No, I’m not talking about the middle digits of baseball beat writers in Cleveland, Chicago and Baltimore during the 1990’s although I‘m sure they thought about it … after they were a safe distance away from him.
We’re talking of course about Mr. Congeniality himself: Albert Belle.
Of course being a surly cuss doesn’t disqualify one from Hall of Fame consideration. Ty Cobb was about as charming as an infected hemorrhoid, Cap Anson had all the emotional qualities needed for the job of a hangman, and of more recent vintage, Kirby Puckett appears to be a skunk of a human being.
Let’s face it, if being a terrific human being is such a huge criteria for Hall of Fame induction, then where is two-time NL MVP Dale Murphy’s plaque?
Probably the biggest knock against Belle’s career are his career totals, which were of course the results of an injury-shortened career.
What we need to keep in mind, however, is that to be eligible for Cooperstown consideration requires ten full seasons of major league service. In other words, you have ten years to make your Hall of Fame argument. There are a number of position players inducted with short careers: Puckett (12 full major league seasons), Phil Rizzuto (11 full major league seasons), Arky Vaughan (12 full major league seasons), George Kell (12 full major league seasons), Hack Wilson (less than 10 full major league seasons), Ralph Kiner (10 full major league seasons), George Kelly (less than 10 full major league seasons), Ross Youngs (less than 10 full major league seasons), Chick Hafey (seven full major league seasons), Earle Combs (less than 10 full major league seasons), Roy Campanella (less than 10 full major league seasons), Jackie Robinson (less than 10 full major league seasons), Billy Hamilton (11 full major league seasons), Hank Greenberg (less than 10 full major league seasons), Home Run Baker (11 full major league seasons), Bill Terry (11 full major league seasons), Mickey Cochrane (11 full major league seasons) …
You get the idea.
We can debate some of the selections, but it does provide decent evidence that you can establish Hall of Fame credentials with a short career. It’s actually pretty simple when you get right down to it—either you’re a Hall of Fame player or you aren’t. Brooklyn Dodger catcher Roy Campanella had only nine full big league seasons but won three MVP awards and played on five pennant winners (and one World Series champion). It was pretty obvious that Campanella’s career was a pretty good Hall of Fame resume. Conversely you could give Buddy Bell another 10,009 plate appearances or Jesse Orosco another 24 years of major league service and they still aren’t going to be immortals.
So the question before us today is this: In the ten full seasons Albert Belle played in the major leagues, did he craft a Hall of Fame career?
Let’s start off quick and dirty (thanks to Baseball-Reference):
Black Ink: Batting – 28 (Average HOFer ~ 27)
Gray Ink: Batting – 137 (Average HOFer ~ 144)
HOF Standards: Batting – 36.1 (Average HOFer ~ 50)
HOF Monitor: Batting – 134.5 (Likely HOFer > 100)
Of interest; despite the shortness of his career, Belle’s got enough black and gray ink which is impressive. HOF Standards favor longer careers so while Belle is below average for the Hall of Fame, it’s in line with where the majority of the short career Hall of Famers are in that category.
1. Carlos Delgado (914)
2. Juan Gonzalez (900)
3. Jim Edmonds (880)
4. Moises Alou (874)
5. Jim Thome (872)
6. Dick Allen (867)
7. Shawn Green (863)
8. Hank Greenberg (859) *
9. Chipper Jones (854)
10. Rocky Colavito (852)
Only one Hall of Famer on the list. However his adjusted OPS+ is third best on the list behind Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg and Jim Thome. Thome’s number will drop below Belle’s before his career his over, and we should bear in mind that Thome was a first baseman while Belle was a corner outfielder. Among outfielders on the list, Belle is tops in adjusted OPS+.
Also, here are the top five offensive threats among AL outfielders during the course of the bulk of his career (1991-2000), thanks to Lee Sinins’ Sabermetric Encyclopedia:
1. Ken Griffey Jr. 443
2. Albert Belle 388
3. Manny Ramirez 333
4. Tim Salmon 280
5. Bernie Williams 270
So Belle was the second best in this category (Runs Created Above Average) right behind All-Century team member Ken Griffey Jr.
Of course much will be made about his personality; however it didn’t seem to hurt his teams much. During his stint in Cleveland the Tribe won their division (and a pennant) in 1995 and 1996. His postseason numbers are excellent: .230/.405/.557 with six home runs and 14 RBIs in just 61 at-bats. In his 10 full major league seasons he was an All Star five times, won five Silver Slugger Awards, was five times a top 10 finisher in MVP voting (including three straight top-3 finishes from 1994-96) and was quite frankly robbed in 1995 when he led the loop in runs, RBIs, total bases, doubles and home runs. That year he became the only player in baseball history to enjoy a season with 50+ doubles and home runs, and he did it in a season of just 144 games.
Other things dotting his resume include:
- Nine consecutive 100 RBI seasons. Only one of six players in baseball history to accomplish this
- Had seasons of 48, 49 and 50 home runs
- Had seasons of 45, 48 and 52 doubles
- Was a 20-20 player in 1993
- Is one of only ten players in baseball history to have a season with 100+ extra base hits
I can’t think of anything more he could’ve done to sculpt a Hall of Fame career. He was a dominant offensive force in the AL for a decade and a feared clutch hitter.