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Hall of Fame case for Albert Belle

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On Monday, December 9, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which covers the years 1988-2018 — will vote on candidates for the 2019 induction class. Between now and then we will take a look at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness.

And yes, we did this two years ago, the last time the Today’s Game ballot was up for a vote, with most of the same candidates appearing. As such, a lot of this will be repeat material, some of it verbatim. Our view of this, however, is that if the Hall of Fame can keep recycling the same ballot, we can recycle our analysis of it to the extent it hasn’t changed. 

First up: Albert Belle

The case for his induction:

An ideal Hall of Fame candidate has a clear, outstanding peak of his career and then a sufficiently decent ramp-up and decline of his career to where it can be said that he provided both greatness and longevity. Most Hall candidates who fall short do so because they lack one of these. Usually, it’s the peak of greatness they lack. We talk of them as being members of the “Hall of Very Good” or something, noting that, while above average players for many years, they weren’t dominant for a few years, and that makes all of the difference.

Albert Belle had the opposite problem. His career was cut short due to injury and he never had another plate appearance after his age-33 season. However Belle’s peak was, without question, Hall of Fame-worthy. So worthy that it makes his case a far closer one than almost anyone who only had ten full seasons and two partial seasons under his belt.

Between 1993 and 1999 — Bell’s 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, again, because he was a reviled figure, which we’ll talk about below. 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,” such as it was, 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 full 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 if “ifs” and “buts” were candy and nuts we’d all have a happy Christmas. Which is to say: 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 Belle did not contribute a thing beyond the year 2000 so, in terms of career aggregate value, he falls far short of a lot of players who themselves haven’t sniffed induction. And, of course, if he had played for several years beyond 2000, his rate stats I talked up above would’ve been lower due to a natural decline. All of that makes it a hard case for good old Uncle Albert.

Oh, and he wasn’t “good” old Uncle Albert. Belle had a bad reputation on and off the field during his playing career and it hasn’t improved since.

Unlike a lot of players who are portrayed as bad guys, Belle really was, and maybe still is, 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 . . . with 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.”

Things have not improved since the end of his playing career. In 2006 he was convicted for stalking and threatening his former girlfriend and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and five years’ supervised probation. Earlier this year he was arrested for driving under the influence and for indecent exposure, though charges were later dismissed.

 

Would I vote for him?

I tend to be pretty forgiving about so-called “character” issues and tend to give guys a much greater pass on such things when it comes to Hall of Fame consideration, but (a) running down kids with your car; and (b) stalking and threatening women is not exactly a gray area. If it was a close call I might say those things would tip the scale against Belle. I don’t think I need to add moral judgment to the scale here, though, because — while I have gone back and forth on Belle over the years — I tend to believe his career was too short to get my vote. He was an amazing player in his prime — one of the best sluggers 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. Belle never broke 8% in his two years on the BBWAA ballot, he was rejected the last time he was on the Today’s Game ballot and I predict, with near mortal certainty, that he’ll be rejected again. One hopes that the reason for that rejection will be a judgment on the brevity of his playing career, but I suppose most of it is because Belle was a horse’s hindquarters. In the end, it probably doesn’t matter.

Gomez HR sinks Nats after Martinez ejection, Mets sweep

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NEW YORK (AP) Turns out, the only thing Mets manager Mickey Callaway lost this week was his voice.

Days after New York’s front office declared support for its criticized, second-year skipper, Callaway’s players rallied for another startling victory Thursday and a four-game sweep of the division-rival Nationals.

Carlos Gomez slipped out of his shoe during an early dash, then hit a go-ahead, three-run homer in the eighth inning that helped the Mets overcome a comeback that started after Washington manager Dave Martinez’s heated ejection for a 6-4 victory.

Gomez bolted around the bases, smacking himself in the helmet and letting out a few joyous shouts after his two-out shot against Wander Suero (1-4). Players jumped out of the dugout and danced on the warning track while he rounded the bases, greeting him with flying handshakes and hugs.

