CLEVELAND, Ohio – Albert Belle, pending further review of his stormy career, just might end up in the Baseball Hall of Fame after all.
Denied induction in the Baseball Writers of America voting years ago, Belle is one of three Cleveland Indians players, a manager and a Cleveland-born owner whom the Today’s Game Era committee will consider for enshrinement on Dec.9.
In addition to Belle, also nominated are Joe Carter, Orel Hershiser, Charlie Manuel and the late George Steinbrenner. Another nominee, Davey Johnson, has a Cleveland connection as an opponent.
How will the committee, made up of 11 baseball writers and columnists, assess Belle’s impact?
Perhaps it could be his effect on the taunting fan in the left field stands whom he drilled with a fastball appendectomy scar high.
Or the chin music he orchestrated for former Cleveland Press and Sports Illustrated photographer Tony Tomsic. His sin was to snap shots of Belle before a game with a long-range lens for an SI cover.
Or sportscaster Hannah Storm, whom he cursed in the dugout during the World Series.
What about the trick-or-treaters who egged Belle’s house and survived when he tried to make road pizza of them in his SUV?
Then there’s reliever Eric Plunk, who, when asked for his thoughts on the day Belle blew off the unveiling of a candy bar named for him, said: “I wouldn’t do a damn thing for that guy.”
Remember “The Great Wall,” a distant, asymmetrical center field structure at old Municipal Stadium in the 1980s? It was built to provide alleys to exploit the speed of Alex Cole?
Asked if it were dismantled “because it was driving Albert crazy,” manager Mike Hargrove said, “Wouldn’t have to drive him far, would you?”
Carter hit home runs in clusters rather than consistently.
Before he hit the only walk-off homer to change a World Series defeat into victory and to clinch the championship for Toronto, he was an MVP — Most Valuable Protector — for a jaunty local sports columnist.
This fine fellow used the surname of struggling Indians’ closer Ernie Camacho instead of “fire” in a piece that loosed critical thunderbolts at the pitcher.
Fourth of July “Camachoworks” displays were referenced; mention was made of the Dalmatian usually found at the “Camacho house” and of the movie “Chariots of Camacho.”
An attempt to dismember the scribe failed when Carter, joined by Andre Thornton and clubhouse man Cy Buynak, held Camacho down in the clubhouse, pinning his arms and legs while the writer tiptoed around him.
Buynak stood maybe five-feet tall and was nearly spherical in build. “Wow. It took three men to subdue Ernie,” said the columnist, whom, blush, I know well.
“Two and a half men,” said a colleague.
Neither of us received a penny from the TV series of that name that debuted years later.
Was he a man of faith with a name that suggested a complicated toothbrush or a cheater?
In 1997 ALCS against the Tribe, Johnson, the Baltimore manager, was adamant that Hershiser threw a spitter.
Wrote the Washington Post’s Tony Kornheiser, “Local farmers believe the area’s drought could be ended if Orel would come by and throw it around a little.”
The morning after the Yankees eliminated the Indians in the 1998 ALCS, Manuel, then the Tribe hitting coach, was asked about a crucial two-run triple by Derek Jeter.
A favorite Manuel pupil, right fielder Manny Ramirez, raced to the wall, leaped high, arm straining . . . and the ball nearly hit him in the foot, landing just above the warning track.
“I have no idea what that (expletive deleted) was doing,” said Manuel.
In the hood in ancient Greece, they called Oedipus that.
After he bought a Florida racetrack, the native Clevelander and Yankees owner slapped on it the slogan “It’s a whole new ballgame.”
The man who made winning at any cost his life’s work owned a filly running in a stakes race there on a rainy day. Before the race, a tractor pulled a heavy roller behind it, “sealing” and compacting the sloppy track near the rail.
Guess whose horse had the pole position and won?
It was the same old ballgame.
In the 1986 NLCS, the Mets’ manager, Johnson, charging ball doctoring, displayed several foul balls that were scuffed and slashed between the seams in Houston ace Mike Scott’s previous start.
“You should have him autograph them,” said a reporter.
“He already has,” said Johnson.
Some of their names will be on Cooperstown plaques soon.