Belle muffs 2 chances to win hearts of Baltimore fans

On Baseball

May 09, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Albert Belle could have owned this town. He's the kind of tough guy that local fans would love to have on their side, but he's either too bitter or too self-centered to take advantage of a rich opportunity to bond with Baltimore.

Even on his own terms.

Belle has done just the opposite during the few weeks that he has been in town. He played the PR game to get another huge contract, but he withdrew into a sullen shell after a relatively minor incident this spring ended his brief detente with the Baltimore media.

Strike one:

He made a few headlines -- small headlines -- for hurling some of his equipment during a clubhouse tantrum after striking out in an exhibition game in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., so Belle immediately ended contact with the local media.

Granted, no one seriously believes that the fans give a hoot what kind of relationship he has with the press, but the incident was a perfect illustration of Belle's uncanny ability to choose the wrong option whenever a difficult situation presents itself.

His outburst was blown way out of proportion. Players routinely vent their frustration after a strikeout or a home run pitch, usually out of the public eye. Former Orioles pitcher Kevin Brown made a habit of trashing clubhouses and training rooms after bad performances -- behavior far in excess of what Belle did that day in spring training -- but the incidents seldom made news.

Belle had a legitimate gripe, but he could have turned the incident to his advantage if he had not already been looking for an excuse to turn inward again. He apparently does not understand the concept of spin.

The day after the clubhouse blowup, he should have called the local media together and challenged everyone who had criticized the lifeless Orioles in 1998 to put up or shut up.

"You said all winter that the clubhouse was dead," Belle could have said. "Well, it won't be anymore. You want intensity? You want the team to have an edge? Well, fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy ride."

He could have been in-your-face defiant and still come off looking like a hero. He could have thrown his bat and his helmet all year long and the fans would have cheered him every time. Instead, he withdrew like a petulant child and squandered a tremendous opportunity to turn a negative situation positive.

Strike two:

Belle looked as if he were somewhere else Monday night while the Orioles were getting their hats handed to them in the second exhibition game against a team of Cuban all-stars.

Again, he chose the worst possible way to show his disdain for the in-season exhibition, which clearly was not high on the priority list of a number of Orioles players.

Belle all but thumbed his nose at owner Peter Angelos when he failed to run hard on a ground ball he might have beat out. He went through the motions in his next two at-bats and then failed to come out of the clubhouse to shake hands with the Cuban guests after the game.

Apparently, $65 million doesn't buy what it used to.

It's only May -- one month into his five-year contract -- and Belle is down 0-2 in the count. He could own this town, but he doesn't seem to care if he strikes out.

Big Cat makes big stride

Atlanta Braves first baseman Andres Galarraga is making solid progress in his fight against non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Doctors informed him recently that three months of chemotherapy have reduced the size of the tumor in his back by 75 percent.

Galarraga is scheduled for one more round of chemo, but may undergo an additional round of treatment in the hope of eradicating the disease.

The Big Cat reportedly is installing a batting cage at his West Palm Beach, Fla., home so that he can begin working his way back into playing shape, but Braves officials are downplaying any talk of a return this season.

"I don't know if it's even fair to speculate on that," general manager John Schuerholz told reporters recently. "He's got cancer and is fighting through the disease. We're delighted for all the good that is happening, but I haven't even thought about that. We're just going to keep hoping he continues to win his fight."

Great deal

Chicago White Sox general manager Ron Schueler took some heat when he traded left-hander Jim Abbott back to the Angels for prospects in 1995. Now he's enjoying some delayed gratification.

He got pitcher John Snyder, outfielder McKay Christensen, reliever Bill Simas and left-hander Andrew Lorraine in that deal. Lorraine has since moved on, but the other three are playing important roles on this year's club.

Snyder is 5-1 and is fourth in the American League in ERA. Christensen is playing regularly in center field and Simas is off to a strong start in middle relief.

Back in '95, a lot of people -- including White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura -- made it known that they didn't like the deal, but Abbott went into decline soon thereafter and the Sox beefed up their minor-league system.

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