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I mentioned in a recent post that I thought there was a decent case to be made for Albert Belle’s induction into Cooperstown. Apparently, I’m in the minority. Yesterday, Bell got bounced from the Hall of Fame ballot after receiving 21 fewer votes than the previous year and less than five percent of the total votes cast.

But I’m here to defend Albert. Sure, he was no saint. All right, let’s just come out and say it. He was and remains one of the all-time assholes in sports. You know what that means? It means we should put his plaque next to Ty Cobb’s.

If we’re going to judge Belle based on his play (which is the only way a player should be judged, in my opinion), he deserves serious consideration for the Hall. He certainly deserves more than five percent of the vote.

Hall of Fame inductees should demonstrate two things: that they were consistently great and (for at least a while) dominant. Belle did both.

He was consistently great. Over the ten main years of his major league career (1991 to 2000) he averaged .295, 37 home runs and 120 RBI a season.

He was dominant. He didn’t win any MVP awards, but the now accepted wisdom is that his strained relationship with the media cost him the 1995 MVP trophy. Belle finished second in the media voting to Mo Vaughn, despite having led the AL that season in runs scored, home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, and total bases, and despite outpacing Vaughn head-to-head in every important offensive category except RBI (both men had 126). How good was Belle in 1995? That year, he became the first player in the history of the major leagues to hit 50 homers and 50 doubles in the same season: the last player to reach 40 in both those categories in a season was Willie Stargell in 1973.

1995 was the closest Belle ever came to an MVP award, but he was in the running several times. He finished 3rd in the MVP voting in 1994 and 1996 and had two other top ten MVP finishes, in 1993 (7th) and 1998 (8th).

Still going to hold Belle’s lack of an MVP trophy against him? Well, I say remember this: money talks. Belle twice signed the game’s richest contract, once with the White Sox and again with the Orioles. You don’t get paid that kind of cash without some serious skills and Belle certainly wasn’t getting any extra-credit cash for being a clubhouse leader.

The big reason to withhold a vote for Belle is that he didn’t break any records. His career didn’t last long enough for him to pile up any gaudy home run or hit totals. He finished with 381 HR and a .295 AVG. Not bad, but not staggering. But before an arthritic hip forced his retirement, Belle was absolutely one of the dominant forces in baseball over the course of a decade. He was good enough for long enough to have earned a spot in the hall. So why no love for Albert?

 

8 Responses to “Making a case for Albert”

  1. Alejandro says:

    Hey I can’t complain about Albert, he had two fine years with the ChiSox when the team was an embarrasment of underachieving players and managers (excpet, of course, for Big Frank [/sarcasm]). I mean, they gave Belle his outlandish contract and then waved the white flag. Go figure.

  2. Nick Kapur says:

    Sarah, I am still waiting for your enraged response to my unprovoked assault on Jim Rice’s Hall credentials…

  3. It’s Hall of FAME, not Hall of Stats or Hall of Physical Ability. The general dislike for Belle is reason enough to keep him out (and hopefully Barry bonds when that time comes). We can’t keep jerks out of the record books, but let’s leave the Hall for people who aren’t total jerks.

  4. Sarah Green says:

    Longevity is very important to the HOF voters, Coley. A lack of it is what has kept Jim Rice out all these years.

    Also, character counts. It’s in the official rubric the balloters use to make their selections, so you’ll have to take that up with MLB.

  5. Sarah Green says:

    I choose not to rise to this ham-handed attempt at baiting me.

    Jim Rice has a stat that, as far as I know, no other slugger has ever matched: breaking his bat on a checked swing.

    Twice.

    Bitches.

  6. Coley Ward says:

    I should confess I’m not an expert on Jim Rice. But it seems to me that Rice played 15 years, which is a pretty long career. The problem with his candidacy is that he just kinda fell off the map the last few years, no because of injury, but just…I don’t know why. Do you?

    Belle was extremely durable during his short ten year career. In fact, when Cal Ripken finally missed a start, Belle became the guy with the longest active games played streak.

    Belle’s career was cut short by an arthritic hip. But even in his last season, when he was hobbling around the bases, he hit .281 with 23 HRs and 103 RBI. That’s not too shabby. Rice, on the other hand, limped into retirement, hitting 13,15, and 3 HRs in his final three seasons.

    There is plenty of precedent for voting in jerks (Ty Cobb, Kirby Puckett, and eventually Randy Johnson). There is also precedent for voting in guys with injury shortened careers. Sandy Koufax only pitched 11 seasons and a couple of them were throw away years. He retired early due to arthritis, just like Albert.

  7. Sarah Green says:

    15 years is a pretty long career, but apparently not HOF long. Jim Rice was so dominant during his peak years that some people (mostly living in the 617 area code) feel he should be voted in anyway.

    Here’s some stats on Jim to compare with Belle (which I cribbed from the Boston Globe):

    Rice was voted AL MVP in 1978, and was an All-Star 8 times. During the 1978 season, he became the first hitter since DiMaggio to accrue 400 bases (and it’s only happened once since). He had 100 or more RBI in 8 seasons, and hit over .300 for 7 seasons. He had four 200-hit seasons and led the AL in HRs three times. For what it’s worth, he finished in the top 5 of MVP voting six times. Those who remember watching Rice play can recall times when he was intentionally walked even with the bases loaded. And, as I mentioned, he twice managed to break his bat on just a checked swing. And that was in the days when they were still using ash, instead of these flimsy maple bats. And keep in mind that there has never even been a whiff of steroid use around Jim Ed. And, if character counts, then we have to at least acknowledge the fact that Rice was the only black player on the Red Sox for much of his career. It was a racist organization in a pretty racially insensitive city (the last MLB team to become integrated), and for a long time the Yawkey ownership would only hire one African American player at a time. So Rice had a hard row to hoe here in Boston, in over 2,000 games with the Red Sox. Yet with determination and professionalism he was able to put all of that aside and do his job, and do it extremely well: a lifetime average of .298 and 1,451 career RBIs.

    In fact (and I admit, this is from Wikipedia) there are only 9 other retired players ahead of him in career average and homers: Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams.

  8. Nick Kapur says:

    I think Rice has a reasonable chance to get in. He has two more years left, and the incoming classes of eligible players are dismal.

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