Belle, Albert 1966—
Albert Belle 1966—
Professional baseball player
One of the most feared hitters in the American League, outfielder Albert Belle has spent his entire career to date with the Cleveland Indians. Belle, who has earned more press for his temperamental outbursts than for his considerable talent, has been nicknamed “the Charles Barkley of baseball” by his admirers in Cleveland (Barkley earns similar press coverage for bad behavior in the realm of basketball). He has been among the league-leading home run hitters virtually since 1991 but has also earned at least one suspension per year since he entered the major leagues. “With Albert Jojuan Belle, a spectacularly talented player, it is always stormy weather,” attested Sport magazine contributor Bill Livingston. “A new front is always threatening to move in, filling the sky with flame and roiling the waters. Belle seemingly can be cordial one minute and then become … out of control … the next. He can never relax. If he looks back, the tidal wave of emotion might be gaining on him.”
Belle’s volatility can perhaps be partially attributed to his perfectionism and problems with alcohol, for which he has undergone treatment. He refuses to discuss his triumphs or his problems with the press, but he also does not capitalize on his “bad boy” image. As Murray Chass put it in the New York Times, the surly outfielder “is in desperate need of a public personality transplant, and he couldn’t care less. The fans in Cleveland love him, his teammates like him and his employers think he’s terrific. But even this type of support isn’t enough to make the man smile and appear to enjoy what he does for a living.” Asked about his controversial reputation in The Sporting News, Belle responded, “If I had to do it again from day one of childhood, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Belle was born and raised with his twin brother, Terry, in Shreveport, Louisiana. The boys’ father was a football coach and their mother a math teacher. Belle was a good student and a gifted athlete. One year with his Little League team, he hit 21 home runs and was 8–0 as a pitcher—in 16 games. Belle was also an Eagle Scout who performed community service in Shreveport. He and his family expected that he might be offered a minor league baseball contract when he graduated from high school, but no such offer came. Instead, he enrolled at Louisiana State University (LSU), where he majored in accounting and starred on the baseball team.
Born Albertjojuan Belle, August 25, 1966, in Shreveport, LA; son of Albert (a football coach) and Carrie (a math teacher) Beile. Education: Attended Louisiana State University, 1984–87; additional study at Cleveland State University. Religion; Baptist.
Outfielder for Cleveland Indians, 1987-. Signed in second round of 1987 amateur draft; played for Class A Kinston, 1987, Class AA Waterloo, 1988, Class AAA Canton-Akron and Cleveland Indians, 1989, Cleveland Indians and Class AAA Colorado Springs, 1990, and Cleveland Indians, 1991—. Participant in Black on Black Crime Commission, United Way, and Albert Belle Charity Golf Outing, among other civic causes.
Selected awards: Named to American League All-Star Team, 1993 and 1994.
Addresses: Home—Euclid, OH. Office— Cleveland Indians, Indians Park, 2401 Ontario St., Cleveland, OH 44115.
n a Sporting News profile, Belle refused to discuss his college career. “LSU?” he asked rhetorically. “Don’t ever associate me with that place. They say good things about me now because look where I am.” That attitude baffles Belle’s coach at Louisiana State, Skip Bertman, who told USA Today that he has many fond memories of Belle as a student athlete. “He could hit with a matchstick,” Bertman recalled. “He was a hard worker. When he’d throw his helmet, I’d bench him, but he was a super-nice kid. And we’re trying to get him to come back for an alumni game.” During his three seasons at LSU, from 1985 until 1987, Belle set university records in seven offensive categories, including home runs (49), runs batted in (172), runs (157), hits (194) and at-bats (585).
Such statistics notwithstanding, Belle’s college career is remembered as much for his tantrums on the field as for his stellar play. He was often benched, and he was finally suspended from the team for throwing equipment. His most notable outburst came in the spring of 1987, during the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament. Responding to a fan who had shouted a racial epithet, Belle leapt into the stands and began to chase the offender. Two of his teammates tackled him before he could reach his antagonist, but the damage was done: At least one major league team—the Atlanta Braves—informed its personnel that they would be fired if they drafted Belle.
