Hip Forces Belle out of Baseball…

By John A. Poole
Updated: November 20, 2007

Albert BelleGLEN BURNIE, MARYLAND — When the term consistency is used in baseball, do we really understand what it means? Webster’s Dictionary defines the term as, “the reliability or uniformity of successive results or events.” Baseball’s own “dictionary” does not use any words to describe the term. Instead, it uses statistics. But it could just as easily use a picture of a man who has exemplified “consistency” for the last 9 years.

Since 1992, Albert Belle of the Baltimore Orioles has been a hitting machine. In 8 straight seasons, from 1992 to 1999, he has hit 30 or more home runs and driven in at least 100 runs, a feat that has been matched by only three other players in the history of baseball. Belle tied Babe Ruth at 8 seasons. Lou Gehrig managed 11 seasons. And Jimmie Foxx had an unmatched 12 straight seasons with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI’s.

Belle has a career batting average of .295, a total hit count at 1,726, and he has only struck out an astonishing 967 times. While these numbers may fall short of the Hall of Fame minimum, Belle has proved that he belongs among the great players in the history of the game.

During the 1990′s, not many players have been as dominant, offensively, as Albert Belle has. In a 10-year span, he accumulated 351 home runs, 1,099 RBI’s, 1,520 hits (of which 389 were doubles), and a slugging percentage above .560. He has been voted to 5 All Star games, hit over 40 home runs three times, is still the only player in baseball history to have 50 home runs and 50 doubles in the same season, and he batted above .300 four times.

Statistics are normally the deciding factor for players being inducted into the illustrious Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. A minimum of 400 home runs and 2,000+ hits can usually guarantee membership in the Hall. Belle has not quite matched these numbers, but it was very obvious that he would have accumulated these totals if it were not for the arthritic hip that is causing him to discontinue his play.

Not meeting the minimum has not stopped other players from making the Hall of Fame. The most recent player is Kirby Puckett of the Minnesota Twins. Puckett’s career was cut short because of an eye problem, glaucoma that caused him to lose vision in his left eye. In his 12 seasons in the big leagues, Puckett managed to put up some good numbers but they were far from great. He did, however, play very well in his post-season appearances and was a media darling, something Belle never was, nor has tried to be.

When comparing the numbers, Belle matched up pretty well with Puckett.

Pos. Player Yrs Games Hits Avg HR RBIs Injury OF Albert Belle 12 1,539 1,726 .295 381 1,239 Hip OF Kirby Puckett 12 1,783 2,304 .318 207 1,085 Glaucoma Using statistics alone, when comparing the two players, shows the dominance that Belle had over his shortened baseball career. What the statistics do not show is the rocky relationship that Belle had with the media, who happen to be the people voting on his induction — or lack thereof.

Over the course of his career, Belle has openly said he will not speak with the media. Belle’s has also earned accolades as the 2nd most prominent villain in baseball, next to Ty Cobb. He hit a taunting fan with a thrown bat at Cleveland Stadium; he was later suspended for 6 games and ordered to give a week’s salary to charity. He bowled over Milwaukee’s Fernando Vina with a forearm to the chin because Vina was in the way while Belle was running to 2nd base. When Belle was doing warm-up stretches before a game, he hit a photographer trying to take pictures of him. But who could forget the all-time great moment when he chased down some neighborhood kids in his SUV because they threw eggs at his house one Halloween?

Of course, these actions will have an impact on the voters who decide whether or not Belle makes it to the Hall of Fame. But, there are other things that also need to be contemplated before the decision is made. For instance, Belle held the longest “active-consecutive-game-played” streak — once Cal Ripken’s was finally over. While Belle was in Cleveland, he continually sold out the stadium for 6 straight seasons, taking the Indians to the playoffs in three of those years and to the Divisional Championship game twice. Although Belle has never had the opportunity to win a World Series ring, he was one of the most feared players in baseball and proved his worth in both divisional championship series’.

For a complete decade, Belle was in the top five of almost every offensive category that has been thought up. If the game was on the line, Belle was the one you wanted at the plate. He was a clutch player and should be commended for his talents and skills on the field. Hopefully, the voters will look at Belle’s extraordinary athletic efficiency. His short time in the league was one of the most dominating in baseball. He should be judged on his skill and worth to the game and not on his actions off the field, no matter how distasteful they may have been.