December 1, 2005

Is Belle A Hall Of Famer?'s Mark Bechtel evaluates the candidates for Cooperstown, and votes thumbs up for Albert Belle. Here's his case:

Albert Belle, OF (.295, 381 HRs, 1,239 RBIs)

A very interesting case, one that cuts right to the question of, "What are we looking for in a Hall of Famer?" A player's career is in two segments: his prime and his twilight. For my money, when we're deciding who's Hall-worthy and who isn't, the former is far more significant. Cooperstown is for players who -- for a substantial amount of time -- dominated the game, were truly feared by their opponents and excited you every time they came to the plate or took the mound. And for the better part of a decade, Belle was every one of those things. Alas, his career had no twilight, through no fault of his own. He was done at age 34 thanks to a bad hip.

In 10 full seasons, Belle failed to hit 30 homers twice and failed to drive in 100 runs once. He hit 50 homers in a strike-shortened season. He ranks 17th in career slugging percentage (.564), yet he only struck out 100 times in a season twice. For a couple years, you could argue he was the most feared hitter in the game. If you give him five years of anything approaching decent production (I'm talking 15 homers per year) at the tail end of his career, then there's no question he's a Hall of Famer. I don't think the fact that he wasn't able to play out the string should be held against him.

We shouldn't put too much stock in how well these guys played when they were 39. We should judge them on how well they played in their prime. And in his prime, Belle was ridiculously good -- far better than a shoo-in like Paul Molitor was in his. (Molitor's average 162-game season was .306-14-72, and his single-season bests were .353-22-113. Belle's average season was .295-40-130, and his single-season bests were .357-50-152.) He was one of the few players you would stop what you were doing to watch hit, and he was like that for almost 10 years. I know he was a jerk and he had some bat-corking issues, but the Hall is littered with imperfect personalities. The verdict: Yes.

I'd have to agree. Nothing I have experienced before or since the 1994 and 1995 seasons at Jacobs Field comes close to the "electric" impact that Albert Belle had on a game when he came to the plate, especially in the late innings. In just the games I attended in those two seasons, I saw him win at least seven or eight games with home runs or RBI hits in the Indians last at bat. (That's a conservative guess. It seems like it was a dozen, so I'm rounding down.)

Belle was hitting in a lineup so potent that we had guys hitting 6th and 7th in the order named Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome, so I guess he got a lot of pitches to hit, as they say. (In fact, the case can be made that the 1995 Indians had six eventual Hall of Famers on the team. Eddie Murray and Dave Winfield are already in, and Thome, Belle, Ramirez and Omar Vizquel are all likely to make it. Orel Hershiser, Sandy Alomar and Kenny Lofton will probably come up short, and it's too early to speculate on Brian Giles.)

None of that takes away from Belle's accomplishments, nor does the fact that he acted like a jerk most if not all of the time. For that reason, though, I don't expect the writers to vote for him in sufficient numbers to get him inducted. Call it reaping what you sow, but the fact is that writers do the voting, and Belle made a career of treating them with contempt.

For the record, the writer Bechtel is a native Clevelander and avid Tribe fan. Not that those two things can make a person less than 100% objective on these matters. Right?

Posted by dan at December 1, 2005 1:55 AM