationship with Blue Jays' management, fans and media alike.

"A lot of people ask me, if I had a chance to do it again, would I do it differently?" said the 52-year-old Bell. "Maybe in the way I handled (public scrutiny). But I'm going to be the same way."

He once told fans they could "kiss my purple butt." But any lingering bitter memories from spectators were all but forgotten as he made a promotional appearance before a Northwest League game between the Canadians and the Everett AquaSox.

Fans gave him a rousing ovation as the former outfielder threw out the first pitch. Later, he signed autographs for fans, many of whom were old enough to recall the heydays of his career. He even got along with media, conducting a number of interviews at Nat Bailey Stadium

"It's a little more easy now, and I don't have too many people around looking at me now. I hide better now," said Bell, who lives in his native Dominican Republic and comes back to Canada about four times a year for golf tournaments and other charitable events.

Looking back, Bell said he can't complain about his career. Among his memorable highlights, in 1988, Bell became the first player in major league history to hit three home runs on an opening day, with all of them coming off then Kansas City Royals ace Bret Saberhagen. A year later, was also the last Blue Jay to homer at Exhibition Stadium and the first to hit a round-tripper at SkyDome, now known as Rogers Centre.

In the process, Bell helped the Jays become American League East champions in 1990 and, after he left, two-time World Series winners in 1992 and 1993. But he and other young stars like Lloyd Moseby, Rance Mulliniks, Buck Martinez and Jimmy Key never considered that they were making history at the time.

"We had a bunch of young guys up there," said Bell. "The only desire we had was to play ball and win some games. We were the best in our business, and we showed the world we were the best. We wanted to win baseball games and we did it professionally and we did it good."

Bell also believes he handled himself professionally outside of the chalk lines.

"The only thing, when I was a player, I didn't have no time to spare talking with the press," he said. "Sometimes I talked to (media) when I had to. But a lot of players play the game. They don't like to talk to the press. I always deal with the fans. I sign autographs, and when I say I don't want to sign no more, I don't sign no more."

Bell offered Canadians players tips Monday on how to use their hands when hitting.

"I like to pass along my knowledge about hitting to the young people," said Bell.

Citing family commitments, he has little desire to return to the baseball field on a permanent basis, but would not mind a job as a scout or "special counsellor" for big league players.

When asked for his thoughts on the current edition of the Blue Jays, he replied: "I think we have to look for a couple of pitchers out of the farm system to go up there and be able to compete at the big league level so we can have a chance."

Bell's playing tenure with the Blue Jays ended in 1990 when he moved on to the Cubs and then spent the final two seasons of his 12-year career with the Chicago White Sox. But even after his less-than-amicable departure from the Toronto organization and his time with the Windy City clubs, there's no doubt where his allegiance lies today.

"I had the opportunity to come to Toronto when I was young," said Bell. "I was only 21 years old when I came to Toronto, and it was one of the best experiences I ever had in my life. I spent my young entire life in Toronto, and that was a gift.

"I appreciate it, and I still think I'm a Blue Jay."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2012
The Canadian Press

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