On the sports website The Big Lead, one of my favorites, the case was made recently why Albert Belle should be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Over the course of the time he played, from 1989 to 2000, he was perhaps the most feared hitter in baseball. His numbers - 381 home runs, 1,239 RBI over 12 seasons - are certainly impressive enough for a career cut short by injury, and one could argue more impressive than Kirby Puckett’s, whose career also ended prematurely because of his eye problems.
Belle, though, isn’t even on the ballot anymore. He couldn’t get the necessary percentage of votes to stay on. He didn’t get my vote, and here’s why.
Critics fail to point out, or are even unaware of, the criteria for election to Cooperstown - the individual’s record, ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team or teams they played on.
Notice three, even four of them have little to do with performance on the field. I give those criteria considerable weight. Belle whiffs badly in integrity, sportsmanship, character and even contributions to the teams he played on, if you consider his stint in Baltimore. He was a jerk, but it was that personality that made him such a failure in those categories.
Critics will argue that there are persons of questionable character already in the Hall, such as Ty Cobb, so how can you make such judgments on Belle? Well, I am not bound by every vote that has come before me. I didn’t vote for those players, and to suggest that I have to base my decision on every past vote that took place is a flawed argument.
Also, the Hall of Fame is an honor. Voting for it is not sitting on a jury. It’s not a court of law, and I don’t need evidence beyond a reasonable doubt not to vote for someone because I suspect he was a steroid user. All I need is enough circumstantial evidence in my mind to make them a suspect. This is why Mark McGwire doesn’t get my vote. This is why Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens will not get my votes.
Belle excelled in the steroid era. He had already been caught cheating with a corked bat, so it’s not difficult to believe he would cheat by using steroids. And his career ended from a degenerative hip disorder - his body broke down prematurely, as bodies often do from steroid use. Baseball’s Hall of Fame is among the subjects that generates the most debates in sports - even for a player who has disappeared from the ballot.
I will be on the Sports Reporters on ESPN 980 AM on Monday, Dec. 29 and Tuesday, Dec. 30, from 4 to 7 p.m. To learn more about Thom Loverro, go to www.thomloverro.com