People power: Bell elected, along with Cheek, Raines, Ducey, Bailey

* George Bell, elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, shown here after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to Jose Bautista whose childhood fave was Bell.  Also elected were broadcaster Tom Cheek, Tim RainesRob Ducey and Nat Bailey, the former triple-A Vancouver owner. .... 2012 Most Influential Canadians 2012 All-Canadian Team 2012 All-Canadian stats


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By Bob Elliott

The Q-and-A session at this winter’s inaugural Spring Training for Fans course at Seneca College was in session.

“Why,” asked Ted Shillington, “is there only one player currently on the Blue Jays Level of Excellence who has not been honoured by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame?”

That, of course, would have been George Bell.

Course founder Bill Humber explained that, to be elected to any Hall of Fame, a candidate needs someone to champion his cause.

An hour later — two days before votes were cast — Humber relayed Shillington’s question to 16 induction committee members from eight provinces, during a regularly schedule conference call.

And on Thursday, Bell — along with former Jays broadcaster Tom Cheek, Montreal Expos speedster Tim Raines, 13-year veteran Rob Ducey and Nat Bailey, the former triple-A Vancouver owner — were elected to the Canadian hall at St. Marys. Ceremonies take place June 27-29, with the induction Saturday June 29.

It is a diverse group of inductees.

“Growing up, I remember being inspired watching Bell, Raines and Ducey on the field,” said the Hall’s Scott Crawford. “I was captivated the way Tom Cheek called a game on radio. Bailey’s contributions came before I was born, but I’ve learned a lot about the positive impact he has had on baseball in B.C.”

Bell was scooped up by the Blue Jays from the Philadelphia Phillies organization in the Rule V draft at the 1980 winter meetings and stayed until the 1990 meetings when he signed as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs.

The slugging outfielder was here through the good times, winning the 1987 American League MVP award. But even that didn’t erase the pain of losing the final seven games and the American League East title to the Detroit Tigers, Bell finishing 2-for-26 with Tony Fernandez and Ernie Whitt both injured.

He was here through bad times, such as when he was booed by fans after making an error after crashing into the wall and having the ball pop loose against the Orioles.

“Those fans, they can kiss my purple butt,” Bell told reporter Allan Ryan.

He was there for the laughs — and still is as a minor-league instructor — with president Paul Beeston, former manager Cito Gaston and young players trying to learn.

We’ll never forget Bell’s salary arbitration hearing in 1988 in Manhattan, which was five minutes late starting, then 10 minutes late, then 15 and then a burst of laughter came from down the hall.

The arbitrator was dismissed and a press conference was held as the Jays, plus agents Randal and Alan Hendricks, had reached a multi-year deal.

Someone asked Bell, coming off his MVP honour, what the laughing was about.

“That was Beeston,” said Bell. “We agreed on terms, we’re ready to shake hands and Beeston insists on a comeback-player-of-the-year clause being added.

“How do you come back from winning the MVP?”

Told that his St. Marys speech had to be under two hours, Bell said: “How ’bout two minutes, 30 seconds?”

The Jays and the Expos have fielded teams for a combined 72 seasons, producing three batting champs (Al Oliver, John Olerud and Raines), five Cy Young Award winners (Roger Clemens, twice, Pedro Martinez, Pat Hentgen, Roy Halladay), six trips to the post-season and one MVP: Bell.

The timing of the Canadian induction will make for a busy month for Shirley Cheek, Tom’s wife, along with their three children: Lisa of Oakville; Tom, Jr., of Woodford, Va. and Jeff of Waxhaw, N.C.

They, along with 43 other relatives, will be in Cooperstown from July 26-29 as Cheek is honoured with the 2012 Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting.

“Tom would be so proud to know that he is being honoured by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame,” Saint Shirley told the HOF. “I’ll do my best to represent him.”

Cheek joins Baseball America founder Allan Simpson as the only media members elected to the St. Marys hall.

Cambridge’s Ducey made his big league debut in 1987 and eventually played left field for the Jays and Expos, having the longest career of any Ontario position player since Jeff Heath in the 1940s.

His first major league homer came on Sept. 14, 1987 as the Jays hit a big league record 10 homers to defeat the Orioles 18-3.

The Toronto-born native played parts of five more seasons with the Jays, prior to being dealt to the Angels in 1992. He also spent time with the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies, two years with the Nippon Ham Fighters, returning home to the Jays and Expos.

Ducey is also one of only four Canadians (Shawn Hill, Matt Stairs and Denis Boucher) to play for both the Jays and Expos.

During Bell’s MVP season, Raines led the National League with 123 runs scored. He married Shannon Watson of Arnprior, Ont., and lived north of Ottawa in the off-season.

Raines was one of the best lead-off hitters in major league history. From 1981-87, he made seven consecutive all-star teams and was MVP of the 1987 all-star game in Oakland, when he had the game-winning hit in extras.

Will Raines’ trip to St. Marys be a forerunner of a trip to Cooperstown as it was for Gary Carter and Andre Dawson, Raines’ best pal?

And who will kingmaker Shillington ask about next?

Bob ElliottComment