The organizers of the Third Annual Bell-Griffin Celebrity Classic held a cocktail party for the participants the night before the first round. An hour into the two-hour party, half the sponsorship was missing: Griffin was there, but Bell wasn't. Someone called his villa. No answer. Someone called his house in San Pedro. No phones installed yet. Fifteen minutes before the end of the party, in strolled George.
"Clocks don't mean too much here," Bell explained. "In America, everyone worries what time it is. In the Dominican, we live life without the need of clocks. We know when it's light and when it's dark." Several years ago the Dominican government changed the country to eastern standard time instead of Atlantic time, an hour ahead. But hardly any clocks were changed. No one even noticed, and the next year the time was returned to its original standard.
On the tournament's opening day, Griffin was on the first tee at 10 a.m. His starting time was 1 p.m. He was there alone on the tee for a half hour until somebody clued him in. "It's hard for Dominicans to adjust to the rush of life in the States or Toronto," says Bell. "And when Americans are here, it drives them crazy. You make a reservation for a rental car? That means nothing. If someone asks for the car before you get there, it's given away."
For Bell, the cultural differences between his homeland and his workplace offer some explanation for his problems in the major leagues. Says Bell, "Americans think, then act; Dominicans act, then think. A lot of people think I'm just one crazy Dominican. There are a lot of times when I get mad, say or do something in anger, and when I get back to my room or wake up the next day, I regret it. Sure, I get embarrassed. Then a lot of times when I try to make it better, it comes out wrong and I make things worse. For instance, Americans say, 'I'm sorry, it won't happen again.' Dominicans say, 'I'm sorry, so what?' It's our way of saying the same thing, but it doesn't mean the same thing and I know now that it makes things much worse."
Bell has often been heard to yell "I'll kill you!" at writers, players or umpires. In the cultural context of the U.S. or Canada, that's a serious threat. "In the Dominican, it's just the same as 'I'll kick your butt,' " says Bell. "It's just a little macho thing, a shove. But I guess in America it means far worse."
"Americans usually don't understand the heated tenor of arguments with a lot of Latin people," says David Hendricks, one of three brothers in Hendricks Management, Bell's agents. "As mild-mannered and gentlemanly as Alfredo is, he and George will sometimes get started to the point where I really think one is going to stab the other. The next minute, they're sharing a beer and laughing."
"There are some things that people think are serious, and they're not," says Bell. "Writers hear me yelling in the clubhouse, and they think I'm whacko or something. But I love to agitate. That's fun for me. I love to get on [Toronto catcher] Pat Borders. One time last summer they thought we were having a big fight. I agitated him about being a redneck from Florida and we got into it—nose to nose. But there would never have been a fight. It's fun. I get on Kelly Gruber real bad. He gets mad. I get mad. We're just kidding."
But other emotions run deeper. "There are some things I am dead serious about, such as when I think a pitcher is trying to hit me in the head," says Bell. "That's trying to kill me. I don't take that from any pitcher. I hate pitchers." His distaste for the men on the mound can be traced to a 1982 beaning in AAA ball in Syracuse. Bell's jaw was broken below his right eye, and eight years later he still has a permanent black eye—and a permanent antagonism toward pitchers.
Second on his enemies list are umpires. Last year he was ejected three times and suspended twice after disputes with umps; his father finally called him in September and told him in no uncertain terms to cool it. "I sometimes feel real bad about some of the things I've said to umpires," says Bell. "But I know what's a strike and what isn't a strike, and if an umpire misses a call, why can't I tell him he's wrong?
"Jimy Williams got real mad when anyone told him he was wrong. When he announced that I was a fulltime DH, I told him he was wrong and he got mad. Then he started pulling me out for defense. I told him he was wrong. He got mad. I was brought up this way: If you think someone is wrong, you tell them to their face. Americans don't do that. They keep phony smiles, then talk behind their backs. I say it right out, and that's trouble. The coach in America is always right. But that's wrong. If a man believes another man is wrong and doesn't say so, he belittles himself. I'm not belittling myself to half-manhood."