Some believe that because of the baseball strike, the years 1994 and 1995 are somewhat tarnished. I’d say the Steroid scandal is much more of a black eye than losing a World Series and a few months of baseball. Look back at all the Superstars of the 90’s and most of them have already been outed as cheaters. Barry Bonds will probably be in jail by 2009, Mark McGwire is hiding out in some anonymous suburb of California, Sammy Sosa doesn’t even speak English anymore, and Rafael Palmeiro fell off the face of the Earth. Don’t even get me started on Roger Clemens and his taste for 15-year old karaoke singers.
Let’s face it, our heroes failed each and every one of us. So what about the guy who wasn’t trying to be a role model? The one who played on the same team with future Hall of Famers Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome? Do you remember Albert “Joey” Belle? Not only did he hit 50 home runs before the “everyone hits 50” years, he also holds a distinct record that no one has come close to since he did it twelve years ago: 50 home runs, 50 doubles in one season. In 1999 he also joined an elite group when he had his 8th straight 30 HR/100 RBI season. The other guys on that list? Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, and Lou Gerigh.
Yes, he was a major asshole but is that enough to keep him out of the Hall of Fame? If you don’t know, in 1990 Belle threw a baseball at a fan who was heckling him. In 1995 he almost killed mini-player Fernando Vina on his way to Second Base. You want to throw eggs at his house on Halloween? Go for it, but expect Joey to come out and run you over in his S.U.V. ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote this of Belle:
It was a taken in baseball circles that Albert Belle was nuts… The Indians billed him $10,000 a year for the damage he caused in clubhouses on the road and at home, and tolerated his behavior only because he was an awesome slugger… He slurped coffee constantly and seemed to be on a perpetual caffeinated frenzy. Few escaped his anger: on some days he would destroy the postgame buffet…launching plates into the shower… after one poor at-bat against Boston, he retreated to the visitor’s clubhouse and took a bat to teammate Kenny Lofton’s boombox. Belle preferred to have the clubhouse cold, below 60 degrees, and when one chilly teammate turned up the heat, Belle walked over, turned down the thermostat, and smashed it with his bat. His nickname, thereafter, was “Mr. Freeze.”
Unfortunately, it seems that Karma struck Albert Belle in the year 2000. At just 33 years of age and seemingly still in his prime, Joey was forced into retirement by degenerative Osteoarthritis in his hip. Who knows what he could have done with another 6-7 years playing in tiny Camden Yards. Surely he would have hit 600 home runs, driven in close to 2,000 RBI, and kept up his lifetime batting average of .295. Instead, it was his two former, lesser-talented teammates from Cleveland that get all the attention these days. Manny Ramirez, a guy who once struggle to hit 30 home runs a year is days away from hitting his 500th. Jim Thome, the man who barely hit 25 the year Belle hit 50, joined the 500 Home Run Club in 2007.
Will we ever see this “all-natural” slugger (source: Juiced) enter the Hall of Fame? Or is Joey destined to be another forgotten man in baseball? In his first year of eligibility for the Hall, he received under 8% of the votes so I am guessing the answer is the latter.