A Good Side to a Bad Guy

by Mike Vaccaro

Albert Belle is a bad guy.

Go on. Say it again. We accept certain truths in baseball, after all. We know the bases are 90 feet apart, for instance, though we never actually see someone with a tape measure, making sure they stay that way. Abner Doubleday invented the game, we have been told, though he was a thousand miles from Cooperstown the day he was said to have dreamed the game up.

Albert Belle is a bad guy. He has a dossier as thick as Total Baseball . He chased after those kids on Halloween. He yelled at the television reporter. He threw the baseball at that photographer. He snarls a lot. He glares a lot. He will never be confused with David Cone as the game's best quote. Larry Flynt will be named an archbishop before Belle is nominated for anybody's Good Guy Award.

Go on. Say it again: Albert Belle, bad guy.

He also came thisclose to being a member of the New York Yankees, Team Harmony, owners of the happiest clubhouse in Major League Baseball, who will play host to Belle's Baltimore Orioles in a three game series begining tonight. Joe Torre played golf with him, said he could manage Belle, no problem. Belle was a few phone calls and a large Bernie Williams contract away from donning pinstripes.

Makes you shudder, you say? Adding Belle to this team is like adding vinegar to an ice cream sundae, you say?

Other people say other things. They have different perspectives. None of them will nominate Belle for canonization. Neither will they dismiss him. He is a complex guy, they say. And a driven guy. And a guy with lots of layers, lots of demons, lots of bottled anger. And lots of ability to drive baseballs over distant fences.

Which is why so many people care about him in the first place.

Albert Belle was an Eagle Scout.

Albert Belle was once nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award by the Cleveland Indians, emblematic of a player who gives selflessly of his time and his money.

Albert Belle fills in crossword puzzles in pen.

Albert Belle could spell words backwords in the first grade.

Albert Belle finished sixth in his Huntington High School class.

Albert Belle tells knock knock jokes.

Albert Belle calls himself a "serious Christian".

Albert Belle has played in 339 consecutive games, longest current streak in the majors.

Albert Belle's parents, Albert Sr. and Carrie, are both teachers.

Albert Belle was thrown off the LSU baseball team for going into the stands after a taunting fan.

Albert Belle spent 10 weeks in 1990 in the Cleveland Clinic, a rehab center for alcoholics. He changed his name--previously Joey, short for Jojuan, his middle name--while he was there.

Albert Belle was fined $50,000 for a profane outburst against NBC's Hannah Storm during the '95 World Series.

Albert Belle was suspended in 1994 for using a corked bat.

Albert Belle was fined $25,000 and suspended for two games for giving a forearm shiver to Milwaukee second baseman Fernando Vina in 1996 while breaking up a double play.

Albert Belle gambles. How much he has won and lost over the years is subject to wide debate.

Albert Belle told a magazine writer in 1996: "Sports Illustrated can kiss my black ass."

A few days later, Albert Belle intentionally threw a baseball at SI photographer Tony Tosmic.

Albert Belle rearranged the Orioles clubhouse in Spring Training during a wild outburst witnessed by reporters. Afterward, the O's barred reporters from the locker room during games, a spring privilege dating back to the start of the century.

Albert Belle is hitting .409 and hasn't even warmed up.