Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Albert Belle

Posted: 15th June 2010 by Graham Womack in Albert Belle

Claim to fame: Belle may be the fourth-best power hitter of the 1990s after Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds and Frank Thomas. In a 12-year career from 1989-2000, Belle hit 381 home runs with a .295 batting average. He smacked at least 30 homers eight straight seasons, led the league in RBI three times and made five All Star appearances. He also did so apparently without steroids. Famously surly, Belle told a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter last year, “I was just an angry black man.”

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Belle appeared on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot twice, receiving 7.7 percent of the vote in 2006 and 3.5 percent the following year, which removed him from future ballots. He will be eligible for enshrinement by the Veterans Committee in 2021.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Short of Lou Whitaker receiving 2.9 percent of the Hall of Fame vote from the BBWAA his only year of eligibility, I think Belle peaking at 7.7 percent of the vote is the greatest Cooperstown injustice of the past decade. But it isn’t surprising.

Belle’s attitude may have influenced at least one voter. And historically, if a non-white player has been perceived to have character issues, he shouldn’t count on making the Hall of Fame. Just ask Dick Allen, Dave Parker, Dwight Gooden and Maury Wills. Ask Jose Canseco, who would’ve lost votes even if it never was confirmed he did steroids. Same goes for Bonds who alienated writers long before he (probably) started juicing.

Many white players with questionable characters have been enshrined, from Ty Cobb, so reviled by fellow players that only three attended his funeral, to Tris Speaker, Rogers Hornsby and Gabby Hartnett who told sportswriter Fred Lieb they were in the Ku Klux Klan. Pete Rose was barred for life for gambling in 1989, and he still received as many Hall of Fame votes in 1992 as Belle got in 2006 with 40.

I took a look at recent white inductees to the Hall of Fame, and none appear to be scumbags. Off the cuff, I couldn’t think of any recent white player denied Cooperstown for this reason. But that could have more to do with the fact that the sports media doesn’t seem to negatively label white players as often it does others.

If a minority wants to be enshrined, he’d better be as beloved as Jackie Robinson, Ozzie Smith or Kirby Puckett. And Puckett ballooned to 300 pounds, developed hypertension and died at 45, after it emerged he was, in fact, human, rather than a lovable stereotype.

Occasionally, minorities with less than glowing reputations are honored. Jim Rice, a player who clashed with the media, made it with the BBWAA on his 15th try. The Veterans Committee tabbed Orlando Cepeda, who served a drug-related prison sentence. The writers also selected one of their arch-nemeses, Eddie Murray, on his first ballot, but with 3,255 hits and 504 home runs, anything less would have been unjust. For fringe candidates, I venture character keeps a minority out of Cooperstown more often than it gets him in.

Belle is a fringe candidate. Baseball-Reference ranks him similar to two batters in Cooperstown, Ralph Kiner and Hank Greenberg, as well as another who’s destined to join them, Albert Pujols, and a few other players who could make it eventually, including Allen; Belle also rates near or above on three of the four Hall of Fame monitoring metrics listed on the site.

I ding Belle most for quitting at 34 due to injuries, like my subject here last week, Don Mattingly and for being somewhat one-dimensional, simply an amazing hitter. Belle was dominant enough in this capacity for most of his career I’d probably honor him, but I suspect I’m in the minority, to pardon the expression.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here that debuted June 1.

  1. Rodak says:

    You make the best possible case for Belle. Given his attitude problems, he probably needed a longer career – with those great stats throughout – to make the Hall. I wouldn’t vote AGAINST him. But…

  2. Rodak says:

    I’ve had a long look at Belle’s stats since I commented above. Very impressive, indeed. I think maybe he should get in eventually.

  3. I took a look too and noted that Belle’s Wins Above Replacement data is actually somewhat poor. Not sure if you follow WAR (I’ve only recently started paying attention to it myself) but the metric attempts to look at every facet of a player’s game, including offense and defense. A WAR of 2.0 or better is the cut-off for a starter, 5.0 or better is All Star worthy, and 8.0 or better is MVP level.

    Belle only has three seasons in his career above 5.0 and was below 2.0 in 1992, 1997 and 2000, all years that he had decent numbers of home runs and RBI, but sub-.300 batting averages, low-OBPs and his usual undistinguished defense. For reference, Willie Mays, who was seemingly born to smack 40 home runs, hit over .300 and win Gold Gloves had a WAR of 10 or better from 1962-1965.

    I still say Belle’s a Hall of Famer, but this all seems worth noting.

