A streaky right-handed hitter, Bell earned his greatest renown as a key member of the Houston team that won three consecutive NL Central titles in the late 1990’s. Originally drafted by the Blue Jays, he picked up a World Series ring while playing in 61 games for Toronto in 1992. A late spring trade the following year sent him to San Diego, where Bell responded to his first chance at regular playing time by hitting .262 with 21 home runs and 26 steals. In December 1994, he was acquired by Houston in a deal which sent Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley to the Padres.
Bell batted a career-high .334 for the Astros in 1995 and followed that up with 113 RBIs in 1996. From 1997 through 1999, he teamed up with All-Stars Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio to form the “Killer B’s”, the core of a Houston lineup that propelled the club to the playoffs three straight years. At his most productive, in the 1998 season, Bell batted .314 with 22 home runs, 108 RBIs and 111 runs scored. When his numbers slipped to .236 with 12 home runs the following year, the Astros shipped him and ace southpaw Mike Hampton to the Mets in exchange for the younger (and cheaper) duo of outfielder Roger Cedeno and starter Octavio Dotel.
Bell hadn’t helped his cause by developing a bad attitude reputation in Houston, a perception enhanced when he offered ill-timed complaints about being dropped down in the batting order on the same day manager Larry Dierker returned to the dugout following a brain seizure. But Bell took the trade in stride, parking his 63-foot yacht in Flushing Bay near Shea Stadium “I’m happy-go-lucky,” he said. “I’m in the big city with celebrities and everything. I want to be around a couple of years. I don’t want to taste the apple and then throw it away.”
A game-winning home run in New York’s home opener also helped smooth the transition. Inserted into the lineup as the Mets’ everyday right fielder, Bell put together an up-and-down season that virtually split the difference between the extremes of the prior two years. But after batting .266 with 18 home runs during the regular season, Bell missed out on the club’s post-season run to a subway series meeting with the Yankees when he sprained his ankle in Game One of the Division Series at San Francisco.