Should Albert Belle be in the Hall of Fame? (Piper says no)

Albert Belle was never stupid.

Belle graduated sixth in his high school class in Shreveport, La. He was the vice president of his chapter of the Future Business Leaders of America. From all appearances, he was a straight-shooting, stand-up guy.

It’s a shame he’d already made more dumb career moves than Freddie Prinze Jr. by the time he cracked a major league lineup.

Belle gave America an early taste of his famous temper in the 1986 College World Series, where he ran into the stands to attack a heckler. He developed a reputation for drinking and fighting in the Indians minor league system and challenged yet another bothersome fan-this time launching a baseball into the stands and hitting the shocked heckler square in the face.

Of course, once he established himself as one of baseball’s top RBI producers with the Cleveland Indians, Belle became more comfortable with his role in the limelight and settled down. Also, Russia rebuilt the Berlin Wall and Sergei Federov was named Prime Minister of the world.

Oh, sorry, Bellamy just handed me some of what he’s smoking for a second there.

Belle, of course, did not act like any other employee in any other profession would act if he were trying to sweep over so many missteps.

“Joey” Belle changed his name to “Albert” after undergoing anger management and ran off nine seasons of remarkable production for the Indians under his new name. His astounding numbers were only topped by his propensity for adversity over the same period.

Belle was caught using a corked bat in the 1994 season. He leveled Brewers infielder Fernando Vina on his way to second base like a crazed free safety in 1996. He ripped into NBC reporter Hannah Storm during the ’96 World Series.

And his exploits weren’t limited to the diamond. One time, Belle even physically threatened a group of trick-or-treaters before chasing them away from his house.

In a lot of ways, Albert Belle is the Grinch who stole chivalry from professional sports, the Jackie Robinson of hateful athletes. Belle blazed new trails for other overpaid, spiteful, petulant bastards yet to come.

Some argue that Belle’s off-field exploits shouldn’t count against him in Hall of Fame voting. It’s a fair point.

The thing is, though-who gets hurt if Belle’s left out? Does anybody feel sorry for Albert Belle? Can’t we just send him some plates to smash as a consolation prize or something? Obviously the bulk of voters don’t care much one way or the other if Belle is hard done by-he received just 7.7 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility.

His rsum is no shoo-in even if you look at his numbers alone, regardless of whether the voters clearly resent Belle’s lack of appreciation for the game.

There are other non-character-related knocks on Belle too. He was a notoriously erratic fielder. He hit just .230 in the postseason. He was among the league leaders at grounding into double plays for his whole career. Belle never even won an MVP, finishing second just once to Mo Vaughan in 1995.

Still, his power numbers are on the verge of consideration. The problem is this: Admitting Belle into the Hall of Fame is like admitting O.J. Simpson to your golf club. Pete Rose had a more prolific career, and he was a better guy as well. I know, I know, Rose committed baseball’s cardinal sin by gambling on the game, but how you conduct yourself as a representative of Major League Baseball and your team is an equally important part of good sportsmanship.

To me, Belle’s errors were more egregious than Rose’s. Even if Belle had carried himself like Cary Grant, there’d still be debate about whether he should get in.

The way Belle acted, he’s just lucky that he scored himself a profession where he could put food on the table despite his radical behavior. As a company, Major League Baseball certainly doesn’t owe its least respectful employee any special plaques.

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