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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    .564

Neither 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

Similarity Scores
Would Belle have made the Hall of Fame? Similarity Scores is a method introduced by Bill James. To compare players, you start with 1,000 points and then subtract points based on statistical differences. Thanks to, we can compare Belle's similarity scores to players through the same age (33):

Duke Snider (896)
Dick Allen (890)
Jose Canseco (877)
Reggie Jackson (865)
Rocky Colavito (857)
Willie McCovey (851)
Fred McGriff (844)
Jim Rice (840)
Orlando Cepeda (839)
Rafael Palmeiro (838)

Four players -- Snider, Jackson, McCovey and Cepeda -- went on to be Hall of Famers. Dick Allen, similar in reputation and production, did not.

My method for projecting Belle's numbers was crude, and also conservative, because (1) even absent the injury, he wouldn't have gotten any younger, and (2) the Orioles have moved their fences back a few feet. On the other hand, most great hitters play past their 38th birthday; if he'd been able to play into his late 30s or early 40s, Belle's percentages would certainly have been hurt, but his raw totals -- hits, home runs, RBI -- would have been helped.

Of course, we'll never know. But there's simply no precedent for not electing a player with 500 home runs or 1,600 RBI to the Hall of Fame. Let alone a player with both.

Bottom line, I can't quite support Albert Belle's Hall of Fame candidacy. He put together six truly great seasons -- 1993 through '96, then 1998 and '99 -- a peak that certainly held more value than many, many Hall of Fame players.

But Belle played a hitter's position in a hitter's era, and so he needs a bit more than that. A great 1997 season. A great 2000 season. Or any kind of 2001 and 2002 seasons.

Absent those, though, he falls a little short, at least in relation to the de facto standards exhibited by the BBWAA.

Rob Neyer is a Senior Writer for

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