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?