Belle lets Web site do talking for him

Presence: The Oriole known for RBIs, not words, comes across as 'warm and fuzzy.'

April 26, 1999|By Michael Stroh | Michael Stroh,Sun Staff

Orioles outfielder Albert Belle may not be talking to reporters anymore, but he's got a thing or two to tell fans who visit him in cyberspace.

"Hey everybody, Opening Day was great," he writes chummily on his new Web site, with hosts America Online and Athlete Direct, an Internet firm that builds official home pages for professional athletes.

As a ballplayer, Belle is known for his batting average and his dramatic flare-ups with fans, pitchers, reporters, photographers and even clubhouse thermostats.

But in his new online dugout, the 6-foot-2-inch, 210-pound outfielder is a playful, pun-making pussycat, offering fans columns and interactive games under titles such as "For Whom Albert Belle Tolls," "Saved By Albert Belle," "Belle Curve," and "Major League Basebelle."

"He's a little warm and fuzzy," says Ross Schaufelberger, president of Athlete Direct, whose cyberstable includes recently released Los Angeles Lakers forward Dennis Rodman and tennis pro Michael Chang.

But Schaufelberger says it's Belle who's been getting a lot of attention. "This is a way for people to get to know Albert Belle as a person," he says.

Belle, as usual, declined to comment when reporters approached him about the Web site.

Besides offering his thoughts on baseball -- which he dutifully phones in each week -- Belle dispenses financial advice in the column "Bank on Belle." As you might expect, the league's highest paid player for three straight seasons (he'll take just over $11.9 million to the bank this year) -- shows financial acumen.

The Bad Boy's picks: Bonds (not Barry) and techno blue chips such as Microsoft. Belle doesn't shy away from from using the venue to add to his own coffers. "Hey," he interjects at one point, "does anybody need a pitchman?"

Fans can challenge Belle -- from the safety of their living rooms -- in weekly interactive crossword puzzle competitions. The ballplayer gets first crack, then fans can check their completion time against his.

Belle's Boutique, the site's online store, features cuddly Albert Belle teddy bears at $13.95.

Some baseball fans think Belle's site on Athlete's Direct is serious softball.

Take Hofstetter's Baseball Jerk of the Week (www.jerkoftheweek.com), the Web site "Where Nice Guys Finish Last" and Belle is a recurring Top Ten presence.

"Belle keeps us in business," says managing editor Steve Hofstetter, 19.

The Orioles outfielder is in third place for the dubious Jerk of the Year Award (he finished fourth last year). Belle improved his chances by earning 4 "Jerk Points" -- the site's yardstick of bad-boy behavior -- for a brief outburst after an exhibition game with the Mets last month.

Hofstetter says Belle's fans -- as well as the friends and relatives of other jerks on the list -- regularly send him hate mail. But Hofstetter is undeterred.

"We're trying to give people the truth without sugar-coating it," he says. "Just because someone's your hero doesn't mean they can do anything they want."

The full Albert Belle site is available on AOL (Keyword: Albert Belle), while non-AOL Web surfers can find an abbreviated version at www.athletedirect.com/samplebelle.html. The full Belle treatment will be available on the Web this summer, Schaufelberger said.

Pub Date: 04/26/99

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