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Top 100 Cleveland Indians: #21 Albert Belle

Next on our countdown of the Top 100 Indians is a fearsome slugger.

Albert Belle
Albert Belle

Albert Jojuan Belle (Joey)

Left Fielder, Designated Hitter, 1989-1996

Height: 6'1" Weight: 190 lbs

Throws: Right Bats: Right

How Acquired: Second Round Pick, 1987

Left Via: Free Agency, October 28, 1996

On July 18, 1995, Albert Belle stepped into the batter's box in the ninth inning against Angels closer Lee Smith, the Indians down 5-3. Lee Smith, who would end up holding the all-time saves record before his career was through, was ahead 1-2. Belle's stance was slightly open, with his bat held low at almost a 90-degree angle to the ground. Once he got set at the plate, he became a living statue, his eyes fixated on the pitcher. Smith hung a slider, and the statue came to life:

Belle rounded the bases with no emotion on his face, almost as if he expected to hit a walkoff grand slam. If it weren't for his trademark hesitations before the bases, you would have thought he was a machine rather than a man. The crowd, who was in the midst of a season of ecstasy, went wild as the Indians won yet another game in dramatic fashion.

But of course Albert Belle's story didn't start here, nor does it end here.

Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Albert and his fraternal twin grew in a home with teachers: their mother was a former math teacher, and their father was a high school baseball and football coach. Albert (who then went by his middle name Joey) excelled in the classroom and on the field, becoming a member of the National Honor Society, earning the rank of Eagle Scout, and attracting attention from many schools. Notre Dame offered him a scholarship, and he could have gone to the Air Force Academy, but he chose instead to attend nearby Louisiana State University, which had an exceptional baseball program.

Midway through his college career, it became apparent that Belle would be a high draft pick following his junior season. He was received All-SEC in his sophomore season, but his draft stock was hurt following several incidents the following season. He was suspended for the rest of his junior season after he went after a heckler an SEC tournament game, which scared away several organizations who were already wary about his difficult personality. A first-round talent, Belle instead fell to the second round, when a team with almost nothing to lose took a chance on him.

In June of 1987, the Indians were well on their way to one of their worst seasons in franchise history. Before the season Sports Illustrated had place them on their cover, but nothing had gone right for the club that season. And moreover, they had given up their first round pick when they signed Rick Dempsey(!) to a free agent contract. So when Belle was available in the middle of the second round, the Indians picked the first round talent.

The Indians got a great player, but they got at times a gigantic headache. Belle tore through the minors, making his major-league debut on July 15, 1989, just under two years removed from signing with the Indians. He joined a club in the midst of major transition. The Indians were once again headed for a losing season, and the team of Hank Peters and John Hart would soon put into action their plan to turn the Indians into a winning team after decades of losing. He would be the first major piece of the mid-90s teams to make the majors, but first both and the player would endure several difficult seasons.

In 1990 he went back to the minors, and after destroying a clubhouse bathroom after a particularly tough night at the plate, spent a big chunk of one season in alcohol rehab. He returned from rehab no longer called Joey, but his mercurial personalty was still there. He joined the Indians for good in 1991, but the controversy didn't stop there. He was suspended for six games that season for drilling a heckler with a baseball.

Belle could hit though, and quickly became one of the best hitters in the league. In 1991, he posted a 134 OPS+, then followed that up with a 123 OPS+ in 1992. In 1993 he earned the first of his five Silver Slugger awards by hitting .290/.370/.552, and he was on the brink of his best offensive seasons just as the Indians were beginning to get good.

Belle was meticulous in his preparation, and that preparation didn't include interviews by the media. That would hurt him in the 1995 MVP vote, when he lost to a statistically inferior Mo Vaughn. He also like the clubhouse cool, to the point where he'd smash the thermostat if someone messed with the settings. That earned him the nickname "Mr. Freeze," though it wasn't just for his love of air conditioning.

In 1994 he one of his best seasons, but again controversy followed him. In a game against the Chicago White Sox, his bat was confiscated after opposing manager Terry Bevington asked it be looked at for evidence of corking. Belle sent teammate Jason Grimsely through the ceiling into the locked umpires room with a replacement bat (from Paul Sorrento, as all of Belle's bats were corked), but the umpires were not fooled, and demanded that the Indians produce the original bat, threatening to get the FBI involved if they didn't comply. Belle's original bat was produced, and was found to be corked. Belle was suspended seven games.

