How close was former Cleveland outfielder Albert Belle to being a Hall of Famer?

Albert Belle #8 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Albert Belle #8 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /
Cleveland Indians, Albert Belle
Albert Belle #8 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

Albert Belle had one of the most prolific – and infamous – careers in baseball history, but does he belong in the Hall of Fame?

Former Cleveland outfielder Albert Belle often made headlines for some truly bizarre reasons – from using a corked bat to destroying Fernando Viña on the basepath to chasing kids down in his car on Halloween – but the fact remains he was one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball during his 12-year career.

So how close was he to actually making the Hall of Fame?

We know that his utter disdain for the media – and apparently his teammates and everyone else around him – certainly did him no favors, and was a big reason why he only lasted two years on the ballot. And it is definitely why he lost the 1995 AL MVP award to Boston’s Mo Vaughn, despite the fact that Belle became the first player to ever hit 50 doubles and 50 home runs in a season that year, and remains to this day the only player to accomplish that feat (he nearly did it again in 1998, when he hit 49 home runs and 48 doubles with Chicago).

To think that record managed to stand through the entirety of the steroid era is pretty incredible.

Albert Belle’s Hall of Fame Credentials

But it wasn’t just 1995 that made Belle so feared – it was his entire career, right up until he had to retire at 34 due to degenerative hip osteoarthritis.

He became just the fourth player to have eight straight seasons of 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, which at the time was a list that only included Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx and Lou Gehrig. From 1991 to 2000, he averaged a .298/.374/.572 line with a 146 OPS+. And for his entire career, Belle would hit 381 home runs and 389 doubles. If he had played just a few more seasons, it’s possible Belle could have joined the very small list of players with 500 career home runs and 500 career doubles, a list which right now stands at only thirteen names.

Even so, Belle’s career numbers as they are warrant a discussion about the Hall of Fame. He was truly prolific in his prime, leading all of baseball in RBIs in 1993 (129) and all of the American League in 1995 (126) and 1996 (148).  For crying out loud, he had a 194 OPS+ in 1994 alone. How the Cleveland Indians were unable to win a World Series with a lineup that featured the likes of Belle, Jim Thome and a young Manny Ramirez is… baffling, to say the least.

What Is Albert Belle’s Legacy?

Belle would become the first player to make $10 million in a season and signed two monster contracts after his time in Cleveland, one with the Chicago White Sox, and his final deal with the Baltimore Orioles, which ended with them having to keep him on the 40-man roster for three seasons after he effectively retired as a condition of their insurance policy on him.

If he wasn’t the type of player teammates and the media loathed, Belle’s legacy might be something different other than almost entirely forgotten by people outside Cleveland. That’s the price one pays for destroying clubhouses and berating reporters on a regular basis.

Still, though, Belle has the numbers that should have warranted a deeper look at whether he deserved a trip to Cooperstown. He put together one of the best decades anyone has ever seen in this game, making five straight All-Star games and winning four straight Silver Sluggers from 1993-1996 (and a fifth in 1998).

If he had crossed the 400-400 mark in career home runs and doubles, there would be an even better case to be made; when you start to dig into the career numbers of Hall of Famers, there are plenty of great players who never hit that mark. With a career cut just a bit short because of injury, it’s hard to say with absolute certainty that Belle is a Hall of Famer, but it’s also hard to ignore what he was able to do with his time in the game.

So Is Albert Belle a Hall of Famer?

To this day, Belle has been able to accomplish things offensively that no one else has matched. And while “longevity” might be a question, he still has career numbers that rival many players already in the Hall of Fame. Baseball is notorious for gatekeeping the Hall of Fame to an absurd degree, but it was designed – supposedly – to celebrate the best players to ever take the field, and it’s impossible to say Albert Belle wasn’t one of them.

Baseball writers love to punish players who hurt their feelings, or didn’t give them interviews, or, sure, chased kids down in their car, but putting all that aside for a moment, Belle deserves more serious consideration. He wasn’t a first-ballot name, but he didn’t deserve to fall off the ballot so quickly, either.

Albert Belle – along with former teammates Kenny Lofton and Manny Ramirez – absolutely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.