“I waited until I was done playing to get married and then settle down and start a family,” said Belle, forced to retired in 2001 because of a bad hip. “I don’t know how guys do it, have a family and try to play baseball, man. It’s tough. Facing (David) Cone and (Roger) Clemens was easy compared to being a dad. It seems like all the kids get tired and cranky at the same time.”
Just like their dad.
Cranky would be a polite way of describing Belle, who in his prime had few rivals _ inside or outside the baselines.
Pursing his lips as he awaited the pitch, Belle could drive a baseball over the fence to all three fields. A five-time All-Star, he had his finest season in 1995, when he batted .317 and led the league with 50 homers, 52 doubles, 121 runs and 126 RBIs. He remains the only player in history to hit 50 doubles and homers in a season, and yet finished second to Boston’s Mo Vaughn in MVP voting that year.
If his career had not been cut short by injuries, it’s possible Belle would have made it to the Hall of Fame.
Assuming, that is, anyone would have voted for him.
Belle was trouble for almost anyone or anything in his path. He chased away kids who threw eggs at his house after he didn’t give them candy on Halloween, hitting one with his car. After a strikeout, he smashed the thermostat off the clubhouse wall, and once threw a ball and hit a photographer.
He was especially difficult for reporters to deal with, cutting short an interview, refusing to give one or using obscenities.
“I talked to the media,” he said. “They just didn’t like the words I gave them.”
Belle was the ringleader for the powerful Cleveland team that bashed its way to a 100-44 record in 1995 and won the AL pennant before losing to Atlanta in the World Series. The Indians had a stacked lineup with Lofton, Baerga, Belle, Alomar, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Hall of Famer Eddie Murray in their everyday lineup.
“Our `95 team was pretty incredible,” Belle said. “The Yankees had a pretty good team when they won 100-something games in `98. But I think our lineup was way better than them. It all started when you had a guy like Kenny Lofton at the top of the lineup. As soon as he’d get on base, he’d cause havoc and we were just licking our chops to drive in runs and have big innings.”
“We probably would’ve gotten way more credit had we won the World Series that year,” he said. “We were the Cinderella team. All of America embraced us and I think everybody in Cleveland had some kind of Indians jersey or hat or something on. It was a nice run. We did a phenomenal job. I just wish we could’ve all stayed together to get a chance to try to bring one home. We never did.”
As Belle and Co. strolled and laughed their way down memory lane, Jason Bere, the former pitcher who now works as a special assistant for the Indians, walked outside and cringed at the sight of Belle, Lofton and Baerga together again.
“Didn’t you guys wear me out enough back then,” Bere said with a laugh.