Although George Bell was one of the greatest run producers of the 1980s, he is best known as a player involved in one of baseball’s most lopsided trades. Nearing the end of his career, George was traded by the Cubs to the White Sox for left-handed relief pitcher Ken Patterson and some young outfielder named Sammy Sosa. Although Bell was a former MVP winner and four-time 100 RBI man, he is regarded as the aging piece it took to acquire Sosa.
Originally signed by the Phillies in 1978, George was a Rule Five Draft steal for the Blue Jays. Plucked by the Jays in the 1980 Rule V Draft, Bell was held on the Toronto roster all season–per rules of the draft–in 1981 before he was farmed back out in 1982. The Rule Five Draft has hurt more careers than helped, and it looked as if Bell would be added to its growing list of casualties when he struggled in the minors in ’82. He returned to Syracuse in ’83 and regained his stroke which allowed for a callup during the season. By the start of the 1984 season, George was in the Majors for good.
Bell had his breakout season in 1989 when he led American League right fielders with 39 doubles. He hit .292 and had the first of what would be eight 20+ homerun seasons. Although George’s greatest asset was his run producing skills, he was noted just as much for his greatest weaknesses: his low on-base percentages and error-prone defense. But a team has to take the good with the bad and when a player drives in 95 runs with a 20 HR/20 SB season–like George did in ’85–his strengths were too positive to ignore. The Jays captured the AL East flag that season and Bell hit KC Royals pitchers at a .321 clip, but in a losing effort.
Toronto reached their peak in 1985 but George had yet to reach the top of the mountain. He took his game up a notch in 1986 when he posted a phenomenal offensive line of 101 runs/198 hits/38 doubles/31 homers/108 RBI/.309 BA/.532 SA. As good of a year Bell had in ’86, he was even better in 1987. That year, George was named the American League’s MVP by leading the circuit in RBI and total bases. He finished second in the homerun and runs scored departments but more amazingly, George was the only AL left fielder to slug over .500–he slugged at a .605 clip.
An off-year for George in 1988 still produced 97 RBI, and even though his homerun output began to slide, he managed to rip more doubles instead, while continuing to post high RBI totals. In ’89, his 41 doubles topped Major League left fielder and he reached the 100 RBI plateau for the third time. Named to the All-Star team in 1990, George’s numbers weren’t as good as the years he failed to make the Mid Summer Classic. The Blue Jays brass coupled Bell’s loss of power with his four seasons of leading left fielders in errors, and decided to part ways with their slugger. He signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Cubs.
In his only year in the National League, Bell represented the Cubs in the All-Star Game. He led NL left fielders in base hits, but he also topped his position peers in errors once again. Since it is much more difficult to hide a poor defender on a National League roster than it is on an American League roster, the Cubs traded him to the White Sox for Sosa and Patterson. The Pale Hose immediately inserted Bell as their everyday designated hitter and he tied for the most RBI by a DH in 1992. But when his ’93 season was interrupted by injury, Bell and his declining skills called it quits.
G 1,587/R 814/H 1,702/2B 308/3B 34/HR 265/RBI 1,002/SB 67/BB 331/SO 771/BA .278/SA .469/OBP .316