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December 06, 2001

Belle has been the Anti-Puckett
By Dan Patrick

Albert Belle is slowly leaving the diamond. And nobody cares. I guess the Baltimore Orioles care because they owe Albert $39 million over the next three years.

And right now that looks like an awful lot of money for very few -- if any -- runs, RBI and home runs. At this point, they may not even get any at bats for their money.

Albert Belle
What will the O's do if Albert Belle's hip keeps him off the field?
But that's just business. It's a write-off for some rich guy. Still, a once-promising career is ending and I don't think Belle will get the send-off his numbers deserve.

An arthritic hip is the cause of Belle's demise, but the lack of fanfare is his own doing. I met him many years ago when he was known as Joey Belle. He approached me at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. He was curious about why we were there. We had a 10-minute, off-camera chat.

I liked him. He obviously had it in him to be personable. Later on, when the media became the enemy, my feelings about him changed. Not in any big way. He just wasn't one of the good guys anymore.

Guys like Belle pose a small problem for the media. We can't be fans. My job is to report on an Orioles win with as much enthusiasm and professionalism as I report on a loss by the Ravens. Or the Reds or the Red Sox. They're all the same when you work on SportsCenter.

As far as personalities go, however, my job can't change my human nature. I have always tried to cheer for guys with good stories. And I try to make sure that I don't ever root against anyone. But let's be real. Belle was a surly and unresponsive player who cared little about what sportswriters and broadcasters needed to do their jobs.

As a result he was not well-liked. His troubles now will not engender the sympathy that other, more amiable players would receive.

Think of when glaucoma took down Kirby Puckett. The baseball world openly mourned the loss of one of its best ambassadors. Column after column extolled Puck's wonderful personality and remarkable statistics and accomplishments. And this year Puckett will enter the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. His numbers were fine but not outstanding. It would not have been an outrage if he had to wait a year or two for induction. But good will goes a long way.

When glaucoma took down Kirby Puckett, the baseball world openly mourned the loss of one of its best ambassadors.
Puckett's problems emerged in spring training just like Belle's have. There are no games of significance to report on, so anyone who wanted to say goodbye to Puckett did so.

But Albert Belle, once the highest-paid player in the game -- who earned more in one year than the entire payroll of some teams -- will not have any tears shed for him by anyone who covers baseball. You won't hear it very often, if at all, but the essential reaction to this story is a firm "good riddance."

Like so many lessons in life, assuming Belle even cares about this stuff, this one comes too late. Belle can't do anything about his reputation now. If he's physically unable to perform, reporters don't have anything to talk to him about anymore. It's not like they have all these fond memories of pregame chats or postgame beers in the quiet of a deserted clubhouse. You can't rehash something that never took place.

When he finally does hang up his spikes, Belle's numbers will really have to speak for themselves. Because very few people will bother to say goodbye to a guy who almost never said hello.

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