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.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.