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Thursday, March 8
Belle to be released or put on DL

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Albert Belle will not play baseball again, but he won't be retiring either, ESPN The Magazine's Tim Kurkjian reported Wednesday.

Belle is not able to play again because of his degenerative hip condition. It's just a matter of whether the Orioles release him or place him on the disabled list. Belle will receive the remainder of his salary either way.

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Albert Belle ended an amazing run when he hit only 23 home runs last season. From 1992 to 1999, Belle had a streak of eight consecutive seasons with at least 30 HR and 100 RBI. That tied him with Babe Ruth for the third-longest such streak in major-league history.
Player Seasons
Jimmie Foxx '29-40 12
Lou Gehrig '29-37 9
Babe Ruth '26-33 8
Albert Belle '92-99 8

Were Belle to retire, the Orioles would not be obligated to pay the rest of his contract. He is guaranteed $13 million in each of the final three seasons of his $65 million, five-year contract, with $3 million a year deferred.

The timing of the Orioles move will depend on discussions with doctors and the insurance company that will compensate the team for the money paid to Belle.

Belle's agent, Arn Tellem, spoke with his client Wednesday but not with the doctors and didn't want to discuss their diagnosis. Tellem said Belle has a severe case of degenerative arthritis.

"He's considering what the doctors had to say and trying to make the best decision for himself," Tellem said.

A decision on Belle's future could come as early as Thursday, Tellem said.

Belle has missed all five of the team's spring training games this year. He made a quick visit to the Orioles' training complex Wednesday morning, but he drove away without speaking to reporters.

The Orioles expect the doctors to conclude that Belle is physically unable to play, and likely will release him within the next 48 hours.

Belle, 34, is guaranteed $13 million in each of the final three seasons of his $65 million, five-year contract, with $3 million a year deferred.

He must be put on the disabled list and deemed unable to play by a physician before an insurance company would pay the Orioles. Seventy percent of his salary is covered by insurance, Baltimore-area newspapers have reported.

"He's in considerable pain," Tellem said, "obviously extremely disappointed that he isn't able to play at the level he's accustomed to and that he was preparing for this spring. For a man of his tremendous skills and talents, it's extremely disappointing and frustrating."

On Tuesday, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove discussed that possibility. Belle's degenerative right hip began bothering him in the second half of last season.

"We're much farther down that road than we were two days ago, much farther down that road," Hargrove said.

The injury has left the outfielder with a nasty limp and the feeling that his baseball playing days are done. Belle told USA Today on Monday that he needs a "miracle" to return.

There wasn't much to say, given that his condition has not changed.

"Nothing new, nothing different," Hargrove said. "I talked to Albert this morning and he said it's the same as it has been."

So the Orioles will wait for the saga to reach a conclusion. Either Belle attempts to play, or he admits that he can't.

"There's nothing else we can do. I don't know how else to go about it," Hargrove said.

Belle missed 20 games last September with an inflamed bursa sac in the right hip pointer area. He finished with a .281 batting average and 103 RBI, but his 23 homers ended a streak of eight straight seasons with at least 30.

He hit .248 with five homers and 42 RBI during his last 65 games.

Syd Thrift, the Orioles vice president of baseball operations, summed up the situation by saying, "We've had five games and he hasn't played in any of them. That speaks for itself."

The Orioles are willing to wait for a week or two, but if Belle continues his struggle to return, the team eventually will have to move forward with plans for a season without him.

"We're trying to find a resolution as to where he is, physically," Thrift said. "He's talked to Hargrove, and that's all we know. We need to find out more than that."

Resting him for several days is not an option. Baltimore also doesn't plan to use him exclusively as a designated hitter.

"It's hard to look at this as a rehabilitation process. It's not. He's rehabilitated his hip all winter," Hargrove said. "Can he DH? Yeah, but probably after two days he'd be right back in the same spot. That's where we're at. I don't know that rest will make this better."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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