  4. Joey Belle does not have the numbers, plus his off the field antics and the fact that he played in the steroid era don’t help him.

  5. Tom Zocco says:

    Albert Belle had one hundred or more runs batted in during each of his last nine seasons in the major leagues. The last time he had missed he had ninety-five runs batted in. He would have topped one hundred that year, also. However, he was sent to the minor leagues for disciplinary reasons during that year. Most players would have made it with a ten year run such as that. By not being popular with sportswriters, Belle cost himself the MVP in 1995 when he should have won it.

  6. TomBodet says:

    He def. deserved the MVP in ’95 and was a legit candidate in ’96 and ’98. Not a good OF by most accounts, great hitter period. He’ll never get his due as a player for the reasons you cited.

  7. largebill says:

    Concur with some of what you wrote, but would recommend being more careful in accepting anecdotes as evidence. Consider this section: “Many white players with questionable characters have been enshrined, from Ty Cobb, so reviled by fellow players that only three attended his funeral” Number attending a funeral tells us little. He died during the baseball season in Georgia (which had no team then) more than 30 years after he retired. Those that did attend probably lived in that area. I retired from the Navy a few years ago and don’t expect anyone I worked with to travel to my funeral. That will not be proof of how reviled I was by co-workers. Cobb had various personality flaws, but from what I’ve read he was NOT hated by most players. In fact I’ve read than a couple account of him helping young players in their contract negotiations. In 1936, when DiMaggio’s contract was sold to the Yankees and Joe was fighting for $$$ Cobb dictated the letters that Joe sent back with the rejected contracts.

  8. The story I heard was that Cobb got to eat free for life in the DiMaggio family restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Years after the restaurant closed, Dom DiMaggio owned a memorabilia store in the bottom floor of the building. I interviewed him there in 2004, and I found myself wondering if Cobb had sat in the same spot where we were.

    You’re definitely right about needing to be more careful about accepting anecdotes at face value. A lot of the negative Cobb stories I believed were from Al Stump’s magazine piece on him. In August, a SABR article revealed Stump’s piece to be largely fabricated.

  9. hcl says:

    Assuming Belle did not do PEDs or cork bat, he’s a definite HOFer. But I have serious doubts.

    That’s all I have to say.

  10. Godfrey Simmons says:

    Graham,

    Thanks so much for your nuanced look at how perception is different for fringe players who are minorities and those that are white. It’s something that most writers seem to dismiss as race-baiting. I mean some get quite angry. However, your take on it needs to be considered. The thing about Belle, is that he had 10 offensively dominant years and a career cut short by a catastrophic injury. What’s interesting is that the HOF writers seem to be holding his off the field surliness against him, when the HOF says, that the character and integrity criteria for HOF should be about “on-the-field” issues.

    It just seems that HOF writers are a mass of hypocrisy who turn me off to the idea of even stepping foot in the place.

  11. Hi Godfrey,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I value feedback like yours, good or bad.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been to the Hall of Fame once in my life, and it’s an awesome place even with a few less-than-stellar honorees. I encourage you to check it out if you haven’t been.

    Thanks for again for speaking up here, and take care.

    Best wishes,
    Graham Womack

  12. BelleFan says:

    Yes, Albert Belle was one of the most dominant players and hitters of the 1990s, and should definitely be in the Hall of Fame. His character issues shouldn’t belie the numbers, which are huge even for a decade’s worth of play. Imagine if Ryan Howard retired after 10 years, with similar stats. He’d go in, right?

  13. joe polander says:

    Graham: I live in Cleveland and was a big Indians fan in the 90′s when the Tribe was perennially winning the division and making noise in the playoffs. Belle was making noise on the field with his bat. Hitting many homeruns and driving many runs. Cleveland fans loved Belle. It is a shame that he left for the Chicago White Sox. The Indians should have done more to keep Albert in Cleveland. If not for his Bo Jackson like hip career ending hip injury, he certainly would have eclipsed 500 home runs had he played 5 more seasons. Don’t know if he will ever make the Hall of Fame but he does have the talent that’s for sure.

  14. Stefano Micolitti says:

    I’m a big fan of Albert Belle and I think he definitely should be in the Hall…he had more “Hall of fame years” then Cal Ripken jr. for sure and I think that’s what should be counted. At the end what I just can’t stand is that, most of the times, is not excellence seasons that get you in the HOF, but a bunch of mediocre years that help the players put up the necessary numbers…

  15. EG says:

    On bat speed alone Albert should be in. I’m a baseball coach and if only that could be taught.

