On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. Next up: Albert Belle
The case for his induction:
Albert Belle’s case is the yin to Harold Baines’ Hall of Fame case’s yang. Whereas Baines is all career longevity value with no discernable Hall of Fame-worthy peak, Belle had a peak that puts him in some pretty lofty company but no longevity whatsoever.
In his favor: he was a bad, bad man for a few years. Between 1993 and 1999 — his age 26-32 seasons — he averaged a line of .308/.391/.602, 41 homers and 127 RBI. That’s an AVERAGE for seven years. And that’s with two of those years — 1994 and 1995 — being shortened due to work stoppages. Heck, his first two full seasons before that peak consisted of 28 homers and 95 RBI and 34 homers and 112 RBI, respectively. He should’ve been the unanimous MVP Award winner in 1995 but was boned out of the award, which went to Mo Vaughn, because the writers simply didnt like him. He probably should’ve won the 1998 Award too. He finished eighth. The players who were clearly better than Belle during his prime were Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds and probably Frank Thomas. That’s it.
Even with is early seasons and decline figured in, Belle ranks up there with Hall of Famers, at least as far as rate stats go. His career OPS+ of 144 puts him in the same range of Jim Thome, Edgar Martinez, Lance Berkman, Mike Piazza, Chipper Jones, Larry Walker and Vladimir Guerrero.
The case against his induction:
Belle played for only ten seasons due to a degenerative hip condition that ended his career at age 33. That killed his counting stats. If healthy he would’ve likely sailed past 500 homers, 1,600 RBI and all manner of other milestones typically achieved by Hall of Famers. But like they say: if me auntie had been a man she’d be me uncle, and what a player might’ve done if healthy should not count in favor of his Hall of Fame case, even if it’s something to consider assessing the man more broadly. The fact was he did not contribute beyond ten seasons and, in terms of career aggregate value, he falls far short of a lot of players who themselves haven’t sniffed induction, making it a hard case for good old Uncle Albert.
Beyond the numbers, Belle had a bad reputation on and off the field. And unlike a lot of players who are portrayed as bad guys, Belle really was a bad guy. The least of his transgressions involved him being caught with a corked bat in 1994. He knocked Brewers Fernando Vina to the ground with a forearm blow that was, to most observers, unnecessary and excessive. He once chased down some kids who threw eggs at his home on Halloween . . . whith his SUV, hitting one of them. He smashed things in the clubhouse, including his teammates’ possessions, buffet tables and the thermostat, which he preferred to keep at 60 degrees despite the protestations of his teammates. It goes without saying he was uncooperative and hostile to the press with many high-profile run-ins. There are some convinced that Belle’s anger — and strength — was attributable to ‘roid rage, but he was never implicated in any PED scandal and has, to this day, denied taking PEDs, simply saying that his behavior as a player was because he was “an angry black man.”
Would I vote for him?
Should his behavior and attitude count against him when it comes to Hall of Fame balloting time? Most say yes. I tend to be pretty forgiving about such matters, but sheesh, running down kids with your car seems a bit more serious to me than not talking to the press or corking one’s bat. If it was a close call I’m not sure what I’d do with such things and I do not know whether they’d tip the scales against Belle. I’ve contented myself to conclude that, on the merits alone, I believe his career was too short to get my vote and be thankful that I don’t have to reach the realm of moral judgment. He was an amazing player in his prime — one of the best slugers the game has seen — but the game simply didn’t see enough of him. Not that the game is complaining.
Will the Committee vote for him?
No way on God’s green Earth. They never voted for Dick Allen because he was perceived as prickly. Belle makes Allen look like a cross between Father Christmas and Mr. Rogers. He may get a vote or two of gruding respect thrown his way, but I would bet my children on him not getting inducted in this or any other year. One hopes that the reason for that is a judgment on the brevity of his playing career, but I suppose most of it is because Belle was a horse’s hindquarters.
So, sorry Albert. But we’ll always have 1995.