Beat writer’s vitriol against Belle misdirected

The post-Hall of Fame voting backlash grew in leaps and bounds on Monday as Chicago Tribune writer Teddy Greenstein issued a nasty attack against the former left fielder.

David Pinto’s Baseball Musings site directed me to this story today. In it, Greenstein rails against Belle’s behavior:

He got only 40 votes, or one for every 10 that Bruce Sutter received.

So why do I still believe that Albert Belle got way more Hall of Fame support than he deserved?

Oh, yeah. Because I covered him in 1998 when he played for the White Sox.

I saw him curse at reporters. Saw him react callously after accidentally flinging a bat into the stands that bloodied the face of a 10-year-old girl. Saw him pile up meaningless stats before sparse crowds. Saw his teammates and coaches revile him.

Greenstein, with his first-hand knowledge of Belle, has a very selective memory. We’ll get to that in a second. First, another excerpt:

But now there’s a segment that says Belle’s sins shouldn’t matter, that his numbers should merit an acceptance speech.

The Hall of Fame voting process has become politicized, they say. If you’re a baseball writer who takes into account a player’s off-the-field behavior, you’re superficial and petty for holding a grudge.

What a crock that is. Character counts. If it didn’t, Pete Rose would be adding “HOF” to all those autographs he hawks.

In my opinion, Greenstein’s justifications for denying Albert Belle the vote fall flat on this front. How many people enshrined in the Hall of Fame are of poor character either on the field or off?

Let’s look at Ty Cobb, one of the game’s greatest hitters and biggest bigots to every step foot on the field of play. There’s no need to rehash every crime Cobb committed, but it’s safe to say that he hated non-white people.

On the field, did Cobb have any more integrity than Belle? He sat out the last day of the 1910 season so that he could win a car by capturing the batting title. You can’t find a more meaningless statistic. He played mean baseball, sliding in to second spikes up taking out more than a few second baseman in his days. Finally, he was so popular among his teammates that his funeral drew a grand total of three other baseball players. Cobb, one of the game’s greatest, was hardly a nice guy. He gets a free pass.

Then there is the more recent example of Kirby Puckett. Like Belle, Puckett saw his career cut short by a devastating injury. For 12 years, he was one of the game’s greatest hitters just like Belle was one of the game’s greatest sluggers for the same period of time. Ten consecutive All Star appearances, a few Gold Gloves and batting titles as well as some World Series heroics earned Puckett a trip to Cooperstown. Furthermore, he had the reputation of being a nice guy. But was he?

Hardly. Since retirement, more has come out about Puckett’s personality than many of his biggest fans wish to admit. In 2002, Puckett was charged with groping a woman in Minnesota. Then, he and his wife went through a bitter divorce period. In March of 2003, Puckett’s story was plastered on the front of Sports Illustrated. According to the SI article:

Laura Nygren, whom SI describes as Puckett’s “mistress of many years,” told the magazine that Puckett resumed an affair with her just seven weeks after he was married in 1986 — then cheated on Nygren with numerous other women.

After the onset of glaucoma in his right eye forced him to retire in 1996, Puckett began committing lewd acts in public, such as urinating in mall parking lots, Nygren told SI. Her relationship with the ex-ballplayer ended last March after he allegedly threatened her and she obtained a temporary order of protection.

Where’s the outrage from Greenstein over Puckett? Now, Puckett and Cobb are just two of many players in the Hall who didn’t make it on their personalities. Mickey Mantle was a big drunk. Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams had their own issues. The list just goes on and on.

When I filled out a mock ballot for the Hall, I voted for Albert Belle. It was a tough decision because the Hall rules explicitly mandate that voters weigh character as well as baseball prowess. Maybe Belle deserves to be in the Hall; maybe he doesn’t. But it is not reasonable for a beat writer with a Hall vote to hang Belle out to dry without giving other stars already enshrined in Cooperstown the same treatment.

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3 Responses to “Beat writer’s vitriol against Belle misdirected”


  1. 1 Lance Richardson January 18, 2006 at 12:12 am

    Belle is, purely based on his numbers, a borderline candidate. His character should, and will, keep him out.
    Cobb was an asshole, but his on-field qualifications are overwhelming. Only a complete dolt would compare Belle’s case to that of Cobb. Ditto Williams, Dimaggio, and Mantle.
    Puckett would likely not have been elected had his less-than-desirable personal traits been known at the time he became eligible. He should not have been elected, regardless.
    If Belle belongs, then Al Rosen, Ted Kluszewski , Norm Cash, Eric Davis, and every other guy who was brilliant for half a decade (without being a son-of-a-bitch) belongs.
    But none of them are HOF material. And neither is Joey Belle.
    DUH…

  2. 2 Benjamin Kabak January 18, 2006 at 12:26 am

    Lance: I just wanted to make one thing clear: At this point, I think I agree with you. While I put Belle on my ballot, looking at his numbers and his comparables to other HOF candidates has convinced me that he probably doesn’t belong. However, I am just not comfortable with voters taking such a harsh line against him without considering (a) who else is in the Hall and (b) his on-field contributions. Why pick on Belle just because a few writers same him “up close” for a while during his career? These same writers extol the virtues of players they never got to know and probably wouldn’t have liked had they gotten to know them.

  3. 3 susan mullen January 21, 2006 at 9:06 pm

    I appreciate all your work & attention to detail. But, the HOF has rules. They
    do not say you should consider whomever else might be in the HOF.


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