In the summer of 2009, Red Sox great Jim Rice will officially become a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Arguably the most dominant hitter of his generation, Rice was finally elected by the Baseball Writers of America in his final year of eligibility.
So, what took so long?
Did it really take 14 years to analyze the career of Jim Rice? What makes him a Hall of Famer in 2009 that didn't make him one in 1993, his first year of eligibility?
The answer is nothing. Well, nothing that he did on the field, anyway. Ask anyone from that era, whether it be players, coaches, or fans and they'll all agree that Jim Rice's career warrants enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. It did in 1993, it did in 2000, and it does today.
Jim Rice waited so long for induction into the Hall because he hated the baseball writers. He didn't talk much to them. He refused to talk about other players with them. He was surly and didn't want to be bothered with them. He couldn't understand how people who never suited up to play the game could be so critical.
So the writers made him pay the only way the could. They made Jim Rice wait. They made him wait 14 years.
Just like they're doing to Albert Belle.
Anyone who watched baseball in the 1990s knows the name Albert Belle. They know him for trampling the much smaller Fernando Vina during a game (an act that was actually Vina's fault since he was standing in the baseline). They know him as the guy who once had a profane outburst at a group of reports that was so bad, he brought Hannah Storm to tears. They know him as a jerk, but if they know baseball even a little bit, they know him as a great player.
Belle played from 1989-2000 in the Major Leagues with the Indians, White Sox and Orioles. In those 12 seasons as a player, Belle batted .295, hit 381 home runs, 389 doubles, scored 974 runs, and drove in 1,239 RBI. That's yearly averages of 31 home runs, 32 doubles, 81 runs scored, and 103 RBI.
Take into account that Belle only played in 71 games combined his first two seasons and the averages look like this: 37 home runs, 38 doubles, 95 runs scored and 119 RBI. Belle averaged more homers per season than Willie Mays and more RBI per season than Hank Aaron. When Belle's career ended abruptly after the 2000 season due to injury, he finished with nine consecutive season of 100-plus RBI, 10 consecutive seasons of 20-plus home runs (topping 30 in eight of those seasons), 10 consecutive seasons of an OPS over 1.000, five Silver Slugger awards, five All-Star selections, and five top-10 MVP finishes. By the way, he's also the only player to hit 50 home runs and 50 doubles in the same season (1995) as well.
The numbers are there, just like with Rice, and like Rice, Belle hated the media. He refused to grant interviews before games. In fact, he rarely granted interviews at all. He was surly at best, and downright nasty at worst, and the media hated him for it.
They robbed him of the 1995 American League MVP award by giving it to Mo Vaughn, a year when he hit .317 with 50 homers, 50 doubles, 121 runs scored and 126 RBI, all while taking the Cleveland Indians to their first World Series since 1954, and now they are robbing him of his rightful place in history.
There are plenty of jerks in the Hall of Fame. Steve Carlton hated the media as much as any one. Reggie Jackson and Rickey Henderson are poster children for the selfish player. Ty Cobb was not only a racist, but by all accounts was one of nastiest people ever to step inside a batter's box. The writers could never justify leaving those players out. With Belle, the writers can say he didn't play long enough. They can say he didn't get to 500 home runs, or that he didn't reach 3,000 hits. They can not say he wasn't dominant, and they can not justify the fact that he hasn't even garnered enough votes to remain on the ballot. Robbed yet again.
There are a number of players who deserve enshrinement in Cooperstown who for one reason or another have yet to get in. Players like Bert Blyleven, Gil Hodges and Lefty O' Doul have great cases for induction, but have yet to get in. No player, however, has had to deal with a revenge plot by the baseball writers to make a player pay for not talking to them like Rice had endured.
Now, it looks as if Belle will become this generation's Rice. Where's the Veteran's Committee when you need them?