Belle with the Chicago White Sox in 1997
|Born: August 25, 1966|
|July 15, 1989, for the Cleveland Indians|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 1, 2000, for the Baltimore Orioles|
|Runs batted in||1,239|
|Career highlights and awards|
Albert Jojuan Belle (born August 25, 1966), known until 1990 as Joey Belle, is an American former Major League Baseball outfielder for the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, and Baltimore Orioles. Belle was one of the leading sluggers of his time, and in 1995 became the only player to ever hit 50 doubles and 50 home runs in a season. He was also the first player to break the $10 million per year compensation contract in Major League Baseball.
Belle was a model of consistency, compiling a .295 career batting average and averaging 37 home runs and 120 RBIs per season between 1991 and 2000. Belle is one of only six players in MLB history to have nine consecutive 100-RBI seasons.
Albert and his fraternal twin, Terry, were born on August 25, 1966, in Shreveport, Louisiana, the son of Albert Belle Sr., a high school baseball and football coach, and Carrie Belle, a former math teacher. He attained the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America. Belle attended Huntington High School in Shreveport, where he was a star baseball and football player, a member of the National Honor Society and vice president of the local Future Business Leaders of America. He graduated sixth in his high school class and made the all-state baseball team twice. In 1984, he was selected to play for the USA in the Junior Olympics, in which the U.S. won a silver medal. He played outfield and pitched, winning one game. After graduation, Belle accepted a baseball scholarship to Louisiana State University.
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Belle played college baseball at Louisiana State University from 1985 to 1987, where he made 1st team All-SEC in 1986 and 1987 and played in 184 games, with 585 at bats, 194 hits, 30 doubles, 49 home runs, 172 runs batted in, 157 runs, a .670 slugging percentage, and a .332 batting average. In 1986, he played collegiate summer baseball in the Cape Cod Baseball League for the Chatham A's, then returned to the league in 1987 to play for the Hyannis Mets.
After college, he was drafted by the Cleveland Indians.
Belle became the fourth player to have eight straight seasons of 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, joining Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx and Lou Gehrig (a feat since matched by Albert Pujols, Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez). He was an accomplished baserunner, with a career high 23 steals in 1993, and 17 steals in 1999 despite hip problems. He led the league three times in RBIs, three times in total bases, three times in extra-base hits and twice in slugging. He was a five-time All-Star between 1993 and 1997. He had a powerful throwing arm, and was a gifted pitcher in high school. His range factor by games played was consistently higher than the major league average at that position; nevertheless, he still managed to accrue a -12.5 defensive WAR during 12 major league seasons.
Belle's career highs in home runs, RBIs, batting average, runs scored and walks occurred in five separate seasons. In 2006, the Hardball Times published a statistical comparison of Belle's career statistics with that of 60 of his current and former peers. The article ranked him in career "prime value", behind current Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner and recent inductee Frank Thomas.
In 1994, Belle lost the batting title to New York Yankees outfielder Paul O'Neill, .359 to .357. In 1995, Belle became the first player in major league history to hit 50 home runs and 50 doubles in the same season; the last player before him to reach as many as 40 in both categories had been Willie Stargell in 1973. The achievement was especially impressive because Belle played only 143 games in 1995 due to a season shortened by the previous year's player strike.
Belle's reputation and disdain of the media cost him votes for the 1995 MVP Award. He finished second in the voting to the Boston Red Sox' Mo Vaughn even though he led the American League that season in runs scored, home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage and total bases, and outpaced Vaughn head-to-head in every important offensive category except RBIs (both men had 126); both players' teams reached the playoffs. This was in the middle of a three-year streak in which Belle finished 3rd, 2nd and 3rd for the American League MVP. Belle had two other top ten MVP finishes, in 1993 (7th) and 1998 (8th).
In the winter of 1996, Belle signed a 5-year, $55 million ($87,596,393 today) deal with the Chicago White Sox as a free agent. This contract made him the highest paid player in baseball for a brief period and the first player in baseball history to make $10 million in a season. He enjoyed two great seasons in Chicago, including a career-high 27-game hitting streak in May 1997, and came close to another 50/50 season in 1998 with 49 home runs (a White Sox team record that still stands) and 48 doubles. He also drove in 152 runs to break Zeke Bonura's single-season franchise record of 138 in 1936 (to date, the RBI total also remains a White Sox single-season record). Additionally, when Cal Ripken, Jr. ended his record consecutive game streak at 2,632 in September 1998 on the last day of the season, it was Belle who took over as the major leagues' active leader in the category.
Belle's contract with the White Sox had an unusual clause allowing him to demand that he would remain one of the three highest paid players in baseball. In October 1998 he invoked the clause, and when the White Sox declined to give him a raise he immediately became a free agent. He again became the game's highest paid player, signing a five-year, $65 million ($99,759,289 today) deal with the Baltimore Orioles. But his career ended just two seasons later when he was forced into retirement at age 34 by degenerative hip osteoarthritis. He was, however, kept on Baltimore's active 40-man roster for the next three years as a condition of the insurance policy which largely reimbursed the Orioles for the remainder of his contract.
Belle was suspended in 1994 for using a corked bat, and gained further notoriety for sending teammate Jason Grimsley through the building's ceiling panel to break into the locked umpires' dressing room to retrieve his corked bat and substitute it with another teammate's bat, resulting in a seven-game suspension. The revelation of Belle's use of corked bats was given more emphasis when Cleveland teammate Omar Vizquel wrote in his autobiography that it would be naive to suggest otherwise and that "all of Albert's bats were corked." He was fined in 1996 for knocking down Brewers infielder Fernando Viña, who had blocked his way between bases.
Sports reporters resented Belle's refusal to grant interviews before a game. A profane outburst directed at a group of reporters in his team's dugout, including NBC Sports personality Hannah Storm, was widely reported during the 1995 World Series. He was unrepentant afterward: "The Indians wanted me to issue a statement of regret when the fine was announced, but I told them to take it out. I apologize for nothing."
Eventually, Belle routinely refused to speak with the media. "I don't get excited talking about myself", he explained. "Guys such as Sandy Koufax, Joe DiMaggio and Steve Carlton did not interview, and it was no big deal. They were quiet. I am also quiet. I just want to concentrate on baseball. Why does everyone want to hear me talk, anyway?"
In his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility (2006), he garnered only 7.7% of the baseball writers' votes, missing election by an extremely wide margin. But his vote total was high enough to keep his name on the ballot for the following year. In 2007, however, he garnered only 19 votes (3.5%).
In retirement, Belle had his first encounter with the Cleveland Indians since leaving the club in 1996, during their 2012 spring training in Goodyear, Arizona and was joined by former teammates Kenny Lofton, Sandy Alomar, Jr., and Carlos Baerga.
Belle has had a chilly relationship with the Indians franchise during his retirement. He declined to attend the 20th anniversary celebration of the 1995 World Series team and he declined to attend the ceremony when he was inducted into the Indians team Hall of Fame.
In October 1995, Belle's house in Euclid, Ohio was egged after turning away trick-or-treaters on Halloween. Belle chased one of the trick-or-treaters in his car. Belle was fined $100 for reckless operation of a vehicle. The guardian of the teenager sued Belle for $850,000 contending that Belle's car bumped into the teenager. The lawsuit was settled in 1997.
In 2006, Belle was sentenced to 90 days in jail and five years' probation after he admitted to stalking his former girlfriend.
Major League Baseball (Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles):