He had a name that had a certain ring to it.
And of course, he came to the White Sox in a trade which, in retrospect, doesn't look too good.
George Bell. Remember that guy?
Jorge Antonio Bell Mathey was born Oct. 21, 1959, in San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, a hotbed of major league talent that produced Alfonso Soriano, Pedro Guerrero, Tony Fernández, Robinson Canó, Joaquín Andújar and Sammy Sosa, among many others, including current White Sox hurler Reynaldo López. Jorge, who was better known as George, had two brothers who played pro baseball: Juan, who played in the majors from 1989 to 1995, suiting up for the Orioles, Phillies, Brewers, Expos and Red Sox, and Rolando, who played in the Dodgers organization in 1986 and 1987.
Bell signed with the Phillies in 1978 and at age 18 started his pro career with Helena of the Pioneer League, hitting .311 in 33 games. Still a teenager the following year, he broke out for Class A Spartanburg of the Western Carolina League, with an eye-opening .305/.345/.550 slash line, 15 triples, 22 home runs and 102 RBIs. Bell was on his way to another solid campaign in 1980 with Double-A Reading but missed most of the year with a shoulder injury. At the end of the year, the Blue Jays plucked him from Philadelphia in the Rule 5 Draft, on recommendation from Toronto's legendary Dominican scout Epy Guerrero.
As a Rule 5 pick, Bell had to remain on Toronto's major league roster that season, and he made his MLB debut on April 9, 1981, pinch running for John Mayberry. Almost two weeks later, on April 21, he grounded out against Brewers pitcher Moose Haas in his first major league at-bat. The next day, he doubled off Mike Caldwell for his first big league hit. On May 2, Orioles pitcher Scott McGregor served up Bell's first career big league home run. Bell hit .233 with five home runs in his first taste of major league action.
In 1982, Bell was sent down the minors for seasoning, though he only played in 37 games at Triple-A Syracuse due to a variety of setbacks, including mononucleosis, an injured knee and a broken jaw (fortunately, not all at once). Bell played most of 1983 in the minors before a midseason call-up, and on July 12, he doubled and homered off Vida Blue in his first game back with the Jays. Bell was in the majors for good beginning in 1984.
During the 1980s, Bell, playing left field, formed a young, dynamic outfield for the Blue Jays with right fielder Jesse Barfield, who was born eight days after Bell, and center fielder Lloyd Moseby, who was born seven days after Barfield. The 1984 Blue Jays, led by Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox, were onto something, finishing second in the AL East at 89-73. In his first season as a full-time player, Bell led the team with 26 home runs, hitting .292/.326/.498 with 87 RBIs. It all came together in 1985, as the Jays took the East with a 99-62 record (despite a 1-5 finish to the season), and Bell once again led the team in home runs with 28. This time he also led the team with 95 knocked in. Bell and Barfield became the first players in franchise history to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases in a season. The Jays lost the ALCS in seven games to the Royals, but Bell was 9-for-28 (.321) with three doubles during the series, despite a dismal final month to the regular season.
On June 23, 1985, Bell was hit by a Bruce Kison pitch. He charged the mound and delivered a funky flying kick to the stomach, which set off a benches-clearing brawl between the Blue Jays and Red Sox.
That aside, the season was a success. Bell collected the first of three straight Silver Slugger Awards.
While the Blue Jays fell to 86-76 and fourth place in 1986, Bell continued to reach new heights, hitting .309/.349/.532 with 31 home runs and 108 RBIs, setting the stage for 1987, when Bell took home a controversial MVP award, hitting .308/.352/.605 with 47 home runs and 134 RBIs. Many felt that Alan Trammell was more deserving, playing a premium position (shortstop) for the first-place Tigers. But Bell was the selection, and not only was he the first Blue Jays position player to start an All-Star Game, he was the first Dominican-born MVP.
With his knees starting to feel the wear and tear of playing on the Exhibition Stadium turf, Bell was expected to play designated hitter starting in 1988. In fact, according to general manager Pat Gillick and manager Jimy Williams, he was told his new contract was contingent on his playing DH. But Bell was unwilling, and the two sides were at odds during spring 1988. On opening day 1988, Bell did play DH and became the first player in major league history to homer three times in a season opener - all three off the Royals' Bret Saberhagen. The following game, this time playing left field, Bell went 5-for-5. Over a 162-game span, from Opening Day 1987 through the first six games of 1988, Bell hit .313/.358/.623 with 51 home runs and 140 RBIs. But the success wouldn't last. Bell slumped to .269/.304/.446 with 24 home runs and 97 RBIs in 1988.
