Over the last few years, the Cleveland Indians have honored several of the players from their playoff teams of the late 90’s by putting them into the club’s Hall of Fame.
Sandy Alomar Jr. was the first to go in, fitting because he was the first piece of the puzzle when the Tribe traded for him after the 1990 season.
Kenny Lofton and Charles Nagy quickly followed him and last year, Carlos Baerga received the honor.
And there is no doubt that Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez will be inducted some day very soon, but their playing days ended too recently to be considered.
However, there is one name that is missing. The central figure for the first few years of the winning seasons including the strike shortened 1994 season and the American League Championship team of 1995.
It is time for the Indians to put Albert Belle in the franchise’s Hall of Fame.
We realize Belle’s departure from Cleveland as a free agent after the 1996 season was not exactly friendly and he antagonized the fan base when he came back to the lakefront as a member of the White Sox in subsequent visits. But you can’t ignore the fact that he’s one of the best players ever to wear an Indian uniform.
The slugger hit 242 home runs with the Tribe, leaving town as the franchise leader (he was passed by Jim Thome), and hit .295 with a 949 OPS in 913 games as a member of the team.
He led the American League in runs batted in three times with Cleveland, as well as leading the AL once in home runs, doubles, and runs scored once in his tenure here.
And in his last three seasons on the north coast, he finished second twice and third once in the MVP voting.
Of course, baseball historians will wonder years from now why Belle didn’t win the award in 1995 when he batted .317 (8th in the league) with 50 HR (led league) and 126 RBI (tied for AL lead) on the best team by far in the junior circuit.
He hit at least 34 home runs the last five seasons in Cleveland, and knocked in at least 100 runs in those seasons as well. The significance of that is the 1994 season, the strike season, lasted only 113 games.
Yes, Belle was a controversial figure to be sure. He was suspended early in his career for different issues, and was once sat down because of a corked bat.
However, we also may have been the most studious players in the game when it came to his craft. He studied opposing pitchers and made adjustments.
In game five of the ’95 World Series, Belle went to school on new Hall of Famer Greg Maddux’ pitching him away and homered to right field in the first inning.
There is no question when you went to an Indians’ game in those days; you waited in your seat for Albert Belle to come to the plate. If you were at home, you made sure you were watching when Belle was hitting.
He was a “must see” player.
The Indians haven’t announced their honoree for the 2014 season yet, and the lately the antagonism between the Tribe and Belle has softened, so maybe he will get the nod.
But if they aren’t considering Albert Belle, they should. And we have a feeling when Belle is inducted, the fans will respond with a thunderous ovation.
Cleveland is a forgiving city, and they want to open their arms for the most exciting player to wear a Tribe uniform over the last 50 years.