- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2001

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. What had been assumed for the better part of the last week became official last night: Albert Belle's playing career is over.
One day after his degenerative right hip was examined by two doctors, the Baltimore Orioles announced the 34-year-old outfielder was found to be "totally disabled and unable to perform as a major league baseball player."
As a result, Belle will be placed on the 60-day disabled list today, triggering a process in which he effectively ends his 12-year major league career while continuing to receive the $39 million remaining on his five-year, $65 million contract.
The announcement came in the form of a four-paragraph news release, handed out by the Orioles about 15 minutes before the start of last night's exhibition game against the New York Mets.
"We've been anticipating this for some time," Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift said. "It's a very sad event for a young man 34 years of age to not be able to play baseball."
Belle did not appear at Baltimore's spring training complex in Fort Lauderdale yesterday and was not available for comment.
His clubhouse locker, which had been filled yesterday afternoon, was completely cleaned out by the time last night's game ended no clothes, no equipment, no nameplate.
"You hate to see anything end this way, no matter who it is, much less a superstar of the game," manager Mike Hargrove said. "He may have done things over the course of his career that people didn't like or agree with, but they can't say that Albert ever went out and didn't try to give his best in every at-bat."
Though he has not signed a "voluntary retirement" document, Belle agrees with the Orioles that he can no longer play. Placing him on the 60-day DL was the team's only option to ensure that Belle will receive his entire salary for the next three years with the possibility that insurance will cover 70 percent of the contract.
Had Belle retired, he would have forfeited the rest of his contract. Had the Orioles released him, they would have been responsible for his entire $13 million annual salary.
Representatives for Belle, the Orioles, the team's insurance company and the Players' Association have not yet reached an agreement that satisfies all parties. But with Belle now on the 60-day DL, the matter does not have to be resolved on short notice.
"This is the first step in essentially ending Albert's career as an Oriole," director of public relations Bill Stetka said. "It's a process they have to go through."
Belle remains property of the Orioles and theoretically could decide to make a return at some point. That said, neither the team nor Belle expects he will play again.
"I would think that's a reasonable statement," Thrift said.
Yesterday's announcement came after team doctors Michael Jacobs and Charles Silberstein presented the results of Wednesday's examination to team officials in Baltimore. The doctors found no evidence that Belle's hip will permit him to play and that there is no reason to believe his condition will improve.
Belle will remain on Baltimore's 40-man roster, though the league permits teams to surpass the 40-man limit when a player is on the 60-day DL. He would have to be included on the true 40-man roster at the end of the season or else risk being claimed by another team in the Rule 5 draft.
A similar method was used by the Minnesota Twins and outfielder Kirby Puckett in 1995, when glaucoma forced the recently elected Hall of Famer to end his career prematurely.
If the Orioles, representatives for Belle, the team's insurance company and the Players' Association come to an agreement, Belle could at some point officially retire and still be paid in full, with insurance covering the majority of his salary.
Though the process is somewhat complicated, it was the only way to resolve Belle's situation in a manner that satisfied all parties.
"This way is prescribed, not just by the Baltimore Orioles, but by the Players' Association and by Major League Baseball," Thrift said.
The enigmatic Belle ends his career as one of the most dominating hitters of the last decade but a player despised by many for his boorish behavior with fans and the media.
He finishes with 381 career home runs, 1,239 RBI and a .295 batting average in 12 seasons. His streak of eight consecutive seasons with at least 30 homers and 100 RBI from 1992 to '99 had been accomplished previously only by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmy Foxx.
Belle joined the Orioles prior to the 1999 season, signing the club-record $65 million contract after eight seasons in Cleveland and two with the Chicago White Sox. His production declined to 23 homers, 103 RBI and a .281 average last year when he began to be hampered by the injury that would end his career.
Belle first began feeling pain in his right hip over the summer, but played through it until the first week of September. After being diagnosed with an inflamed bursa sac in the hip, he missed much of the final month of the season.
He spent the offseason rehabilitating and came to Fort Lauderdale this spring expecting to make a full return. From the start, however, he obviously was still in pain. Unable even to walk without a noticeable limp, Belle appeared in four intrasquad games but was unable to play in any of the Orioles' exhibition games.
"One of the things I most admire about Albert besides his talent as a hitter is his approach," Cal Ripken said. "He comes to the ballpark and wants to play no matter what. It saddens me a player's career can be shortened for reasons of injury."
"It's not a good situation to be in, to have your hand forced to retire because you're hurt," catcher Brook Fordyce said. "I'm sure it's not how he wants to go out, or how anyone wants to go out."


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