Former Indians slugger Albert Belle has Hall of Fame numbers | Jeff Schudel
May 20—The long-ball challenged Guardians sure could use a strong dose of Albert Belle in his prime about now. And so could the hallowed National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
With assistance from a reader named Marc S., an avid baseball fan who dives deeply into statistical research, we are going to use the Cleveland Beat this week to make the case for why Belle should be enshrined in Cooperstown. His only route to get there now is through the Hall of Fame's Contemporary Baseball Era Committee because the former Indians slugger hasn't appeared on the regular ballot since 2007, and even that is a long shot. A very long shot.
First, here is how voting for the Hall of Fame works: Voting is done by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. To be eligible to vote, one must have covered baseball for at least 10 years and also be a member of the BBWAA for at least 10 years.
Player agents should tell their talented clients early on that the BBWAA clique has long memories and knows how to hold a grudge.
A baseball player must have been active as a player in the Major Leagues at some time during a period beginning 15 years before and ending at least five years prior to election. He must also have played at least 10 seasons.
A screening committee compiles the ballot in alphabetical order. Eligible voters receive his or her ballot in late November. Votes must be cast by Dec. 31.
Before 2014, a player could appear on the ballot for 15 years if he hadn't been elected. That 15-year period was reduced to 10 years in 2014. But there was and still is one important stipulation for a player to reappear on the ballot.
Qualified voters can vote for a maximum of 10 eligible players every year. He or she can vote for just one if they choose. For a player to reappear on a ballot, assuming the 10-year eligibility window hasn't closed, he must be named on a minimum of five percent of the ballots. That stipulation doomed Belle. He was named on 7.7 percent of the ballots in 2006, the first year his name appeared, but only 3.5 percent in 2007. Hence, his name has never appeared again.
The Contemporary Baseball Era Committee considers Hall of Fame-eligible players who played in 1980 or more recently. Belle was one of eight players nominated by the Committee for 2023 consideration, but the only one of the group elected to the Hall by the 16-person panel was Fred McGriff. The first baseman with the colorful nickname "Crime Dog" was named on all 16 of the Committee's ballots. McGriff played with six teams over 19 seasons.
Just as with the regular voting, a player nominated by the Committee must be named on at least 75 percent of the 16 ballots. Belle, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro all received fewer than four votes each.
Bell was a rookie with the Indians in 1989. He played eight seasons with the Tribe, two with the White Sox and his final two seasons in Baltimore. He retired from the Orioles after the 2000 season in which he hit. .281, homered 23 times and drove in 103 runs — definitely not over-the-hill numbers. Belle was forced to retire at age 34 because of degenerative hip osteoarthritis.
Belle was surly with the media. He once screamed and swore at a group of reporters, including Hannah Storm of NBC sports, in the Indians' dugout before a game in the 1995 World Series.
The Indians sent Bell to Cleveland Clinic for two months in 1990 so he could be treated for alcoholism. On May 12, 1991, a fan in the left-field stands at Cleveland Stadium taunted Belle by jokingly inviting Belle to a keg party. Belle did not ignore the heckler. Instead, he fired a baseball at the guy and hit him in the chest with it. That stunt earned him a one-week suspension.
Belle was suspended seven games in 1994 when he was caught using a corked bat.
Perhaps the Hall of Fame voters would have overlooked some of Belle's shenanigans if he were cozy with them, but he wasn't. As I mentioned earlier, some BBWAA members hold a grudge. Their egos bruise easily. It is the only explanation for why Belle received only 3.5 percent of the vote in his second year of eligibility.
Belle in 1995 became the first player in major league history with at least 50 doubles (he had 52) and 50 home runs (he had 50) in the same season.
But the Hall of Fame isn't about one season, his detractors might say. Fair enough. He had more than 100 RBI in every season from 1992-2000. He led the American League with 126 RBI in 1995 and again with 148 RBI in 1996. He led all of baseball with 129 RBI in 1993.
Belle hit 30 or more home runs every year from 1992-1999. He retired with a .295 career batting average. Further proof he was not a one-season wonder is this. He set a career high for hits in 1998 (200) with the White Sox, a high of 50 home runs with the Indians in 1995, a high of 148 RBI in 1996 with the Tribe, a career high .328 batting average in 1998 with the White Sox, a high of 121 runs scored in 1995 and a high in walks in 1999 with the Orioles. That works out to career highs in six categories spread over five seasons.
Belle averaged an RBI every 4.72 at-bats (5,853/1,239). The nine players ahead of him in that category are all in the Hall of Fame — Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg, Ted Williams, Jimmy Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, Hack Wilson and Sam Thompson. The most recent player to retire with a better hits-to-RBI ratio was Ted Williams in 1960 (7,706/1,839/4.19. It should be noted that Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez, and Juan Gonzalez all rank ahead of Bell in the RBI per at-bat category, but each of those players was caught using PEDs.
Belle batted 348 times with a runner on third and two out. He has a career .400 batting average and drove in 185 runs in those situations. With a man on third (and sometimes with runners on second and/or first), with one or no outs, he batted 329 times and drove in 341 runs.
I suppose the argument from the voters that blackballed Belle could be was a part-time player with the Indians his first two years, meaning the final 10 seasons of his career narrowly qualified him for the minimum number of years to be eligible. But I suspect he was ignored in 2007 simply because the voters didn't like him. Apparently, the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee feels the same way.
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