Albert Belle is the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s greatest omission. As we all know, the much maligned slugger’s personal issues with the media have cost him an MVP award and likely his spot in the HOF. What evidence do I have to re-examine this case? A player strikingly similar to Belle is already in the HOF and his case was based around the fact that he was a pleasant man after he left the game. Oh, and it didn’t hurt that he played in New York. We can talk about what to do with steroid era players such as Sosa and McGwire, but until the situation with Belle is rectified, the museum in Cooperstown doesn’t deserve the glory it receives.
Earl Donald Snider, also known as “Duke,” was one of baseball’s most feared hitters for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950’s. By the age of 33, he had amassed 368 home runs, 1185 RBI’s and 1882 career hits. However, his career began to falter in his early 30s as he suffered from injuries. From age 34 on, Snider played parts of four seasons with the Dodgers, Mets and Giants while adding only 39 home runs, 148 RBI’s and 234 hits to his stat sheets. Those numbers apparently separate him from Belle and thrust him into the elite. An MVP candidate for eight years in his career, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980.
Albert Belle struck fear in opposing pitchers, managers and perhaps even his teammates. His temper is just as legendary as his bat. He once took a bat to teammate Kenny Lofton’s boom box after a rough outing against the Red Sox. He once smashed a thermostat in the clubhouse after someone turned up the heat. He also once referred to reporter Hannah Storm as a highly derogatory term. Yes, it’s been established that Albert Belle was no angel during his playing days. Should this really count against him as a player?
It seems forgotten how completely dominant Albert Belle was during his prime years. From age 25-31, Belle averaged 172 hits, 41 home runs and 126 RBI’s a year. He was in the running for MVP six times in that span, including a controversial 1995 second place finish where Mo Vaughn took the award despite having lesser numbers than the Indians slugger.
Belle’s final two years in Baltimore, while below that curve, are still far above the Major League norm. During those two years he smashed 60 home runs, 220 RBI’s and 338 hits while dealing with a debilitating hip injury that forced him to retire at the age of 33. All told, Belle finished with 381 home runs, 1239 RBI’s and 1726 career hits, most of which were accrued during his 9 full seasons in the big leagues.
Despite all of his accolades, he was off the Hall of Fame ballot within two years. That hip injury gave the Baseball Writers of America the perfect excuse to slight someone who had spent his career slighting them. The theory being he didn’t make an impact across long enough time.
However, when comparing Snider and Belle’s numbers through the age of 33, you see eerie similarities; it’s obvious that argument is foolish. Had Snider retired after age 33 and not grinded out his final four years, he would’ve finished with 368 home runs, 1185 RBI’s and 1882 hits. At that juncture the only stat he out produces Belle is in hits, and Snider played 2 full seasons more than Belle at that age.
So Belle’s numbers are similar to Snider’s through age 33 despite playing two less seasons. That means either Belle should have plodded through four uninspiring, pained years to reach the 400 home run and 2000 hit plateaus, or the writers used his injury to exclude his dominance and diminish his greatness.
Then what’s the difference between the two players? It clearly comes down to the media’s relationship with the person. Belle was difficult and at times controversial. During his playing days, Snider did have a similar relationship as Belle including issues with outbursts towards the media. However, after his playing days, Snider became a member of the media and made many friends with his laid back, charming personality. While Belle has been more media friendly in recent, his blunt style still rubs some the wrong way.
Albert Belle’s only chance left for the Hall of Fame is the Veteran’s Committee. One of the best sluggers in the golden age of baseball who had a nine year run unparalleled by most hitters currently in the Hall of Fame won’t be recognized because he was difficult to deal with. This is yet another sign that allowing baseball writers to decide the Hall of Fame is beyond idiotic and a new system needs to be established.
You can sway me on the inclusion or exclusion of steroid users to the “great” hall. You can do the same on Pete Rose or “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, whose gambling habits betrayed their greatness. However, simply not putting a guy in the Hall of Fame because he wasn’t a nice interview is as egregious an offense as the Baseball Hall of Fame has ever committed, especially considering an equal player was voted in for his conversion to amiable AFTER he played the game. The organization has wronged its customers, all of its inductees and the game of baseball itself with this omission. Until Albert Belle is placed with baseball giants of all eras, the legitimacy of this supposed great institution is completely in question.
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