It’s graduation season! A lot of honors handed out (unless you’re Obama).
So what better time to tackle a topic like Albert Belle’s Hall of Fame candidacy? No better time, says I.
There are two ways to get into the Hall: You’ve got to be very good over a long peroid of time and rack up counting stats, or you’ve got to be dominant.
The chief knock against Belle’s HOF case is that he didn’t play long enough, and therefore didn’t reach any of the milestones that equal automatic HOF induction. No 3,000 hits. No 500 home runs. No 1,500 runs batted in.
But he was pretty dang dominant.
Belle played 12 seasons, longer than Kirby Puckett, Sandy Koufax, and Ralph Kiner. He didn’t quit because he couldn’t hack it. He was forced out by an arthritic hip. He played in 10 full seasons (and parts of two others) and during that peak decade he averaged 37 HR, 120 RBI and a roughly .360 OBP. In 1995 he became the first player to hit 50 doubles and 50 home runs in a season. Even in his last season, when he was hobbling around the bases, he hit .281 with 23 HRs and 103 RBI.
Belle had a better OPS+ than Harmon Kilebrew, Reggie Jackson, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Jim Rice (even if you ignore Rice’s pedestrian final three seasons). And if you’re interested in hardware, Belle made five all-star teams and won five Silver Slugger awards and surely should have won the 1995 AL MVP, except the voters hated him and instead awarded the MVP to Mo Vaughn, who had vastly inferior stats.
I’m not gonna blow smoke up your butts. I know Belle isn’t a slam dunk Hall of Famer. But surely he deserved better than the 3.5% of the vote he got in 2007, which was not enough to even merit another year on the ballot. When Belle retired in 2001, NY Daily News bloviator Bill Madden famously wrote:
Sorry, there’ll be no words of sympathy here for Albert Belle… Belle was a surly jerk before he got hurt and now he’s a hurt surly jerk… Belle’s boorish behavior should be remembered by every member of the Baseball Writers Association when it comes time to consider him for the Hall of Fame.
And they did.
Of course Belle was a jerk. But I don’t care about that. Count me among those who think the Hall of Fame should get rid of its character clause. Sports writers, as Joe Posnanski says, should not be in the business of making character judgments.
Belle should be measured by his on-the-field achievements, and they were numerous.