His reputation tarnished, Belle was not drafted until the second round of the 1987 amateur draft. He was chosen by the Cleveland Indians, a team that had not won a championship in decades. Belle, who was knowledgeable about the old Negro League and its stars in the days before professional baseball was integrated, welcomed the chance to play for Cleveland. “When I came to Cleveland, I found out they have a kind of Negro League tradition,” he told the Sporting News. “It was fun to meet and get to talk to some of the old players. I appreciate what they did. I read about Jackie Robinson, but, you know, I kind of went through the same kind of thing he did. Playing in Mississippi and Alabama, standing there for three straight hours, hearing the people yell racial slurs.”
After prolonged contract negotiations, Belle signed with the Indians in the summer of 1987. He reported to the Cape Cod League for instruction but was soon sent home for arguing with umpires, fans, and other players. He fared better with the Kinston team in the Carolina League, hitting .324 in 10 games with three home runs. Belle’s temper got the best of him again in winter baseball, however, during the early months of 1988: He was playing for a Mexican League team but was fired and asked to leave the country after he threw a catcher’s mask out of the ballpark.
Such antics might have destroyed the career of a lesser talent, but in working-class Cleveland, Belle was hailed as a hero by a devoted band of fans and watched in anticipation of his certain stardom. Most players spend years in the minor leagues honing their skills; Belle was promoted to the Indians in July of 1989, and he promptly batted .311 with two home runs in his first dozen games, including a grand slam against the hated New York Yankees.
Nonetheless, Belle’s place with the Indians was not assured; as the season progressed, he slumped and struggled, and his temper began to reassert itself. “I was sure I’d be a superstar by the time I was 21,” Belle told Sports Illustrated. “Baseball messed up my plan of life. When I fail, I get upset. Sometimes I get upset too quickly, without thinking of the consequences.”
In 1990 Belle began poorly with the Indians and was demoted to the club’s AAA team in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Not long after arriving there, he destroyed the clubhouse sink in a fit of anger. A month later, he surprised even his closest family members by checking into the Cleveland Clinic for treatment of alcohol abuse. “Some people like to sip a drink and enjoy it,” he told Sport. “But I got to the point where I didn’t feel like waiting around. I wanted to relax. I wanted to get drunk. As fast as possible.” He added that his admission of alcoholism was hard for his whole family. “One of the bad things about being an alcoholic is that your parents think they did something wrong bringing you up,” he said. “I was raised the best way they knew how. Whatever the problem was, it was mine.”
When he emerged from treatment, Belle claimed that he was a new man. He dropped the name he had been using since childhood—Joey Belle—in favor of the more formal Albert. Despite his assertions about having turned over a new leaf, however, his troubles continued: He was sent home from the winter league in Puerto Rico for failing to hustle in the outfield. Yet this suspension was only a harbinger of a more serious one to come.
Belle rejoined the Indians in 1991 and was quickly viewed as the team’s ascending star. He was, in fact, doing well—until May 11, when a heckler in the stands shouted: “Hey, Joey! Keg party at my house after the game!” In response, Belle turned and fired a baseball straight at the fan. He was hit with a seven-day suspension for the incident. Belle told Sport: “I know what alcoholism does to people. But I still let some guy who had been drinking and who had been loud and obnoxious the whole game get to me. I stooped to his level. That’s what I regret. I don’t know why anyone would come to the park and say the things he did. Maybe it’s a high to come out and scream at players. I know most people would give their right arm to be doing what we’re doing. But they don’t know that most of us went through hell in the minor leagues to get here.”
Later in the 1991 season Belle was demoted to Colorado Springs for “lack of effort.” But in only two weeks he was back, and he ultimately compiled impressive statistics for such an up-and-down year: 28 home runs and 95 runs batted in in just 123 games. Sport’s Livingston wrote of Belle’s continued favor, “In Cleveland, where they have known failure for 38 straight seasons, a man who hates it and fights so hard against it, as Belle does, can become a fan favorite…. Cleveland fans tolerated Belle’s bursts. In fact, he became almost a cult figure. The fans knew … he was the only one who could also bring the boom times.”