In 1995 Belle had one of the best offensive seasons in franchise history, hitting 52 doubles and 50 home runs, a feat that had never been done before in [MLB history] and hasn't been matched since. (Edit: And what made the feat even more impressive is that it was accomplished in a 144-game season, as a strike delayed beginning of the 1995 campaign.) The Indians ran away with the division, and won their first pennant in 41 years. During the 1995 World Series, Belle again found himself in controversy when he yelled at NBC reporter Hannah Storm before a game.

But through all the scrutiny, through all the controversy, Belle kept hitting. In 1996, he posted 158 OPS+, winning yet another Silver Slugger and finishing third in MVP balloting. In the Game 3 of the 1996 ALDS he hit a dramatic grand slam to break a 4-4 tie in the seventh inning.

After the season Belle was a free agent, and while the Indians made a significant offer, he signed what at the time was the largest contract in MLB history with the Chicago White Sox. The Cleveland fanbase was stunned, and when Belle came to Cleveland as a member of the White Sox, the reaction was incredible. Fans tossed fake dollar bills onto the field, held up signs, and booed Belle mercilessly. After two seasons with the White Sox, Belle exercised a clause in his contract that allowed him to become a free agent (he was no longer the highest-paid player in MLB) and signed another large deal with the Baltimore Orioles. To that point in his career Belle was one of the most durable players in baseball, but just two seasons into his new deal he had to retire with a degenerative hip ailment. Had he had 3-4 more good years (he retired at age 33) the writers would have had to hold their noses and vote him into the Hall of Fame. He had one of the best peaks of anyone in baseball history, and should have one at least MVP award.

In 2012 Belle was invited to appear at Spring Training with the Indians thanks to former teammate Carlos Baerga, and he would appear at Progressive Field later that season, the first "friendly" visit since he left after the 1996 season. After retiring he earned his Accounting degree at LSU (making good a promise he made to his mother). He currently lives in Arizona with his family.

Selected Awards/Leaders

  • AL All-Star: 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996
  • AL MVP: 2nd, 1995; 3rd, 1994; 3rd, 1996; 7th, 1993; 23rd, 1992
  • AL Silver Slugger: 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996 (OF)
  • AL WAR: 5th, 1995-6.9; 6th, 1994-5.7
  • AL WAR Position Players: 3rd, 1995-6.9; 4th, 1994-5.7; 9th, 1996-5.7
  • AL oWAR: 2nd, 1994-6.6; 3rd, 1995-7.0; 5th, 1996-6.8
  • AL Average: 2nd, 1994-.357; 8th, 1995-.317
  • AL On Base Percentage: 3rd, 1994-.438
  • AL Slugging: 1st, 1995-.690; 2nd, 1994-.714; 5th, 1991-.540; 7th, 1993-.552; 7th, 1996-.623
  • AL OPS: 2nd, 1994-1.152; 2nd, 1995-1.091; 7th, 1993-.992; 7th, 1996-1.033
  • AL Runs Scored: 1st, 1995-121; 5th, 1994-90; 6th, 1996-124
  • AL Hits: 3rd, 1994-147; 7th, 1995-173; 8th, 1996-187
  • AL Total Bases: 1st, 1994-294; 1st, 1995-377; 2nd, 1996-375; 6th, 1993-328
  • AL Doubles: 1st, 1995-52; 2nd, 1994-35
  • AL Home Runs: 1st, 1995-50; 3rd, 1994-36; 4th, 1992-34; 4th, 1993-38; 4th, 1996-48; 9th, 1991-28
  • AL RBI: 1st, 1993-129; 1st, 1995-126; 1st, 1996-148; 3rd, 1994-101; 4th, 1992-112
  • AL Bases on Balls: 7th, 1996-99
  • AL Strikeouts: 9th, 1992-128
  • AL OPS+: 2nd, 1994-194; 3rd, 1995-177; 6th, 1996-158; 8th, 1993-145
  • AL RC: 2nd, 1994-131; 2nd, 1995-144; 3rd, 1996-156; 8th, 1993-119
  • AL Extra Base Hits: 1st, 1994-73; 1st, 1995-103; 3rd, 1996-89; 5th, 1993-77
  • AL Sacrifice Flies: 1st, 1993-14
  • AL Intentional Bases on Balls: 4th, 1996-15
  • AL Double Plays Grounded Into: 2nd, 1991-24; 2nd, 1995-24; 6th, 1993-18; 6th, 1996-20; 9th, 1992-18
  • AL Caught Stealing: 10th, 1993-12
  • AL Win Probability Added: 2nd, 1994-4.4; 3rd, 1996-4.5; 4th, 1993-5.2; 5th, 1995-4.1
  • AL Putouts as LF: 1st, 1993-336; 2nd, 1995-304; 3rd, 1994-206; 3rd, 1996-310
  • AL Assists as LF: 1st, 1993-16; 2nd, 1996-10; 5th, 1991-8; 5th, 1994-8; 5th, 1995-7
  • AL Errors as LF: 1st, 1991-9; 1st, 1996-10; 2nd, 1993-5; 2nd, 1995-6; 3rd, 1994-6
  • AL Double Plays Turned as LF: 1st, 1993-7; 4th, 1995-1; 5th, 1991-1; 5th, 1994-1
  • AL Assists as OF: 2nd, 1993-16
  • AL Errors as OF: 1st, 1991-9; 2nd, 1996-10; 4th, 1995-6
  • AL Double Plays Turned as OF: 1st, 1993-7
  • AL Range Factor/Game LF: 1st, 1993-2.35; 3rd, 1995-2.19; 5th, 1991-2.00; 5th, 1996-2.11
  • AL Fielding Percentage as LF: 3rd, 1995-.981; 4th, 1993-.986; 5th, 1996-.970

