Friday, December 02, 2005

December 2nd, 1998

Orioles Sign Albert Belle

This, of course was the last contract Belle ever signed, a five year sixty-five million dollar contract for the 1999 through 2003 seasons. As it turned out, Belle would only play the first two years after a degenerative hip condition rendered him unable to play. Belle had previously been the model of health, at one point holding the active games played streak (it would end at three hundred and ninety-two) and playing in at least ninety percent of his team's games eight years in row, 1992-99. (I used the ninety percent rather than an actual number of games because the strike does funny things to Belle's 1994 and 1995 games played total.) Belle was also an absolutely devastating hitter as his best, three times posting an OPS+ over 170, and slugging fifty home runs in one hundred and forty-three games in 1995.

Belle presents an interesting Hall of Fame case--he's eligible this year. His career is relatively short, just fifteen hundred games and sixty-seven hundred plate appearances. However, he has impressive numbers in that time, a .295 batting average, .363 OBP and most impressively, a .564 slugging, the latter two of which are good for a career 143 OPS+, in the same range as Hall of Famers Hack Wilson, Reggie Jackson and Sam Crawford. Despite the short career, Belle still slammed nearly four hundred home runs, he retired just nineteen short.

Leaving aside Belle's well-known personality issues--Belle was rather an ass, and may or may not have corked his bat at one point--I don't think he's quite a Hall of Famer. Belle was a great hitter at his best, but mixed in some seasons that were simply good rather than great, especially once he left Cleveland (his original team) for Chicago and Baltimore. With such a short career, a player can't afford to have been anything but consistently great.

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