“If 1991 christened Belle as an ascending star,” wrote Washington Post correspondent Johnette Howard, “1992 was his launching pad, and the beginning of his temperamental change.” A more mellow—but hardly cheerful—Belle appeared in 153 games for Cleveland, knocking 34 homers and compiling 112 runs batted in, fourth best in the American League. He also served a three-day suspension in August for charging the mound after Kansas City Royals pitcher Neal Heaton threw two pitches behind his head. While still uncooperative with the press, Belle endeared himself to the fans by participating in charitable activities and drug abuse awareness seminars in the city. Their faith in him restored, Cleveland front office executives offered the young slugger a four-year, $13.5 million contract to commence in the spring of 1993.
As Cleveland turned in another lackluster season that year, Belle soared as an individual performer, delivering his second straight 30-home run, 100-RBI season and winning his first invitation to the American League All Star team. He led the American League in runs batted in and was fourth best for home runs and sixth best for total bases. Belle also added to his legend by earning yet another three-game suspension, this time for charging the mound after being hit by a pitch. Indians general manager John Hart told the New York Times: “Albert is the most popular player we have. He is a folk… hero. We brought him up. He struggled as a young player. They’ve seen him mature as a human being. Albert does more community things behind the scenes than anyone we have. The community just threw themselves behind him.”
Then, in 1994, the unexpected happened: Cleveland began to surge toward pennant contention for the first time in 40 years as Belle himself turned in another banner year. Unfortunately, the baseball season was halted by a players’ strike—and Belle found himself at the center of yet another controversy. On July 15, during a game against the Chicago White Sox, play was stopped when the White Sox manager accused Belle of using a corked bat—illegal in the major leagues. Belle denied that his bat was corked, but the umpire confiscated it. Later, the confiscated bat was stolen from the locked umpires’ room by an enterprising Indians employee who crawled through ductwork and dropped from a ceiling to obtain it. The bat was later returned to the umpires. Finally, a bat that umpires said belonged to Belle was sliced open on July 18; it contained cork. Belle denied that the bat belonged to him and accused the White Sox of tampering with his equipment.
The host of questions surrounding the incident may never be resolved. Belle appealed his ten-game suspension, and it was reduced to six days, including one on which the Indians played a doubleheader. When he returned to the field after serving his suspension, the Cleveland fans accorded him a five-minute standing ovation.
It is perhaps not surprising that Belle is reluctant to talk about himself in the press; reporters often receive stony silence in response to questions, and even the Cleveland fans tend to keep their distance from their team leader. After hitting .479 over a three-week period and being named American League Player of the Month in May of 1994, Belle was still unwilling to bask in glory or to apologize for his temper. “I’ve had to work harder to get where I am,” he told the Sporting News. “You look at Barry Bonds and (Ken) Griffey, Jr., but when you have a dad who was a major leaguer, people are going to assume that you have the same genes. I pretty much came out of nowhere and probably had to work three times as hard to get my name on the scene. Now I feel like I’ve earned the right to be out there every day, no matter what.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 29, 1993, p. ID; July 30, 1994, p. 1A.
Houston Chronicle, June 20, 1993, p. 5.
New York Times, July 29, 1994, p. 9B.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 31, 1994, p. 6F.
Seattle Times, May 14, 1991, p. IB.
Sport, February 1992, p. 58.
Sporting News, July 4, 1994, p. 10.
Sports Illustrated, June 24, 1991, p. 68; June 8, 1992, p. 68.
USA Today, May 3, 1993, p. 8C; July 26, 1994, p. 1C.
Washington Post, May 20, 1993, p. 1C.
American baseball player
Albert Belle, known for his outstanding power as a hitter, is also one of baseball's most enigmatic characters. S.L. Price, writing in Sports Illustrated,
called Belle "the game's most dependable and unpredictable talent." While Belle's talent is undeniable—his career batting average is .295—he is known for his quick temper and his impatience with both the media and his many fans. Belle's hot-headedness is speculated to have been the source of his drive in the game, but that same quality cost him numerous suspensions and his chance at the Most Valuable Player Award.