Callaway was already hoarse Thursday morning when he met with reporters. After Gomez’s stunner, he could hardly get his pipes working.

“Sorry for the voice,” he said. “I’ve been screaming and yelling (through) these crazy games.”

Gomez delivered his first homer of the season in his seventh game. The 13-year major league veteran opened the year with Triple-A Syracuse, hoping to extend his playing days at Citi Field after breaking into the majors with the Mets as a 21-year-old in 2007.

“I’m blessed,” Gomez said. “Came back here in this situation and play the way that we’re playing right now with a lot of energy, you know, I’m enjoying every single time. You guys can notice when I’m in the dugout or playing defense like a little kid. I’m enjoying every single moment.”

It was the third straight game New York beat Washington in its final turn at-bat.

The Nationals seemed as if they’d snapped from their funk after Martinez’s ejection in the eighth. Plate umpire Bruce Dreckman rang up Washington’s Howie Kendrick for a strikeout as he tried to check his swing leading off, then tossed the veteran infielder. Martinez charged from the dugout, spiked his hat and kicked dirt on home plate while barking relentlessly at Dreckman.

“I just didn’t think he swung,” Martinez said. “We just got into it. All I did was tell him to ask for help. That’s why the first base umpire is there. He didn’t like it.”

Juan Soto then walked against Robert Gsellman (1-0), Victor Robles singled, and Yan Gomes brought in Soto with a double. Gerardo Parra followed with a pinch-hit, two-run single for a 4-3 Washington lead.

The Nationals have lost five straight and six of seven. Washington dropped to 19-31, a record better than only the Miami Marlins, Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals.

Hardly the kind of start expected from an NL playoff hopeful.

“You can’t put a blame on one thing,” Martinez said when asked where culpability fell. “You really can’t. This is a team thing.”

The Mets swept the Nationals/Expos franchise over four games for the first time since July 1-4, 1991. It was the first four-game home sweep by New York in the series since May 15-18, 1972.

New York is 18-13 against the NL East and 24-25 overall. The Mets enter a three-game series against Detroit hoping to climb over .500 for the first time since May 2.

“Now we’re winning ballgames, there’s definitely a different air because of that,” Callaway said. “But these guys have not quit one time. They’re tremendous. That’s an unbelievable comeback right there.”

Edwin Diaz retired the side in order in the ninth for his 12th save.

Mets starter Steven Matz allowed 10 hits over six innings of one-run ball. Washington starter Stephen Strasburg allowed two runs and five hits over seven innings.

Starting with an unusual 12:10 p.m. first pitch, both teams looked short on caffeine. New York had two errors, Washington had one and both teams had players thrown out on the bases.

SHOE FLY DON’T BOTHER

Gomez stole second in the fifth inning and took third on catcher Gomes’ throwing error, and his left shoe flew off in the process. Gomez never broke stride and scored two batters later on Juan Lagares‘ sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead.

IT’LL BE ALL RIGHT

New York placed infielders Robinson Cano (left quad strain) and Jeff McNeil (tight left hamstring) on the injured list prior to the game, leaving the team without two regular position players. The Mets went with an all right-handed lineup against a right-handed starting pitcher for the second time in franchise history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Nationals: 1B Ryan Zimmerman (plantar fasciitis in right foot) has experienced some pain running in recent days and will back off. He was still expected to hit in a batting cage Thursday.

Mets: Luis Guillorme and Ryan O’Rourke were recalled from Triple-A Syracuse. … New York claimed former Phillies OF Aaron Altherr off waivers from San Francisco and designated RHP Tim Peterson for assignment.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Open a four-game home series against Miami with RHP Kyle McGowin (0-0, 6.00) set to make his second career start. RHP Pablo Lopez (3-5, 5.06) is up for the Marlins.

Mets: RHP Noah Syndergaard (3-4, 4.50) starts the opener of a three-game home series against Detroit, opposing LHP Gregory Soto (0-2, 10.80).

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