TORONTO -- The largest regular season crowd in Toronto's baseball history enjoyed the best of two worlds Thursday night. The spectators saw the Blue Jays beat the Boston Red Sox and they had ample opportunity to boo the Blue Jays' left fielder, George Bell.

Toronto fans are the quietest in the American League, except perhaps for Seattle, where there never has been a reason to shout. But the noise level in the SkyDome rises in multiple decibels whenever Bell performs at less than the level expected of a $2 million-a-year player.

Unfortunately for Bell, that happens all too often. Twice on Thursday he lost fly balls in the lights that fell for hits. Coming to the plate after his second misadventure, he fertilized the razzberries by watching three straight strikes from Boston reliever Daryl Irvine.

If the scene on the field was predictable, the postgame events were not. Long after game's end, two Toronto players sat at their lockers, patiently answering questions from the media. One was Mookie Wilson, the hero. The other was George Bell.

This was not the Bell of the raging temper, either. That stereotypical Bell fanned the flames of critical Toronto fans in the past by calling them innovative names -- "Jealous, beer-drinking yahoos" was one of the best -- and suggesting they perform outrageous acts.

This time he was far more diplomatic as he discussed his obvious unpopularity in a city where he is the all-time leader in home runs (201) and RBI (731), owns a career .287 average and is the only Blue Jay ever to be voted American League MVP (1987).

"They like to boo me here," he said. "They have fun booing me. I guess a lot of people in Toronto think I'm overpaid, but I know I'm doing the job I'm paid for and when I can't do the job I'll retire.

"Maybe they think I'm the worst outfielder in the league. But I think I'm doing a good job. I don't make excuses, I just go out there and play hard. They should be happy they've got a $2 million man who goes out and plays every day. Oakland has a $25 million man {a reference to injury-prone Jose Canseco} who can't play every day like I can."

Bell is not reluctant to run into the SkyDome wall to make a catch. But he admits he has become skittish about camping under a ball after he has lost it in the oddly angled lights of baseball's newest park.

"It's a $300 million ballpark and it's got the worst lights in the league," he said. "I said last year to the front-office people, 'Somebody's going to get hurt out there.' They have to make the decision. But I'm not going to get hit anymore. If I can't see it, I'm not going to try to catch it."

The Blue Jays' management will have another decision to make after this season, because Bell will become a free agent and he expects that $2 million salary to rise considerably. Surprisingly, he claims he wants to stay here and has been experimenting with a first baseman's mitt as a possible means of extending his career.

"A lot of people would probably like to see me go next year," he said. "I can't say if I'm coming back or not, because I don't know yet. I don't mind staying here five more years, but if the front office wants me to come back they'll have to show me they do.

"A lot of guys on other teams are signing for five years, but {General Manager} Pat Gillick doesn't like to go long term. He always expects me to break down. He has confidence in me at the plate and confidence in me going after a fly ball, but he never has confidence I'll finish a season, so I don't think he'll want to give me five years.

"I know I'm going to be a free agent and the free-agent market is going to be big. I'll tell you this. My daddy always said, 'You make the decisions and don't let anybody change them.' I haven't made my decision, but, when I do, I don't plan to change it."

Aside from the critical fans, Bell is unhappy with the low fees the Blue Jays receive for appearances. He recently rejected a commercial for Bell Canada, claiming he spent as much money on a month of long-distance calls as he would have been paid for it, and has refused to do any others until the price is right.

Much of his outside income is turned over to charities in his native Dominican Republic, where he and ex-teammate Alfredo Griffin have set up a foundation to help youngsters and the poor.

"Advertising people have to realize that we get paid a lot of dollars and are like movie stars," Bell said. "People scream at us and about us and we create a lot of money for these companies."

He long has felt that Latin-American players are the object of discrimination. It is a feeling that probably dates back to his pro baseball debut, as an 18-year-old with the Philadelphia Phillies' rookie team at Helena, Mont., in 1978. Because he couldn't read the English menu, he ate fried chicken at every meal for weeks, until a teammate finally helped him out.

"Latin Americans have always been discriminated against in North America," he said. "I always had it tough and nothing ever came easy. But at least on this team the guys know what the Dominican players {Bell, Tony Fernandez, Manny Lee and Junior Felix} have done."

Unspoken but implied is the thought that the present manager, Cito Gaston, has more respect for Bell and his countrymen than departed Jimy Williams. Bell and Williams feuded publicly, especially when Williams wanted to make Bell a designated hitter, and Bell made it plain that baseball was no fun with Williams pulling the strings.

"Now we're a team, together out there," Bell said. "We still disagree on some things, but the big thing is that Cito keeps the peace. He listens to us, but he makes the decisions."

Hordes of media surrounded Gaston Thursday night and several tried to lure him into criticizing Bell. But none was forthcoming.

"You can miss a ball," Gaston said. "I don't hold that against a player. There have been some complaints about seeing the ball in left field and right field. Before the game Mookie {Wilson} was telling Kenny {Williams} about how tough it is to see against that sky. He didn't miss those balls for lack of effort."

Jimy Williams no doubt would have been less tactful and Bell the same. But while the Blue Jays are under pressure to achieve the first-place finish everyone predicted for them at least they are maintaining their focus -- and, in at least one case, restraining their tempers.

Now 30, with four sons and the baseball-crazy natives of the Dominican Republic looking up to him, Bell apparently has learned to turn the other cheek. That could be the last ingredient he needs to gain recognition as one of baseball's best.