Albert Jojuan Belle was born on August 25, 1966 in Shreveport, Louisiana. Growing up, Belle's family, friends, and coaches called him "Joey," a shortened version of his middle name. Belle's family lived in a middle-class section of Shreveport, and his parents were both educators. Albert, Belle's father, was a high school football coach and a teacher; Belle's mother Carrie was a math teacher. Both parents, but particularly Carrie, pushed Belle to succeed in everything he did. This was a lesson Belle would take with him into adulthood, as he continued to set high standards for himself.
Belle's twin brother, Terry, stayed by Belle's side throughout career. A businessman, Terry assisted Belle with public relations and his relationship with the media.
Belle was an outstanding figure in high school. He was an Eagle Scout, a regular attendee of the Galilee Baptist Church, and an all-state baseball player. Belle was also a high achiever as a student, graduating sixth in his class of 266 at Huntington High. Belle even took college courses in high school, learning computer programming languages. But as early as high school, Belle's temperament was a problem: the outstanding athlete would have fits when he didn't perform at his best, throwing bats, balls, helmets.
Belle and his family hoped for a minor league contract right out of high school, but no offers were forthcoming. The most prestigious college teams overlooked him, too; while his talent was indisputable, Belle's attitude was problematic. He did get an offer to attend Louisiana State University and play for the LSU Tigers; brother Terry was drafted along with Belle. Belle excelled as a Tiger, setting university records in seven categories (including home runs and runs batted in). He was twice named to the All-Southeast Conference. But Belle also had some setbacks in college: one incident involved a spectator yelling a racial slur; Belle dove into the stands trying to identify the man, and teammates had to tackle him. He was benched for the 1987 College World Series because of his temper.
Drafted to the Big Leagues
Belle finally got his break after his junior year in college in the second round of the 1987 draft. Several teams refused to consider Belle in any round based on his temperament, but the Cleveland Indians picked him up. He started with the Indians' minors team, and played his first major league game in July 1989. That game was a stunning success for Belle: he got a hit at his first at-bat, and hit a grand slam against the Yankees. Belle did have some trouble during those first years with the Indians, though, and was demoted to the minors a few times following outbursts.
|1966||Born August 25 in Shreveport, LA|
|1984||Begins playing for Louisiana State University|
|1987||Benched for College World Series for attacking spectator|
|1987||Drafted by Cleveland Indians in second round|
|1989||Plays first major-league game in July|
|1990||Checks into Cleveland Clinic for drinking problem|
|1991||Suspended for throwing ball at fan|
|1992||First full season in major leagues|
|1994||Suspended after being charged with using a corked bat|
|1995||Sets record as first major leaguer to have 50 home runs and 50 RBIs in one season|
|1995||Leads Indians to the World Series|
|1995||Lashes out at the media before game, fined $50,000|
|1995||Starts in All-Star game|
|1996||Signs 5-year, $55 million contract with Chicago White Sox|
|1997||Faces civil suit for gambling on football and basketball|
|1998||Signs 5-year, $65 million contract with Baltimore Orioles|
|2001||Permanently injures hip|
Belle's temper earned him the nickname "Snapper" among his teammates. In one incident, Belle used a bat to destroy a porcelain sink in the clubhouse; his temper was out of control. Belle later reflected to Sports Illustrated, "I was sure I'd be a superstar by the time I was 21. When I fail, I get upset. Sometimes I get upset too quickly, without thinking of the consequences."
In 1990, Belle checked himself into the Cleveland Clinic for help with a drinking problem. After a two-month leave, Belle issued a statement indicating he had received the help he needed. He signed this statement "Albert Belle," perhaps reflecting a new, more mature identity than the old "Joey."
