Albert Belle Wasn’t A Media Darling, But His Elite Talent Was Undeniable

Albert Belle Wasn’t A Media Darling, But His Elite Talent Was Undeniable

By Devon POV Mason | Contributor

Albert Belle was a great baseball player but one who was labeled as moody, grouchy, and downright nasty to some during his career. The fact that he was an outspoken Black man who didn’t pander to white media didn’t help him either. His career lasted just 12 seasons. Imagine the stats he could’ve compiled had he been able to play a half-decade more in the bigs.

Belle’s career was cut short by a hip injury, and in a blink, he was gone. But not before he produced one of the most offensively potent decades of his generation. No pitcher, no matter how great or well-liked, could intimidate or embarrass Belle.

For the baseball writers who dealt with him, Belle was probably easily forgotten. For many, it was probably good riddance. His legacy since retiring in 2000 has been like a disappearing act. The former Indians slugger hasn’t made one appearance at Progressive Field aka “The Jake” to re-connect with the team or fans in retirement. In 2016, he was a no-show when the Indians inducted Belle into its Hall of Fame.

Belle apparently still holds a grudge with former Indians skipper John Hart, which still lingers to this day. In the 2017 MLB Network documentary “The Dynasty That Almost Was” (about the powerful 1990s Indians), Belle blames Hart for not keeping the nucleus of the team together, and “ruining the Indians dynasty.”

 

 

Belle left Cleveland for Chicago, joining the White Sox for a then-record $55 million after the 1996 season. Indians fans instantly turned on Bell, who continued to mash the baseball in the “Windy City.”

Upon retirement in 2000, Belle’s Hall of Fame discussion quickly became complicated and tainted by opinions of him off the field.

 

These MLB Bros Should Be In Baseball Hall Of Fame

 

His former manager Mike Hargrove told folks why.

“Maybe if Albert had shaken a few more hands and said hello to a few more people he might have had a shot at it.” I doubt he’ll ever get in, although he should be in.”

Belle’s big-league career began with the Indians in 1989, but he played in just 71 games in his first two seasons. By 1991, he was a full-time outfielder. Those 10 full seasons as a starter were some of the best offensive seasons of his era.

In the 1994 and 1995 strike-shortened seasons, it wasn’t outlandish to say he was arguably the most feared hitter in the majors. In 106 games in 1994, he hit .357, while slugging at a ridiculous .714 clip, with 36 home runs and 101 runs batted in. Belle’s numbers that season projected over 162 games; 55 homers and 154 RBI.

 

 

The next season in 143 games, he led the league with 50 homers, 52 doubles, 121 runs, 126 RBIs, and slugged .690. Another monster season followed in 1996 with 48 homers, 148 RBIs and a .311 batting average.

The 1998 season is remembered as the Sammy Sosa vs Mark McGuire home run show, as they were chasing and cheating their way to Roger Maris’ single-season HR mark of 61. While the rest of the league was basically ignored as media went all-in on the homer chase, Bell was again off the charts, mashing 48 homers, with a career-high 152 RBIs, while batting a sizzling .328. Belle also led the league in slugging (.655) OPS (1.055), and total bases (399).

With Belle though, came the good and the bad. In 1994 there was the famous corked-bat incident during a game at the White Sox, for which he was suspended.

In 1995, despite being the first player in baseball history to hit 50 homers and 50 doubles in the same season, his frigid relationship with the media turned out to be a real issue as Baseball writers voted Red Sox slugger Mo Vaughn AL MVP. That same year, Belle also had a profanity-laced tirade directed at NBC’s Hannah Storm and other media members which made headlines during the 1995 World Series.

Despite the drama, when it came to performing on the field and in the clutch… you know baseball stuff…the stuff that matters… few were better.

 

 

As well all know, Albert Belle has a checkered past on and off the field as it pertains to his behavior and decency towards others. His actions will probably never be overlooked, and that’s fine either way.

But when you peel back the layers, Stevie Wonder can see that Belle’s ability and production are easily Hall of Fame worthy.

