- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2001

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. Apparently resigned that his playing days are done, Albert Belle had his degenerative right hip examined by two doctors yesterday, and an announcement regarding his retirement or release by the Baltimore Orioles is expected to come as soon as today.

Belle, who has not appeared in uniform for any of the Orioles' six spring training games, was examined by team doctors Michael Jacobs and Charles Silberstein in Fort Lauderdale yesterday afternoon. The results of that examination, which were not immediately available, will be sent to Baltimore to be reviewed by club officials and representatives for Belle.

"I would think that it's another step along the way to see where he's at," manager Mike Hargrove said. "It's another step in the process."

The primary question appears not to be whether Belle will play again but how the outfielder's exit will be handled to satisfy all parties involved.

With three years remaining on his guaranteed five-year, $65 million contract, Belle wants to ensure that he receives the $39 million still owed him. The Orioles, meanwhile, want to ensure that the insurance policy taken out on Belle when he signed the contract will pay off now that he has suffered a career-ending injury.

The insurance policy, which reportedly covers 70 percent of Belle's contract, would leave the Orioles paying Belle less than $4 million a year, as opposed to the full $13 million per year.

If Belle were to announce his retirement at 34, there are questions whether he would still receive the remainder of his salary and whether the Orioles' insurance policy would cover it. Baltimore's other options would be to release Belle or place him on the 60-day disabled list for each of the next three seasons.

The team and Belle will have to come to an agreement on the terms of his departure, with the players' association paying close attention to the talks.

Belle, who on Monday told USA Today it would take "a miracle" for him to play again, made a brief appearance at the Orioles' spring training complex yesterday morning. He stopped in the clubhouse for about 10 minutes, then drove away, refusing to speak to reporters.

Baltimore's WBAL-AM, the Orioles' flagship radio station, reported that Belle would announce his retirement by today, though agent Arn Tellem told the Associated Press those reports were "way premature."

The Orioles continue to speak of Belle's career in the past tense and have been making plans to field a roster without their top power threat.

"I understand the situation with Albert is important for everybody," Hargrove said. "But, yeah, I'd rather not have it. I'm sure Albert would rather not have it also. The more we try to put time limits on it, the more we're barking up the wrong tree. It's a process that is going to take place, and I don't know if there's anything you can do to hurry it along."

One of the most dominant hitters in baseball over the last decade, Belle first began feeling pain in his right hip last summer. He played through it until early September, when he said the pain was too great for him to even sit still on an airplane flight.

Diagnosed with an inflamed bursa sac in his right hip, a degenerative condition that could only worsen, Belle sat out much of the final month of the season and finished the year with numbers (23 home runs, 103 RBI and a .281 batting average) well below his career averages.

After spending the offseason going through an intense rehabilitation program, Belle arrived at camp this spring determined to play right field on a regular basis. He passed a mandatory team physical Feb. 20 but was hobbled from the start of spring training.

He started in right field during the Orioles' four intrasquad games and had trouble tracking balls down. He also was extremely tentative on the bases, never attempting to slide.

Belle originally was penciled into Baltimore's lineup for four exhibition games but was scratched each time, unable even to be the designated hitter. He wasn't even listed on the lineup cards the last two days.

"You have a certain amount of compassion," said Hargrove, who managed Belle in Cleveland from 1991 to 1996 before rejoining him in Baltimore last year. "If it does end up that Albert's career is over, you hate to see it happen like this. But everybody's dealt a different hand, and you have to play with that hand."

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