During the late 1980s and early 1990s baseball was going through probably its most tumultuous period in its history. There were disputes over the steroids issue and potential labor strikes amongst many other issues that gave the period a very murky view. In looking back, these were some of baseball’s most exciting years as well, players like Daryl Strawberry, Rickey Henderson, Ken Griffey Jr. emerged from this era becoming future Hall of Famers and cementing their destiny in baseball royalty forever. One of those names though is a rather forgotten one despite the hitting and fielding persona that he had. He is not in the Hall of Fame and it seems he would rather disappear from the spotlight. Instead, when he was in the spotlight it was for the wrong reasons and inside the sport and outside of it he was regarded as being asinine to the point that he was intolerable and his departure from the game was praised and it seemed applauded.
Albert Belle for the better part of a decade performed as one of the best hitters in Major League Baseball. His legacy though is not one that it appears baseball wants to remember, he received 7% of the Writers vote to enter the Hall of Fame. He was more of a pain than a success it seemed from looking at his story. He was a great player who always played as though he had something to prove. Not to mention, there was mystery regarding his usage of steroids during the era despite being named as a conspirator in the actions. Belle needs a chance to redeem himself but it seems that even in retirement he wastes his chances to do so. The ultimate question is why it all turned out the way that it did for Albert? Furthermore, what does the future hold for his legacy?
High School, LSU, and 1987 Draft
Albert Belle was not the typical professional athlete and not nearly the person that Major League Baseball would come to know as arrogant and brash. Belle grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana and played both football and baseball growing up. Belle was known for his size for being so young; he possessed an “almost Bo-Jackson” body that helped him become one of the greatest hitters in the Major Leagues. In high school, Belle was not highly recruited in either sport and it seemed that he actually did not want to become a professional athlete. He was a member of the National Honor Society and an Eagle Scout. Belle did not need baseball to be a good citizen, he just had a talent for it. In fact, Belle was offered a full ride scholarship to play baseball at Air Force in Colorado Springs. The Air Force Academy was not known for its athletic prowess and Belle was undecided about what he wanted to do as far as sports. He felt that Colorado was not going to be a good home for Albert being from Northern Louisiana. He decided that if he wanted to make baseball a career that he should look down south within his own state. He took a look in Baton Rouge and was excited to come play for a young Stanley “Skip” Bertman. Bertman would attain fame at Louisiana State University for winning 5 College World Series titles. However, in 1985, Bertman was in his sophomore coaching season. Belle was not highly recruited but he would play a role in keeping LSU relevant for the next three decades. After all, in 1986, the LSU Tigers would make their first appearance in the College World Series and every class since the 1986 class has played in at least one College World Series.
Belle played an exceptional role though during his three seasons at LSU batting .332 with a .670 Slugging Percentage. He was amongst a larger and in many cases better LSU team, but Belle was its most notable player during those years. Bertman set LSU up for success and with players like Albert Belle there was a growing knowledge that LSU would eventually win the College World Series. This did not happen until 1991, but by then LSU was a top-tier baseball team. During Belle’s time at LSU, he also played in an alternate collegiate league, an all-star league of sorts, that various notable players were invited too. The league acted like a summer league and Belle received notoriety from professional scouts at this point. Belle became the draft talk from the 1987 season and he was even considered to be the best hitter in the nation at the time of his college departure. Belle was drafted in the 2nd Round overall by the Cleveland Indians in 1987.
Minor Leagues (1987-1988)
Belle’s career in the minor leagues lasted a mere two seasons before he was called up to Cleveland. He spent time in the Carolina League playing for the Kinston Indians. While with the Indians he played in 198 games in which he hit 39 Home Runs, had 214 hits and 719 plate appearances. Belle’s numbers were not that impressive but the Cleveland Indians were not that impressive at this time either. They had not seen a World Series since 1948 in which they won. Furthermore, films like Major League showed that the Indians as an organization were so bad that they should be put out of their misery. Belle was simply a cog in the Indians machine in 1987 and ’88. He at certain points during his Major League career even returned to the minor leagues because of injuries. In 1990, while with the Indians, Belle appeared in 9 games with Triple-A Affiliate Colorado Springs. He after 1991 he never again returned to the Minor Leagues, he was never injured outside of these seasons and he played extremely well. Major League Baseball was now looking for the next “Bash Brothers” in 1989 and Albert Belle was a single basher all by himself. The Indians called him up that year and Belle never looked back becoming a shining light in the American League. He always finished behind Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco in Oakland, but he was always there.
Cleveland Indians (1989-1996)
Belle arrived in 1989 to Cleveland and played towards the end of the season. He played in 62 games had just under 50 hits and had a slugging percentage of .394. Belle that year turned out to be a better match for the Indians as well playing both Outfield and as a designated hitter for the Indians. He became a primary go-to that year and returned in 1990. 1990 did not go as well for Belle; he struggled with injuries and played in 9 games that year. He had 1 run the entire season, yes you read that correctly 1 run. The Indians finished in 4th place that year and allowed 737 runs while scoring 732 runs that year. The Indians without this statistic would be considered poor but they were heading in a different direction Belle needed to perform to make the Indians a World Series contender. 1991, was a completely different story for Albert Belle. This was the season in which he became Albert Belle. He played in 123 games that year had 130 hits that year with 28 home runs. Belle finished the year with a .863 OPS which was the highest on his team. Belle was an All-Star in his own right with this statistic alone but did not make the cut. Belle was the only thing that the Cleveland Indians had that year that was worth mentioning. The Indians won 57 games that year and finished in last place in their division. They allowed 760 runs that year and barely scored 500 making them one of the worst teams in MLB history. They also averaged one of the worst WAR (Wins Against Replacement) in MLB History as well as Albert Belle averaged 2.5 WAR while the remaining team averaged just over 1.0. That year the Indians were the only team to not have an All-Star. Even Belle did not make the cut.
