CLEVELAND -- Mercurial, misunderstood but singularly focused, Albert Belle possessed talent that made him the darling of Cleveland baseball fans in the middle part of the 1990s. During his time with the Tribe, Belle put together a string of seasons that elevated him above any other player the organization had had since maybe Lou Boudreau's heydays. He was a man obsessed with success and knocking in runs, and his drive for perfection sat well with baseball fans in Cleveland. Because, to them, Belle stood as a flesh-and-blood symbol of the rebirth of their franchise and of their troubled city. He was the brightest sports star they'd seen since Jim Brown retired in the 1965. He was also the most controversial.
Yet through it all -- the tiffs with media, the run-ins with fans or whatever -- Belle let his bat ride those downs and turn them into highs. He was one of the most dominant hitters of his era, and it is his powerful bat that should draw Belle, who later played for the White Sox and the Orioles, a large number of votes this offseason from sportswriters who select players for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In 12 seasons in the Majors, Belle put up power numbers that voters must seriously weigh. For those numbers mirrored the statistics of some of the most prominent sluggers of his era. He hit a total of 381 homers, 242 while wearing an Indians uniform. Dozens of those homers came at Jacobs Field when wins and losses hung in the balance. Baseball fans in Cleveland have heard of "the straw that stirs the drink," a phrase that Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson made popular. But the same phrase could have been used to describe Belle and his eight seasons with the Indians. An amateur who "slid" into the second round of the 1987 First-Year Player Draft, Belle arrived as an athlete from Louisiana State with plenty to prove, and he left the Indians organization for the White Sox after the '96 season with all the proving behind him. He had blossomed into a full-fledged star and become one of the highest-paid players in the game.
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.