Blue Jays: Top-five greatest outfielders in franchise history

Division Series - Texas Rangers v Toronto Blue Jays - Game Five
Division Series - Texas Rangers v Toronto Blue Jays - Game Five / Vaughn Ridley/GettyImages
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No. 3 George Bell

Bell. Moseby. Barfield. It was a trio that defined the first decade of Blue Jays baseball, as the young franchise rose from the doldrums of the league into World Series contenders.

George Bell, along with his outfield partners Lloyd Moseby and Jesse Barfield, helped the Blue Jays win their first division title in 1985. The image of Bell catching the clinching out and falling to his knees became the first iconic image for the franchise. Two years later, Bell made history as the first player in franchise history to win the American League MVP Award.

Bell’s 134 RBI in that 1987 MVP season is still a single-season franchise record for outfielders. His 47 home runs stood as a franchise record until passed by José Bautista in 2010.

Before the next season, though, Bell was involved in a dispute that threatened to tarnish his reputation as a Blue Jays icon. Manager Jimy Williams wanted Bell to switch from his usual left-field position and become the club’s full-time designated hitter. Bell balked at the idea, even refusing to come out of the dugout during a Spring Training game. The club fined him $500; Bell stopped talking to his manager.

Bell wasn’t on speaking terms with Williams, but on Opening Day, a warm, sunny afternoon in Kansas City, he let his play do the talking. Bell hit the first pitch he saw from Royals starter Bret Saberhagen in the second inning over the left field fence for a home run. In the fourth, he hit a 2-2 pitch into the grass in center for a two-run homer. He hit another in the eighth, becoming the first player in MLB history with three Opening Day home runs. Saberhagen, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, started 371 games over his 16-year career; Bell was the only player to hit three home runs off him in a game.

Bell’s production fell off from that historic start as he added just 21 homers the rest of the season. His relationship with Williams remained strained until the manager was fired 36 games into the 1989 season. Even decades later, Bell hadn’t forgotten what happened.

“I have nothing bad to say against Jimy. But sometimes when people touch your territory, you have to be a man. That’s what happened,” he said upon his induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013.

Bell left the Blue Jays as a free agent after 1990, playing his final three years in Chicago with the Cubs and White Sox. He finished his career in Toronto with 202 home runs and 740 RBI, trailing only Vernon Wells and Bautista in both categories. His .811 OPS is fourth among outfielders with at least 1,000 plate appearances.

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