Skipping ahead to 1993, the Cleveland Indians did not make the playoffs either but Albert Belle played a career record of 159 of 162 games. The three games he missed where due to off the field conduct. He was elected to become an All-Star that year which would be the first of 5, his last coming in 1997. He also hit 38 Home Runs and had a league high 129 RBI’s that year. Albert Belle was finally in his prime and was becoming more noticed around MLB. He was known for his media outburst and his rugged behavior. Belle’s demeanor showed on the field as he trash talked anything and anyone that was in his way. He also recorded 23 stolen bases that year which was his highest in his career in one season. This also was the year in which he had a nearly perfect OPS at .922. That season, Belle was moved exclusively as a designated hitter. Like Barry Bonds, Belle no longer earned his respect as a great fielder, he was a one position player and in doing so earned recognition as being one of the best in the game. The 1995 Indians earned a spot in the World Series led by Belle’s 50 Home Runs which led the league. He even earned 377 total bases that year on 173 hits. However, after this season Belle’s career fell apart. The Indians lost the World Series to the Braves and Albert Belle demanded a new contract due to his production value. He was not paid and kept on his original contract with the Indians. That year his production value was without question one of the best ever, he had at least 50 doubles and 50 home runs and remains the only player to ever do so. Belle did not even play a full season that year which made this even more impressive. However, the World Series ruined the relationship between Belle and the Indians. Following the 1996 season, the tensions escalated as Belle once again produced an All-Star year with 148 Rbis on 187 hits. The Indians did not want to pay Albert despite all of his production. He was traded to the White Sox that offseason and was paid for 5-years $55 million making him the highest paid player in MLB and the first player to make over $10 million per year.
White Sox and Orioles (1997-2000)
The Chicago White Sox and Albert Belle were declared a match made in heaven. Belle would again make an All-Star appearance but his production value would fall below anything seen with the Indians. Belle grounded into a league high 26 double plays. He continued to play though as he played in 161 games, missing just one the entire season. He batted .274 which was about the only good statistics in his resume. The White Sox and he did not last long either as in 1998 he voided his contract following the season and would never, it seemed, appear in the spotlight again. He batted better than 90% of the league but appeared to be black balled by the all-star voters. He left Chicago and arrived in Baltimore making 5-years, $65 million which was more than he made with Chicago. His brief time with the Orioles also lasted two seasons as he declined dramatically. He was not even worthy of being called a professional player despite playing in more games than any other player aside from Cal Ripken. In 2000, Belle was forced into retirement as he was diagnosed with degenerative hip osteoarthritis. He would never play professional baseball again.
Controversies During and After Career.
After he retired MLB came out against Albert Belle. Belle was exposed to the public as being a jerk in the locker room and having multiple anger fits while with the Indians. His relationship with baseball earned him little sympathy following his retirement in which he virtually disappeared. In 2007 when he was put on the ballot for Cooperstown he received 7.7% of the vote to be elected, he probably will never be on the ballot but it was unclear why Belle who had played a lengthy career would never make it. Well, the stories started to come out about Belle’s behavior and then it was understood why baseball distanced itself from him.
The following stories came out after Belle’s career and showed a more personal look at Belle and why he was never even considered to be enshrined with baseball royalty. In 1990, Belle reported to Rehab when he was with the Indians. He was a reported alcoholic during his playing career and this earned him more enemies than friends. In 1994, Belle hit a home run in a game and then it was discovered that he was using a corked bat. This was not the end of the story, not only was he disqualified but he asked teammate Jason Grimsley to climb through a ceiling panel later that day to retrieve the corked bat. Belle was known for doing this multiple times according to his ex-teammates and many say that during his All-Star years he frequently used one but was rarely caught for it. His most notable incident occurred in 1996 when during a matchup with the Brewers Belle intentionally on a ground ball to second base ran through Fernando Vina like a football player through a linebacker. Vina was okay but this appeared to be the beginning of the last straw with the Indians. A former player even told a tale where Belle liked the air in the clubhouse to be a cool 60 degrees Fahrenheit. One day he went to change it and Belle turned it back. The feud escalated when Belle became so enraged that he took a baseball bat to the air condition system himself. A rumor swirled around that Belle himself was billed $10,000 every season with the Indians after his angry outburst caused much destruction to Indians property. This was never claimed as truth but only as a rumor. Belle was arrested as recently as 2018 on DUI charge.
Why Albert Belle will never be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Albert Belle’s blackballing amongst Major League Baseball may have included performance enhancing drugs but that rumor was never proven either. Belle did not like the media as he made it known on several occasions. He claimed that his anti-media presence was based on players like Sandy Koufax who went out and played the game without scrutiny and he was being challenged for the color of his skin. Belle’s personality was his downfall in his career and that is why the Writers Association will never vote for him to be amongst baseball’s greatest. His career was marked more for controversy rather than for his accolades. Belle’s damage extended to the Indians as in 2015 Belle did not even show up for the 20 year World Series team reunion. His damage will never get a chance for an apology. Knowing Albert Belle though, it's not like he wants one.