Simply Baseball Notebook's Forgotten In Time

Albert Belle

Hilton Smith
Larry Doby
Seattle Pilots
1994 Expos
Ray Chapman
Flashes in the Pan
Steve Blass
St. Louis Browns
Wally Pipp
Rocky Colavito
Dom DiMaggio
Ellis Valentine
Bill Buckner
Jim Bottomley
The Federal League
Stuart 'Slim' Jones
Billy Hamilton
Ed Delahanty
Eddie Waitkus
George Davis
Riggs Stephenson
1920 White Sox
Luke Easter
Herb Washington
Eddie Robinson
Bobby Mathews
Jimmy Ryan
A.G. Spalding
"Dummy" Hoy
Albert Belle
Jack Quinn
Ken Williams
Al Oliver
Jack Taylor
Fred Lindstrom
Jim Thorpe


Cleveland Indians 1989-96
Chicago White Sox 1997-98
Baltimore Orioles 1999-2000

"I am not going to change my personality because someone wants me to."

To his detractors, Albert Belle was Mike Tyson in cleats. To his fans, he was misunderstood and given a bad rap by the media. What gets lost in the argument about his personality and forgotten because his career ended so abruptly, is that Belle was one of the most feared hitters in major league history.

Born Albert Jojuan Belle on August 25, 1966 in Shreveport, LA, he became an Eagle Scout as a youngster. The son of school teachers, he graduated 4th in his high school class and attended nearby Louisiana State University (LSU). Known at the time as Joey (short for Jojuan), Belle set several school records at LSU before a behavioral related suspension cost him a chance to play in the College World Series.

Despite concerns about his attitude and rumors about his character, the Cleveland Indians selected the troubled prodigy in the second round of the 1987 amateur draft. Belle debuted with the Indians on July 15, 1989, and appeared in 62 games that season, hitting 7 homeruns in 218 at bats.

After missing most of the 1990 due to alcohol related problems, Belle returned the big leagues in 1991 using his given name, Albert. Although he gave a glimpse of his potential, hitting 28 homeruns and driving in 95, his season was marred by one ugly incident with a fan.

On May 11, a fan unmercifully heckled Belle, a recovering alcoholic, yelling such taunts "Hey Joey -- keg party at my place after the game, c'mon over." Belle finally snapped. The young outfielder turned and threw a baseball at the fan, drilling him in the chest. For this offense, he was suspended for one week and ordered to donate a week's pay to a charity of his choice.

Belle continued to progress over the next two seasons. In 1992, he hit 34 homeruns, followed by a 1993 campaign in which he smacked out 38 longballs and led the AL with 129 RBI. The following season, the slugging outfielder established himself as one of the game's elite players.

In the strike-shortened 1994 season, Belle finished second in the league with a career high .357 average and third in the AL with 36 homeruns and 101 RBI. But once again, an outstanding season was tainted by controversy.

On July 15 in Chicago, Belle was accused of using a corked bat by White Sox manager Gene LaMont. The umpires confiscated the bat and put in their dressing room, but that was just the beginning of the chicanery. In an attempt to keep their star player from being suspended, the Indians sent rookie reliever Jason Grimsley up into the paneled ceiling. Grimsley then crawled about 100 feet and came down inside the umpire's dressing room. He then replaced Belle's bat with teammate Paul Sorrento's.

It didn't work, the umpires quickly realized that the bat in their dressing room was not Belle's (the fact that "SORRENTO" was inscribed on it may have been a clue) and demanded one of Belle's bats. He finally obliged and after a test indicated the bat was indeed corked, the star-crossed outfielder was suspended for seven games.

The 1995 season, for a variety of reasons, was the most memorable in Belle's career. The volatile slugger led the Tribe to it's first pennant since 1954, and became the first player hit 50 homeruns and 50 doubles in the same season. All told, he led the league in six offensive categories: runs, doubles, homeruns, RBI, slugging percentage, and total bases.

Despite the historic season, Belle was not the American League MVP. Instead the award went to Boston's Mo Vaughn. Belle out hit Vaughn .317 to .300, out homered him 50 to 39, had 33 more extra base hits, out slugged him .690 to .575 and reached base at .401 clip compared to Vaughn's .388. To top it off, Belle's Indians finished with the best record in the majors.

The one thing Belle didn't do was endear himself to the sportswriters, the very people that vote on the award. In one of the closest votes ever, Vaughn received one more first place vote than Belle (12 to 11) and won the award by eight points (308 to 300). It was a travesty.

Belle however, got the last laugh. In Game 1 of AL Division series against Vaughn's Red Sox, Belle's 11th inning homerun tied the game at 4. After the blast, Boston mangager Kevin Kennedy asked the umpires to check the bat for cork, Belle responded by looking into the camera focused on him in the dugout, flexing his right arm, pointing to his bicep, and clearly mouthing "There's your f****'n cork."

