|Image courtesy of Ninety Feet of Perfection|
On Opening Day 1977, it was Doug Ault who was the hero that slugged two home runs en route to the Blue Jays first ever victory. 11 years later, George Bell did him one better.
Having just narrowly missed the playoffs on the final game of the 1987 season, I’m sure the Toronto Blue Jays were hungrier than ever to redeem themselves the following year. They had a lot of prove to not only the fans, but themselves as well.
George Bell was always known for being a very outspoken player during his tenure in Toronto, but he may have overstepped his boundaries during the the 1987 offseason. He signed a three year/$5.8 million contract extension, however not without a few hiccups.
Bell didn’t take too lightly to the news that manager Jimy Williams wanted to use him as the team’s designated hitter during the 1988 season. Here’s a small excerpt from the Toronto Blue Jays 25th Anniversary Commemorative Book:
“When Bell finally showed up – late – for spring training, he refused to accept the DH job. He went so far as to sit out an exhibition game against Boston on March 17, forcing Williams to pinch hit for him as he sat in the bullpen indefinitely.
An uneasy peace was eventually reached and when the Blue Jays opened the season on April 4, Campusano was in centre, Moseby was in left and George Bell was the designated hitter. The experiment would last two weeks.”
Despite his off-field antics, George Bell came to bat on Opening Day 1998 and wasted absolutely no time in reminding folks why he was the defending American League MVP.
In his first at bat of the game in the top of the second, he ripped the first offering from Bret Saberhagen into the stands at Royals Stadium for a solo home run.
In his second at bat of the game, this time George Bell had Lloyd Moseby on first base due to an error by Royals first baseman Steve Balboni. Bret Saberhagen learned his lesson from the first time around and worked Bell to a 2-2 count.
Once again, George Bell took Bret Saberhagen deep but this time it helped propel the Blue Jays into the lead and the score stood at 3-2 for the Blue Jays.
In the top of the sixth inning, Saberhagen finally got the better of Bell as he lined out to left field. That must have been a huge sigh of relief for Brett Saberhagen as George Bell had gotten the best of him in the two previous at bats.
Fast forward to the top of the eighth inning and the Blue Jays were clinging to a 4-3 lead over the Royals. Brett Saberhagen was still on the mound trying to keep his team in the game, and up to the plate comes his nemesis George Bell.
It turns out the third time would be the charm for Bell because he took a 2-1 offering from the Royals ace over the fence in left field for his third home run of the game. The Blue Jays would tack on one more run and beat the Royals 5-3 on Opening Day 1988.
George Bell was responsible for 4 of the 5 Blue Jays runs alone, and he set an Opening Day record for most home runs in a game which still stands to this day. Only Tuffy Rhodes and Dmitri Young have matched that feat of three dingers on Opening Day.
George Bell proved to be quite the handful, but as he proved on Opening Day 1988, his contributions on the field certainly outweighed his antics off the field.