During his time with the Indians, Belle consistently was one of the leaders in the American League in home runs and runs batted in (RBI). While his temper and his refusals to talk with the press were still problematic, he became one of Cleveland's most popular players, and even had a candy bar named after him. He played in two All-Star games, and despite several suspensions, amassed an impressive record. General manager John Hart was one of Belle's most committed supporters. He commented to the New York Times, "He is a folk hero. We brought him up. He struggled as a young player. They've [the fans have] seen him mature as a human being. Albert does more community things behind the scenes than anyone we have. The community just threw themselves behind him."
In 1995, Belle's power at bat led the team through a phenomenal season. Belle himself hit 50 home runs and had 52 doubles becoming the first major league player to top 50 in both categories in one season. Enjoying tremendous fan support and their new stadium, the Indians went to the World Series for the first time since 1954. The Indians lost that series to the Atlanta Braves, but Belle emerged from the 1995 season a hero. While he lost the Most Valuable Player award that year to Mo Vaughn (members of the press vote on this award), Belle's fans voted him to start in the All-Star game for the first time.
In 1996, Belle signed a five-year, $55 million contract to play for the Chicago White Sox. This briefly made him the highest paid baseball player of all time, and certainly proved his status as one of the best players in the game. Belle used the team change as another chance for him to change his pattern of angry outbursts; the press, though, was not willing to let go of Belle's "bad boy" image. In 1997, Belle was in the spotlight for gambling on football, basketball, and, some alleged, baseball. He was also accused of hitting ex-girlfriend Stephanie Bugusky, but all charges in this matter were dropped.
In December 1998, Belle signed a 5-year contract with the Baltimore Orioles worth $65 million dollars. He jumped on another opportunity to change his image, and even began signing autographs and speaking with the press. Belle's reinvention of himself was cut short, though. An inflamed bursa sac in his right hip made 2001 a grueling season for Belle, and he sat out the 2002 season with what appears to be a permanent injury.
|BAL: Baltimore Orioles; CHW: Chicago White Sox; CLE: Cleveland Indians.|
Bad Boy Reputation
Although he was loved by teammates and fans alike, throughout his career Belle maintained the reputation of a hot-head. He seemed to need this anger to propel him to perform, and former teammates and coaches have talked about waiting for Belle to get angry so that he would begin a hitting streak. Like Ty Cobb before him, Belle was one of baseball's bad boys, and his image is tainted with stories of corked bats, accosting journalists, and even running down Halloween trick-or-treaters with his truck. Belle's unflinching quest for perfection had the paradoxical effect of making him one of the game's best players and one of its most troubled, and troubling, characters.
Awards and Accomplishments
|The Roberto Clemente and Branch Rickey awards are for community service.|
|1987||Sets school records at LSU in 7 offensive categories|
|1993||Selected to the American League All-Star Squad|
|1993-95, 1998||Silver Slugger Award|
|1993-94||Nominee for Roberto Clemente Award|
|1994||Nominee for Branch Rickey Award|
|1994||Elected to All-Star Team|
|1994||Season batting average was .357, career high|
|1995||First Major League player to collect 50 HR and 50 2R in a season|
|1995||Named "Major League Player of the Year" by Sporting News and Baseball Digest|
|1995||Played in World Series|
|1995||Started in All-Star game|
|1996-97||Named to All-Star team|
Address: Albert Belle, Baltimore Orioles, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, 333 West Camden St., Baltimore, MD 21201. Phone: (410) 685-9800.
Bamberger, Michael. "He Thrives on Anger," Sports Illustrated (May 6, 1996): 72-82.
Bodley, Hal. "Orioles stockpiling millions for rebuilding," USA Today (June 22, 2001): C7.
Chass, Murray. "Belle is all business, on and off the field." New York Times (July 29, 1994): B9.
Leavy, Walter. "Albert Belle: A new beginning for baseball's $55 million man." Ebony (May 1997): 28-32.
Nightengale, Bob. "Belle is the Victim Now: You Can Bet on That." Sporting News (February 24, 1997): 36.
Price, S.L. "The Belle of Baltimore." Sports Illustrated (March 8, 1999): 48-49.
Weinstock, Jeff. "Get Smart About Dennis Rodman vs. Albert Belle." Sport (January 1997): 22.
Sketch by Christine M. Kelley