Albert Belle was one of the most feared athletes, both on and off the field. Albert produced some offensive seasons that challenged those of the greatest sluggers the game has ever known. With a lifetime .295 batting average, 381 home runs, and a .564 slugging average, Belle does not belong in the Hall of Fame. One need not worry. The only way he will get in is to pay the admission fee.
Albert Belle and Ralph Kiner
In the era of "Arena Baseball" that has existed since the 1994 World Series was cancelled, Belle's slugging accomplishments are less meaningful than they would have been if he had played right after World War II. Ralph Kiner, the antithesis of Belle as a person, had similar lifetime numbers. Kiner played ten seasons, batted .279, hit 369 home runs, and had a .548 slugging average, but Kiner did it when other players, with exceptions such as Stan Musial, Johnny Mize, Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio, did not. Kiner is a Hall of Famer.
A Tricky Clause
Albert Belle could hit. When the 1994 season was stopped after the games of August 12, Belle was a threat to win the Triple Crown with his .357 batting average, 36 home runs, and 101 RBIs. In the shortened 1995 season, Belle became the first player to hit 50 doubles and 50 home runs. At the end of 1996, Belle signed with the Chicago White Sox as a free agent, where he spent two years, but after 1998, Belle exercised a little known clause in his contract. If Albert Belle were not one of the three highest paid players in the game at the end of the second year of the contract, he could become a free agent, which is what happened.
Albert Wasn't Always Nice to Others
The demand for Albert's services varied because Albert wasn't always nice to people and his actions were a distraction. Before Game 3 of the 1995 World Series, Albert cursed at and then chased reporter Hannnah Storm from the Cleveland Indians' dugout, which resulted in a $50,000 fine. On Halloween that year, some kids threw eggs at Albert's condominium, which prompted him to try to run them over with his Jeep. The next year, Albert fired a baseball at a photographer, and while with the White Sox, he smashed the thermostat in the locker room when players tried to change the temperature. On August 24, 2006, Albert was sentenced to 90 days in jail and 5 years supervised probation on a felony stalking count.
Joe Torre Wanted Albert Belle
When Belle was a free agent in 1998, New York Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner gave general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Torre the green light to pursue Belle's services. "Joe really likes him. He really feels he would fit in," commented Steinbrenner, who had reservations about signing the slugger. Torre told Steinbrenner that Belle "could be successfully incorporated into the Yankees' family."
Bobby Cox Did Not Want Albert Belle
Other teams viewed things differently. In his last year at LSU, after having set hitting records in all the major offensive categories, Belle was suspended for behavior problems and was not allowed to play in the College World Series. When Belle became subject to baseball's amateur draft, Atlanta Braves' general manager Bobby Cox announced to his entire staff, "If you pick Belle in any round, you're fired." The Indians drafted Belle in the second round.
The End of Albert Belle's Career
Belle's career ended prematurely at the end of 2000 due to a degenerative hip condition. He underwent treatment in the off season, but couldn't run. Hitting was too painful and Belle was finished. This past year, the first time he was on the Hall of Fame ballot, he received 40 votes or 7.7 of the votes necessary for election. Belle was good and being compared to Sonny Liston does not preclude a player from being a Hall of Famer, but not being good enough does.
Olney, Buster. "Steinbrenner Tells Williams' Agent: Show Me the Offers; Meanwhile, Talks Continue With Albert Belle Representatives." New York Times. 21 November 1998, p. D1
Olney, Buster. "For Yankees It's Plan B, As in Belle." New York Times. 24 November 1998, p. D1