In the history of baseball, only nine players have had eight straight seasons of 30 home runs and 100 RBIs: Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Albert Pujols, Mark Teixeira, and Albert Belle. While most of those players either are in the Hall of Fame or will be someday, Belle will not. There are four major reasons for that.
- Belle accumulated his glowing power numbers in the 1990s, an era where almost every slugger is suspected of using steroids. Though Belle was never directly accused or implicated, the cloud looms over his accomplishments.
- There was no bigger jackass in baseball during the 1990s than Albert Belle. There isn’t enough room here to list all of the examples of his surliness, rudeness, and outright violence toward others during his playing career, but here are some examples: in college he climbed into the stands to fight a fan who was heckling him; in the majors he threw a baseball at a fan who was doing the same; he once chased kids who were trick-or-treating at his home and struck one of them with his car; Belle was suspended for an overly aggressive slide into an opposing infielder; he frequently mistreated the press, refusing to grant interviews, yelling at them when they asked, and making lewd comments or gestures to female reporters.
- In 1994 when he was still with the Indians, Belle was caught using a corked bat. While physics shows that using a corked bat probably leads to zero advantage, the fact that Belle was caught cheating is a strike against him among HOF voters.
- In 2001 he was forced to retire from the game due to a degenerative arthritic condition in his hip. As a result, he ended his career short of 400 homers and 2,000 hits among other milestones. He was just 34 years old.
In his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame in 2006, Belle received 7.7% of the vote, which earned him another chance the following year. But he only got 3.5% in 2007 and was removed from the ballot.
Another All-Star outfielder from the same era, Kirby Puckett, also had his career ended prematurely by injury, but Puckett is in the Hall of Fame. Each played a dozen seasons, each were still productive when they were forced to quit baseball. Belle’s numbers compare well to Kirby’s: Albert had a career .564 slugging percentage, Puckett’s was .477; Belle’s career .369 on-base percentage is also higher than Kirby’s (.360); the slugger’s career OPS is almost 100 points higher than Puckett’s. But Belle was a terrible outfielder (he once made 17 errors in the field and another season he made 16), while Puckett was very good. And there’s the attitude and winning: both Kirby and Albert appeared in two post-seasons, but Puckett won a pair of World Series titles and hit a clutch home run in the Fall Classic, while Belle’s Indians lost the World Series and were bounced in the first round the next season. After Belle left Cleveland as via free agency the Indians continued to be a great team, advancing to the World Series the season after he departed.
It’s worth noting that Albert Belle was the first player to hit 50 doubles and home runs in the same season, which he accomplished in 1995 for the Tribe. In a clear case of East Coast bias, the baseball writers awarded the AL MVP to Mo Vaughn of the Boston Red Sox that season. Of course, Mo was a much better interview than Albert too.
Albert Belle holds the White Sox single-season record for homers, having slugged 49 in 1998.
Most Extra-Base Hits, 1990-1999
Albert Belle … 711
Ken Griffey Jr. … 709
Barry Bonds … 702
Rafael Palmeiro … 694
Juan Gonzalez … 637
Frank Thomas … 628
Larry Walker … 612
Jeff Bagwell … 598
Dante Bichette … 590
Fred McGriff … 589