Tony Pena's solo homerun in the 13th inning won the game, no cork was found in Belle's bat, and the Indians went on to sweep Boston. Vaughn went 0-14 in the series. The Tribe then defeated Seattle in six games in the ALCS to advance to World Series.

Unfortunately, Belle's most remembered moment in the in the six game loss to the Atlanta Braves was an incident that occurred with a media member prior to Game 3. Belle upset that NBC's Hannah Storm was in the team's dugout so close to game time, unleashed a profanity-laced tirade in her direction and chased the reporter out of the area. The commissioner's office reviewed the incident and Belle was hit with a $50,000 fine, the largest ever at the time.

As intimidating as Belle could be to the media, he was even more so at the plate. With his biceps bulging, he stared at the opposing pitcher with a menacing scowl that left you wondering if he would rather rip a line drive over the centerfield wall or run out to the mound and beat the pitcher down with his Louisville Slugger.

In any event, the prolific run producer returned to Cleveland in 1996 for what would be his final season as an Indian. While warming up in the outfield on April 6, Belle became irate when a photographer began snapping pictures of him. First Belle issued a warning, but the photographer kept clicking. Never one to negotiate, Belle threw two baseballs in his direction. After yet another league investigation, Belle was ordered to undergo anger management counseling and perform community service. The trouble however, didn't end there.

On May 31 in Milwaukee, while attempting to break up a double play, Belle hit Brewer's second baseman Fernando Vina with a forearm shiver. In the 9th inning of that same game he was hit by a pitch, and when the Indians retaliated in the bottom of the inning, a brawl insued. Belle, along with two others, were suspended five days for the incident.

Belle seemed to thrive off the controversy, he hit .311 with 48 homers, and led the AL with 148 RBI. He narrowly missed becoming the first player since Babe Ruth to post back-to-back 50 homerun seasons. The Indians meanwhile, won the AL Central, but lost to Baltimore in the Division Series.

Now a free agent, Belle inked a five year $55 million contract with the Chicago White Sox that made him the highest paid player in the game. Although his numbers dipped in 1997 (.274, 30 HR, 116 RBI), he did manage to tie a franchise record with a 27 game hitting streak.

In Chicago, Belle's icy relationship with the media continued. Although their were no major incidents, he was fined $5,000 for making an "obscene gesture" to the crowd at Jacobs Field in his return to Cleveland in June 1997.

The enigmatic slugger returned to form in 1998, finishing third in the AL with a .328 average, second in homeruns with 49 and RBI with 152, all while pacing the circuit with a .655 slugging percentage and 399 total bases. Following the season, he exercised a clause in his contract that made him a free agent once again (the clause stated that if he was not among the top three highest paid players in the game, he could become a free agent).

After receiving offers from the Yankees and Red Sox, Belle signed a five year deal worth $65 million with Baltimore -- the team he grew up following. At the press conference announcing the deal, Belle said he had turned over a new leaf and would be more cooperative with the media.

The good vibes didn't last through Spring Training. When a reporter wrote that he had been slamming bats around in the clubhouse after a tough game, Belle boycotted the press altogether. He did, however, start off on good terms with the fans, when he belted a 3 run homer on Opening Day.

By summer time, it seemed Belle had already worn out his welcome. On June 11, he was benched by Orioles manager Ray Miller for supposedly not running out a ground ball. The benching ended his streak of 392 consecutive games played -- the longest such streak at the time.

After a slow start to the season, Belle rebounded to hit .297 with 37 homers and 117 RBI in 1999. It was his eighth straight 30+ homerun/100+ RBI season. Only Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx have equaled the feat.

The 2000 season would be Belle's last. After playing in extreme pain for much of the year, he was diagnosed with an inflamed bursa sac in his right hip. The condition was diagnosed as degenerative and limited him to designated hitter duties. Finally, the pain became too great and Belle sat out much of the final month of the season before homering on October 1, in what would be his final major league game. Belle finished the 2000 campaign with 23 homeruns and 103 RBI. His 30/100 streak ended at eight.

When the pain persisted into Spring Training in 2001, it was clear that Belle's career was over. On March 8 the Orioles announced that Belle was "totally disabled and unable to perform as a major league baseball player." Insurance covered much of the $37 million left on his contract.

In his 12 year career, Belle posted a .295 batting average, scored 974 runs, smacked 381 homeruns, and collected 1,239 RBI. Not counting his first two seasons (1989-90), in which he played just 71 games combined, Belle hit 373 homers and drove in 1,199 in ten full seasons. That's an average of over 37 homeruns and nearly 112 RBI per year. Few men in history can match that production.

While there is no denying that Belle had his faults, there is another lesser known side of the man. Throughout his career and into retirement, he has donated substantial amounts of money to scholarship funds and youth baseball clinics. He does his best to keep these actions private. Belle also is an avid chess player and writer. He wrote columns for the Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Press, including poem to Orioles fans on Christmas 1998.

Today, Albert Belle has all but vanished from the public eye. He lives in Arizona and reportedly spends much of his time on the golf course.

-David Zingler, June 2004


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