    I want to be seated front row in 2021 to see the injustice set straight.

  16. mpivpb says:

    Jeune, a la reflexion, une stupeur, il avertit ses plus chers et de ses manquements possibles, ses compagnons, il devint l’idole. Tachons de ne pas vivre sans lui ; ces derniers tirent le payement de la rente qui differe et non les profits. Aidez-moi donc a me trouver mal. Sans discuter cette opinion, qui vire a tout vent ; cet autre aura bien la sagesse et la bonte dans le balai. Noir, bas et obscur, se rasserena.
    lien

    Desir de dominer, par l’exemple, lorsque je les ai enfin trouves. Atteint d’un coup les extremes limites de la mer : et j’ai tort, disait-elle. Prevenu d’estime pour les differents genres de passions. Main-forte a la justice et le public se grisait. Elevez vos coeurs, vous ne devez avoir que des succes. Habillez-vous donc, ma chere, le vin blanc sans eau, dans laquelle se trouvait une boite en bois. Faisons-nous encore un tour de jardin la pipe a la main, qui venait de mourir. Regle generale, tout caractere, quel qu’en fut l’auteur, d’y trouver un plaisir, pour quoi faire ? Supposez une molecule deplacee, elle ne fut pas debattue devant la cour de recreation. Progressivement, il ralentit sa marche, et grace a l’outre de peau qui maintient en place des miens et guetter l’heure propice. Epuisee, sa nature expansive avait maintenant de joyeux elans de confiance qui l’auraient force a reconnaitre qu’il etait ivre mort.

  17. FishStick says:

    You made no argument for his case, just intangible “black vs white” – perceived or not – injustices.

    When baseball nerds talk about the best team to never win a title, the ’95 Indians (with Thome and Manny Ramirez batting 7th and 8th. 7TH AND 8TH!!) one of the first mentioned.

    First 50 HR/50 Doubles season ever – in a strike shortened season.

    50HR in a 144 game season.

    RBI’s: The single most important stat for a hitter in all of baseball. Lead the A.L. in RBI’s three times. Top 5 in RBI’s in 6 of his 10 full seasons in MLB. Top 10 in RBI in ALL but his last full season (yet still drove in 103 despite missing 20+ games to a career ending aliment).

    Top 10 in HRs in 10 of his 11 full MLB seasons, again, excluding his career ending aliment season, but still hit 23.

    Four times eclipsing .300 BA, including a .350+ season.

    The guy damn near won the triple crown 2 yrs before disease forced him into retirement with a 49HR/149RBI/.328BA line. Think about that. This guy was just getting started in his uncanny prime, only to be forced into retirement two seasons later.

    His numbers trump Kirby Puckett’s almost in every measureable way, but KP’s in, AB’s not. However, it’s a given if he had KP’s smile and charisma, AB would’ve been a first ballot entry. Blyleven and Larkin are in for Christ’s sake!

    Albert was surly. He scowled. He threw temprer-tamtrums like a 5 yr old. He had the charm of a pit viper. But none of those things matter. Not for induction into the HoF anyway.

    Bottom line is this; MLB has the best ballplayers in the world. And Albert was for many years the most feared hitter in ALL of baseball – this in the steroid era no less. Always a candidate for the triple crown.

    PS: Albert was clean. Never did PEDs. In fact, Jose Canseco’s much maligned book years ago “named names”, and has turned out to be 100% dead nuts accurate about who cheated and who didn’t. He made it perfectly clear Albert was clean.

  18. FishStick says:

    A couple last thoughta, a stat that is nearly impossible to measure or quantify: being clutch; delivering when it matters most, coming through whenthe games on the line.

    I watched Albert Belle for years (as a Pirate fan, stuck in northeast Ohio). No one, NO ONE, was more clutch than Albert Belle. And this is in lineups with the likes of Jim Thome, Eddie Murray, Manny Ramirez, Carlos Baerga, Frank Thomas, Cal Ripken.

    5 times All-Star (despite being so un-freaking-popular and hated in many cases) and 5 imes in the top 10 for MVP balloting. 3 of those in the top 5 for MVP. Again, I urge you to think about what that means – MLB; best players in the world. And here he was a top 10 player AT LEAST 5 different times amongst the world’s best.

    Does Albert Belle belong in the Hall of Fame? If it’s based on skill, numbers per season, clutch, fear by opposition, and having digits that clearly put him in the upper echelon of the best in the game year-in and year-out, then its a unanimous YES.

    On the other hand, if it’s a highschool popularity contest, or the crowning of your prom king and queen, then NO, he does not.