Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Prince Albert in a Can

I believe that the Hall of Fame voting produced a great injustice yesterday. And I'm not talking about the fact that Mark McGwire wasn't inducted. Nor am I talking about the fact that 13 voters decided not to vote for Tony Gwynn (although for the life of me, I can't figure that one out). No, I'm talking about a player who received 19 votes and was dropped from the ballot forever. I'm talking about a player who's numbers are much better than the almost elected Jim Rice. Of course I'm talking about the always popular Albert "don't call me Joey" Belle.

Albert played had only 10 seasons in which he had at least 400 at bats. His career was prematurely ended by a degenerative hip disease at the age of 33. However, he terrorized American League pitchers for the decade that he was active. He averaged about 38 home runs and 120 rbi's a year. He had a high water mark of 5o home runs and 152 rbi's. During his run of nine consecutive 100 rbi years, his lowest mark was 103, in his final year, when his hip injury became more debilitating. There are other "short term" stars in the hall of fame and I would dare say that except for Hank Greeberg, Belle has better numbers than all of them. Chuck Klein, Hack Wilson, and Kirby Puckett come to mind. Dizzy Dean was another short term star but he was a pitcher and that doesn't really apply (although Dean shouldn't be in the hall of fame either). Chuck Klein and Hack Wilson were inducted by the veteran's committee years after their deaths, so perhaps I should leave them out of this debate. Kirby Puckett recently died and I guess it's impolite to speak ill of the dead. I personally have nothing bad to say about Kirby except that I just didn't think that he deserved to be a first ballot hall of famer. But this article isn't about Kirby, it's about Albert.

How does someone, who just a short seven years ago was putting together such fantastic seasons in succession, get relegated to trash heap after only two years of consideration by the writers? We can start with the fact that he was at best surly and at worst confrontational when it came to dealing with the press. I doubt that you would be able to find one reporter who shed a tear the day that Albert Belle was forced to retire (the fact that the Orioles still owed him $37 million must have been of some comfort to him though). He did plead guilty to stalking charges this year, which couldn't have helped his case.

The single issue that probably did him in though is the suspicion that most writers have about his steroid use. He never had the great surge in home run power that Sammy Sosa or McGwire did, but there was definitely an upward trend. He went from hitting 36 home runs in '94 to 50 the next year. Even before the whole steroids debate began, I can remember opposing managers wanting to check his bat to see if it was corked. In fact Jason Grimsley (who was at the center of steroids controversy last year) tells a story about climbing through the ventilation system to retrieve Belle's bat from the umpire's locker. The bat had been confiscated because it was suspected of being corked. Grimsley replaced the confiscated bat with a clean one and Belle was never caught. There is also the fact that his body broke down at such a relatively young age. Some would point to that as a clear sign of steroid abuse.

You would be hard pressed to find someone who is going to shed a tear over the fact that Albert Belle won't be in the hall of fame or that he fell off the ballot. I'm sure that Albert himself would probably tell you that he doesn't care. And I'm not really making a case for his inclusion here. I just think that he probably deserved a little more than he got. His numbers are close enough that he should probably have garnered enough votes to stay on the ballot for his 15 years of eligibility. Oh well, it's probably just me. I’m just one lone voice whistling in the wind. So long, Albert. We hardly knew ye.

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