On May 28, 1989, he said goodbye to Toronto's Exhibition Stadium with a walk-off home run off Bobby Thigpen and the White Sox in the final game at that park. He then homered in the first game at SkyDome a week later. Bell followed up with decent but subpar seasons by his standards in 1989 and 1990 before reaching free agency. Bell finished his Blue Jays career as the franchise leader in home runs with 202 - he was the first player in Jays history to reach 200 -and RBIs with 740.
While Bell was one of the greatest players in Blue Jays history, his run in Canada didn't end well. He was critical of management as well as fans, once telling Canadian fans to "kiss my Dominican ass." And just like that, he was gone, signing a three-year, $9.8 million contract with the Cubs.
Bell made the All-Star Game in his first season as a National Leaguer, hitting .285/.323/.468 with 25 home runs and 86 RBIs. The Cubs went 77-83 and looked to get a little younger, so on March 30, 1992, they shipped Bell to the other side of town in exchange for reliever Ken Patterson and young outfielder also from San Pedro de Macoris: Sosa. At the time, White Sox general manager Ron Schueler said, "We got the guy we wanted. We got the pure hitter." Meanwhile, Larry Himes got Sosa via trade for the second time in his career as a major league general manager: first with the White Sox in 1989, then with the Cubs in 1992.
Bell hit 25 home runs and knocked in 112 in his first season with the White Sox, despite hitting only .255 with a .294 OBP. He became the first - and remains the only - player in history with a 20-homer season for both the Cubs and White Sox. His season was good enough to earn some down-ballot MVP votes, finishing 20th in the American League, behind teammates Frank Thomas (eighth) and Jack McDowell (19th). Bell played one more season for the White Sox and had a woeful campaign, playing 102 games and hitting .217 with 13 home runs. After hitting what would end up his final career home run on Sept. 24, he went 0-for-his-last-26 to close out the year. Manager Gene Lamont benched Bell for the ALCS against his former team, the Blue Jays, and he threw a tantrum. The White Sox spent $500,000 to buy out Bell's option for 1994, saving them $2.7 million. With aching knees and a sagging bat, Bell called it a career.
Bell had a pretty good run, playing 12 seasons and hitting .278/.316/.469 with 265 home runs and 1,002 RBIs, three All-Star selections and a 1987 MVP. When the White Sox acquired him from the Cubs, the Sox seemed to be getting a better player. Sosa had tools but was wildly inconsistent. Sosa had a .228 average in 327 games with 29 home runs and an alarming 295 strikeouts in 1,031 at-bats. He took a large step back in 1991 after a promising 1990. But sometimes in baseball a player simply figures it out. Sosa went on to hit 580 home runs with 1,551 RBIs after the trade. Nobody could've imagined that.
In Canada, Bell is remembered fondly despite his 1990 exit. On April 9, 1996 - on the 15th anniversary of his MLB debut - Bell was inducted into the Toronto Blue Jays Level of Excellence. In 1999, Bell's name made the Hall of Fame ballot, and while his 1.2 percent of votes wasn't enough to remain on the ballot, he did receive six votes. In 2013, Bell was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. He spent some time in the Blue Jays organization as a roving hitting instructor and later a consultant.
Bell was the first Domincan-born MVP. Since Bell, four other Dominican-born players have won it: Sosa, Miguel Tejada, Vladimir Guerrero and Albert Pujols. Alex Rodriguez also won MVP honors, and even though he was born in New York City, he grew up in the Dominican Republic. It's fun to note that the first two Dominican-born MVPs were at one point traded for one another. It's also fun to point out that both Bell and Sosa are the only players to hit at least 25 home runs for both the Cubs and White Sox in their careers. Because of the trade, Bell and Sosa are often mentioned in the same breath, but it's easy to forget that Bell was a really good player, too.
George Bell. We remember that guy!
Remember That Guy: George Bell, who White Sox got in Sammy Sosa trade originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago