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|Thursday, March 8|
|Belle's career falls short of Hall standards|
|Let the debate begin.
Or rather, let the debates begin.
There are those who will argue that Albert Belle's career-ending injury cuts short what would have been a Hall of Fame career.
And there are those who will argue that Albert Belle's career-ending injury cuts short what should still be a Hall of Fame career.
Let's address the second of those debates first.
Belle's career certainly was productive, but was it too short? He played 12 seasons, 10 of them as a regular. Kirby Puckett also played 12 seasons, but was a regular in all 12 of them. Like Belle, Puckett suffered a premature end to his career. And of course, Puckett sailed into Cooperstown this year, his first of eligibility.
Puckett Belle Games 1783 1539 Hits 2304 1726 Runs 1071 974 RBI 1085 1239 On-Base .360 .369 Slugging .477 .564Neither player won an MVP Award. Puckett finished in the top eight in MVP voting seven times, Belle five times. Puckett has some edges, of course. He won six Gold Gloves, compared to zero for Belle. He performed brilliantly and memorably in three of his four postseason series ... but then, Belle played well (if not particularly memorably) in three of his four postseason series, too. Puckett's something of a special case, of course. But do his special qualities -- the defense, the postseason heroics, the fun-house mirror body, the perpetual smile - outweigh Belle's 96-point edge in OPS? Perhaps not. But before you complain that I'm ignoring what Puckett and Belle "meant to the game" -- positively in Puckett's case, negatively in Belle's -- remember that when Belle was in Cleveland, the Indians sold out every single game they played at Jacobs Field. There simply isn't any evidence suggesting that his occasional surliness hurt anyone other than himself and the objects of his scorn. Did Belle help his teams win? For all of his faults, Albert Belle gave his teams two things that you need if you're going to win: production and durability. The production you know about: eight straight seasons with 100-plus RBI, two times leading the American League in slugging percentage. But here's something else that you might not expect from a player with an "attitude problem" ... Belle was in the lineup nearly every day. From 1992 through 1999, an eight-season span, Belle played in 98 percent of his teams' games. How many players can boast the same? For the sake of argument, however, let's assume Belle will, like Dick Allen, fail to garner significant Hall of Fame support. He's only 34 years old. What if he'd been able to play just four more years? Would he have retired with Hall of Fame credentials? Most certainly. Here are Belle's career numbers, along with what they might have looked like at the conclusion of the 2004 season.
Belle Projected Games 1539 2139 Hits 1726 2400 Homers 381 515 Runs 974 1350 RBI 1239 1650 On-Base .369 .370 Slugging .564 .550
Belle's playing days over; release or DL only options
Dan Patrick: On the demise of Albert Belle
ESPN The Magazine's Tim Kurkjian debates Albert Belle's place in the Hall of Fame.
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