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Peter Gammons
March 28, 1988
By refusing to be a DH, last year's MVP George Bell has made it unclear for whom he toils, himself or the Blue Jays
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March 28, 1988

Bell Chimes A Sour Note

By refusing to be a DH, last year's MVP George Bell has made it unclear for whom he toils, himself or the Blue Jays

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It was the bottom of the first, and the Toronto Blue Jays had two men on and one out. Over the public-address system at Grant Field in Dunedin, Fla., came the announcement: "Batting fourth, George Bell, the designated hitter." But Bell, last year's American League MVP, didn't move from his seat in the Toronto bullpen, 300 feet down the leftfield line. He just stared blankly out at the field.

Boston Red Sox catcher John Marzano looked around, waiting for something to happen, for somebody to do something. So did home plate umpire Richie Garcia. The Blue Jays' hitting coach, Cito Gaston, had told manager Jimy Williams beforehand that Bell didn't intend to be the Toronto DH in that afternoon's exhibition game. Williams, however, ignored the warning because, as he said later, "George didn't tell me, and I'm still the manager."

Finally, Williams told Willie Upshaw to hit for Bell, then popped out of the dugout and briskly walked up the left-field line. Within seconds Bell got up and followed him into the clubhouse. Later that afternoon the Blue Jays fined Bell $1,000 and suspended him for the rest of the day.

Bell's rebellion, which erupted on St. Patrick's Day, had been developing since Feb. 17 when he signed a two-year, $4 million contract. In January, Williams and executive vice-president Pat Gillick had informed Bell that their offer was contingent on his agreeing to be a designated hitter. That would allow them to move centerfielder Lloyd Moseby to left and give rookies Sil Campusano and Rob Ducey a shot at center.

"George has had knee trouble, and we didn't want to risk further injuries on the artificial turf," says Williams. "We were 2-8 without him in the lineup, so we need his bat in there every day. He agreed to being a DH before signing the contract. This wasn't just my decision. It was a decision made by the coaches and the organization."

Although many observers still consider Bell, Moseby and Jesse Barfield to be the best outfield in baseball, Williams, his coaches and Gillick agree that the threesome have lost their edge defensively. "Bell and Barfield can't run the way they used to—look at their stolen bases [down from a combined 43 in 1985 to eight last season]," says one coach. "George can't move the same, and they run on him. Worse, the league went from first to third on Moseby all season. Our outfield defense hurt us badly."

One man who doesn't buy that assessment is Moseby. When he was told before spring training that he would have to switch positions, he said, "I'd rather play on Mars than play leftfield. I'm the best centerfielder in the game." But after Toronto added an extra year to his contract, Moseby reported to camp and moved to left without further ado.

Bell wasn't so understanding. "Me and Jimy, we fight," he said when he arrived at camp. "We'll see who lasts longer, me or him. What is Jimy? He's only the manager." But Williams, who had had a run-in with Bell last September when he removed the slugger for a pinch runner, didn't back down. Bell was a DH during the first two weeks of the exhibition schedule and hit .417. Everything appeared serene.

That is, until Bell made what one coach called "his premeditated move." When the dust finally settled, Williams told reporters, "George is going to have to accept a few things." He also said that he was committed to playing one of the rookies in center. Bell made the trip to Plant City for a game with the Cincinnati Reds the next day and played left because DHs aren't used in National League parks during the Grapefruit League season.

As he left that game, Bell, who comes from the Dominican Republic, told some Latin radio announcers, "They can give me all the fines they want, I will not play designated hitter." Everyone expected another confrontation on Sunday when the Blue Jays returned to their home park for a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. But there wasn't one, and Bell had an RBI single in four at bats as the DH. After the game he said that he had played because he didn't want to risk receiving a 30-day suspension.

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