When I sit down and try to collect my thoughts on the whole Albert Belle debate, the one thing that always comes up is this: the focus is always on what he did wrong, not what he did right.
Everyone is on this bandwagon that Albert was a God-awful man who scared the crap out of everybody. The story goes that when he didn't get things his way or didn't like something, he either told you to shut up or leave him alone.
I just got through reading a wire report of 58 things that Albert did during his career. Only a brief part of this list, maybe two lines, tell you what a great hitter Albert was, and never is a case made for why he should be in the Hall of Fame.
I wish I knew then what I know now about maturity, responsibility and sensitivity to other people. All I can do is learn from my mistakes and not repeat them.
Let's start with the Bad Albert theory. And the reason I want to go here is because I too was a jerk when I played. My teammates either hated me or loved me. And some of the ones who loved me did so because I could either save a game or throw 100 mph or would protect them at any cost. I say any cost, because I never cared what other teams or other fans thought. The same goes for any writers who didn't know me, talk to me or made up their own opinions based on stupid lists of my negative attributes.
Albert hit a guy in the stands with a ball. I hit a woman in the stands 400 feet away with a ball I threw. Both are inexcusable. We paid for it and will continue to for as long people mention our names. Albert famously berated Hannah Storm at the World Series, hit a photographer with a ball, chased some kids with his truck (after they egged his house).
The first two he paid for in reputation damage and in heavy fines. The last one was also pretty troubling, and I would never condone it, but NO ONE ever mentions the fact these kids were destroying someone else's property.
Now, I could get into the obscene gestures, the clubhouse crying by wimpy teammates on things that should stay in the clubhouse and all the other things that Albert and I have in common. Believe it or not, at 25 I thought a lot of it was stupid. And now at 37 I'm embarrassed by a lot my decisions.
I was suspended eight times in eight seasons. I wish I knew then what I know now about maturity, responsibility and sensitivity to other people. All I can do is learn from my mistakes and not repeat them.
I'm sure Albert, who was raised by two great parents as was I, will eventually come around on this stuff too. He knows very well how he should raise his kids. He'll have to come clean some day with them and admit that he made some mistakes and did some foolish things. For all I know, he may have done this already.
But that should never take away from what he did on the field. After all, what he did on the field made all these saint-like writers and critics take notice of what he did off the field. And it drove them crazy when he didn't play nice with them before or after a game.
Let me tell you a true story of one of these critics. He works for a New York paper and has a Hall of Fame vote. Two years ago while I was working for ESPN at the World Series, I was conducting an interview with the winning pitcher after the game. This interview was to be put on radio live within minutes. I was on my third and last question when this self-righteous reporter steps all over the interview with F-bombs and such.
|The Orioles' Albert Belle might never be able to unleash his potent swing in this manner again.|
Needless to say, the interview was ruined. I was all alone with this guy at the player's locker. The rest of the reporters were busy doing their things across the room. I whispered, and I do mean whispered, in this guy's ear that I didn't appreciate his rudeness.
Well, he jumps on my ass like there was no tomorrow, telling me I was a nobody, I was nothing, and I had no right to ask someone three questions in a row (that took all of three minutes, mind you). And all this is at the top of his lungs so everyone, including a lot of my friends and former teammates, could hear.
I kept my cool because I have matured. I let him have his say, compounding his previously rude behavior with some more of the same. Then I had a good laugh because this great reporter never figured out who I was, that I had once played in the big leagues. He never realized who he was screaming at.
Even better: A year after my run-in with this guy, he left Pedro Martinez off his 1999 MVP ballot. Didn't even give Pedro a vote. A real professional, this guy. A real baseball guy.
I never would have brought this story up if it wasn't to prove a point. Nobody is perfect. Even the critics (like my rude writer friend) who endlessly rip into Albert Belle. Many of us have incredible flaws, myself included. But give Albert his due, if that's what his baseball skills dictate. But please, don't judge him because he doesn't have great people skills.