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 buoyed 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.