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • 21st WAR Position Players (27.3)
  • 15th oWAR (30.0)
  • 30th Average (.295)
  • t-33rd On Base Percentage (.369)
  • 2nd Slugging (.580)
  • 5th OPS (.949)
  • 40th Games Played (913)
  • 37th At Bats (3441)
  • 34th Plate Appearances (3925)
  • 23rd Runs Scored (592)
  • 34th Hits (1014)
  • 14th Total Bases (1995)
  • 17th Doubles (223)
  • 2nd Home Runs (242)
  • 10th Runs Batted In (751)
  • 28th Bases On Balls (396)
  • 16th Strikeouts (622)
  • t-37th Stolen Bases (61)
  • 6th OPS+ (150)
  • 15th Runs Created (731)
  • 9th Extra Base Hits (481)
  • t-19th Hit By Pitch (37)
  • 6th Sacrifice Flies (44)
  • 4th Intentional Bases On Balls (49)
  • 7th Double Plays Grounded Into (114)
  • t-48th Caught Stealing (25)
  • 4th Win Probability Added (20.1)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • t-32nd WAR Position Players (6.9, 1995)
  • t-17th oWAR (7.0, 1995)
  • t-23rd oWAR (6.8, 1996)
  • t-26th oWAR (6.6, 1994)
  • 21st Average (.357, 1994)
  • t-20th On Base Percentage (.438, 1994)
  • 1st Slugging (.714, 1994)
  • 3rd Slugging (.690, 1995)
  • 10th Slugging (.623, 1996)
  • 41st Slugging (.552, 1993)
  • 2nd OPS (1.152, 1994)
  • 6th OPS (1.091, 1995)
  • 17th OPS (1.033, 1996)
  • 14th Plate Appearances (715, 1996)
  • t-41st Plate Appearances (693, 1993)
  • 13th Runs Scored (124, 1996)
  • t-18th Runs Scored (121, 1995)
  • 3rd Total Bases (377, 1995)
  • 4th Total Bases (375, 1996)
  • 21st Total Bases (328, 1993)
  • t-4th Doubles (52, 1995)
  • 2nd Home Runs (50, 1995)
  • 4th Home Runs (48, 1996)
  • t-13th Home Runs (38, 1993)
  • 18th Home Runs (36, 1994)
  • 22nd Home Runs (34, 1992)
  • 3rd Runs Batted In (148, 1996)
  • 11th Runs Batted In (129, 1993)
  • t-13th Runs Batted In (126, 1995)
  • t-42nd Runs Batted In (112, 1992)
  • t-18th Bases On Balls (99, 1996)
  • t-31st Strikeouts (128, 1992)
  • 4th OPS+ (194, 1994)
  • t-15th OPS+ (177, 1995)
  • t-37th OPS+ (158, 1996)
  • 4th Runs Created (156, 1996)
  • t-12th Runs Created (144, 1995)
  • t-29th Runs Created (131, 1994)
  • 1st Extra Base Hits (103, 1995)
  • t-4th Extra Base Hits (89, 1996)
  • t-15th Extra Base Hits (77, 1993)
  • t-28th Extra Base Hits (73, 1994)
  • 2nd Sacrifice Flies (14, 1993)
  • t-33rd Sacrifice Flies (8, 1992)
  • t-6th Intentional Bases On Balls (15, 1996)
  • t-11th Intentional Bases On Balls (13, 1993)
  • t-37th Intentional Bases On Balls (9, 1994)
  • t-8th Win Probability Added (5.2, 1993)
  • t-22nd Win Probability Added (4.5, 1996)
  • t-24th Win Probability Added (4.4, 1994)
  • t-31st Win Probability Added (4.1, 1995)