These MLB Bros Should Be In Baseball Hall Of Fame

These MLB Bros Should Be In Baseball Hall Of Fame


 

Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame. We know this. Bonds was already considered a Hall of Famer with the Pittsburgh Pirates before his alleged “juicing” accusations. According to MLB Network, BB had an 8.4 career WAR before he ever started blasting missiles into the waters of McCovey Cove, which sits past the right-field wall at AT&T Park.

Before he eventually zoomed past the great Hank Aaron for No. 1 on MLB’s coveted all-time home run list.

This particular list encompasses the greatest overlooked MLBbros. Black and Brown players who have not garnered enough votes to be inducted into the Hall of Fame (and probably never will) but should be more seriously considered.

Those Bros not named Barry Bonds.

Curt Flood 

Flood’s daughter Shelly told legendary baseball writer Bill Rhoden: “I want my father in the Hall of Fame because I understand that that institution houses the history; he is an important part of that history.”

On the 50th Anniversary of Flood vs. Kuhn, there was a petition for Flood to be inducted into Cooperstown. It should have happened in 2019 when Harold Baines, Lee Smith, and others got in. It didn’t happen in 2020 either.

 

As Rhoden said, “none of them has Flood’s revolutionary resume although each benefited from Flood’s act of defiance.”

Flood is best known for sacrificing his own career and sanity to introduce free agency to Major League Baseball, and the rest of American pro sports by proxy. His idolization of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Jackie Robinson, who just broke the color line in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, drew the then impressionable 24-year-old to Mississippi to participate in a non-violent protest.

It would change his life forever. His sacrifice, and subsequent abandonment by other MLB players, caused a deep depression that resulted in a divorce, a move to Spain, alcoholism and premature death in 1997 at 59 years old.  

Flood, a historical icon to players who have salaries in the hundreds of millions now,  was never appreciated by the MLB community while he was alive

Gary Sheffield 

A menacing power bat, who also could also hit for average like the other studs on this list, Sheffield shook his wooden club  back and forth and blasted 509 homers in a 22-year career that spanned three decades and styles of play. He has more home runs than any African-American player of his generation with the exception of Ken Griffey Jr. (630) and the Big Hurt (521).

 

 

Sheffield’s outspoken nature and his discord with the media, as well as PED rumors (and a stint with the Yankees), has distorted his proper place among the greats of his era. The nephew of Mets pitching legend Dwight Gooden was a multi-tool phenom who started out as a shortstop and eventually moved to the outfield where he could flex his huge arm.

Despite nagging injuries, Sheffield managed to reach statistical standards that should make him a Hall of Famer. He’s got BBWAA HOF writer Rob Parker’s magic number of 500 homers.  I mean, you’re going to tell me that Jeff Bagwell is that much better than Sheff, if at all?

Dick Allen

More than 40 years after the feared slugger has retired and four months after his death on Dec. 7, 2020, Allen is still waiting to be inducted in Cooperstown. During a period characterized as the second dead ball era because homer production was low and pitchers were dominant on the mound, Allen batted .292, slugged .534, and had an OBP of .378 during his 15-year career. Statistically, he is a Top 20 hitter in MLB history.

 

 

Swinging a Paul Bunyan style 40 oz. bat, Allen became a seven-time All-Star, won the ’64 NL Rookie of the Year Award, the ’72 American League MVP Award and was considered one of the most feared hitters of his generation. He led the American League in homers twice, ending his career with 351 blasts and 1,119 RBIs. He was a model of consistency, hitting at least 20 homers in 10 seasons, including six seasons with at least 30.

The first decade of his career alone is Hall of Fame worthy as he was arguably the best player in the game. He was also a black first baseman and third baseman, which is relatively non-existent in today’s pro game. The racism and bigotry Allen endured in Philadelphia is another accomplishment that should have secured his case for the Hall of Fame.

 

Fred “Crime Dog” McGriff

McGriff hit 493 homers in his MLB career. Clean homers. But baseball’s HOF voting committee doesn’t deem the guy we called Crime Dog worthy of HOF induction. His career has been described as “subtle” and “very good” but not “elite”. He might end up with more homers than any PED-free player to never make Cooperstown.

