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.
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.