McGriff was just never a transcending personality. He was tall and his bat was thundering, but few folks put the words “great” and “Fred McGriff” in the same sentence.

Some say McGriff was overshadowed by the prolific stars of his era.

 

 

He finished with the same number of dingers as Lou Gehrig, but the soft-spoken slugger broke in with Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds and other larger-than-life stars of the late ’80s and ’90s.

These more charismatic superstars soaked up all of the media ink and left few accolades or national commercial spots for a guy who played for mediocre franchises in Tampa, Toronto and San Diego at the beginning of his career, before joining Atlanta and contributing to a World Series team.

He did have a nickname though and you have to earn those in baseball. They mean something.

He’s easily among the elite first baseman to ever play. Albert Pujols actually has just one more homer than McGriff when it comes to home runs hit as a first baseman (463). They both trail just Mark McGwire (566).

McGriff was thorough like Chuck Scarborough and he hit .284 for his career which started in 1986 and ended in 2004, continuing Eddie Murray’s lofty standard at that position for African-Americans. Putting McGriff in Cooperstown is certainly not lowering the standards.

Dave Parker

David Parker is nicknamed “The Cobra.” Parker was a feared slugger who was a magnificent outfielder and could also hit for average.

Big Dave was the 1978 National League MVP and a two-time batting champion. His dynamic skill set was not ignored as Parker broke financial ground for MLB players by becoming the first professional athlete to earn an average of one million dollars per year, having signed a 5-year, $5 million contract in January 1979.

Parker’s career achievements are lethal. However, a drug problem eroded his skills and contributed to injuries and bad knees that hindered his production and reputation.

Still, Parker managed to pump out 2,712 hits, 339 home runs, 1,493 runs batted in and a lifetime batting average of .290. Since retiring, the 69-year-old Parker has had both of his knees replaced and in 2013, he confirmed that he’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Criticisms aside, Parker was undoubtedly one of the most talented and dominant players to ever grace a diamond. His contributions to the game are not appreciated fully to this day.

Kenny Lofton

From 1992 to 1999, there weren’t many leadoff men or centerfielders who could compete with Kenny Lofton. 

After being traded from the Houston Astros to the Cleveland Indians, Lofton was a top-of-the-order nightmare that set up sluggers like Carlos Baerga, Manny Ramirez, and Albert Belle, as the Indians went from joke to within one game of winning the World Series in 1995.

 

 

At his peak, Lofton could most fairly be compared to Hall of Famer Tim Raines, who also sat on the ballot for a number of years before finally being enshrined in 2017. When Raines was selected, he was the only player in major league history with at least 100 triples, 150 home runs and 600 stolen bases.

For his career, in 17 seasons with 11 franchises, Lofton collected 2428 hits (116 triples), 130 home runs, 781 runs batted in, 945 walks, and 622 stolen bases. Though he trails Raines in home runs, Lofton played in almost 400 fewer games.

Albert Belle

Standing at the plate, gripping his bat tightly and staring with unparalleled intensity, Albert Belle was possibly the most fearsome hitter in the American League for a decade.

The numbers don’t lie. The five-time Silver Slugger award winner finished in the top five of the AL most valuable player voting in five out of six seasons from 1992 to 1998.

 

 

As a full-time left fielder and designated hitter for the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, and Baltimore Orioles, Belle averaged 37 home runs and 120 RBIs per season with 95 runs scored. His .295 career batting average, 381 home runs, and 1239 RBIs should be enough to put him among the all-time greats, but voters have never given Belle strong consideration.

His strained relationship with the media, the Indians, off-field troubles, and his essential disappearance from the game after the 1993 season have overshadowed the excellence of the only player to hit 50 home runs and 50 doubles in the same season.

As MLB evolves and metrics change the way the game is packaged, the Black baseball player continues to fight its way back into baseball’s bloodstream. In reflection, we can fully appreciate just how great some of these overlooked Black and Brown Hall of Famers were.