Players voice support for Miller with Belle

Club to handle showdown as `an internal matter'

June 10, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

MIAMI -- Club officials said they would address last night's ninth-inning outburst by right fielder Albert Belle as "an internal matter" despite the player's profanity-laced tirade at manager Ray Miller during the Orioles' 4-2 win over the Florida Marlins.

Two months into the most frustrating season of Belle's productive but combustible nine-year career, the showdown followed his indifferent attempt to beat out a ground ball in the top of the inning for the third out. Belle then continued toward right field only to learn he had been lifted as part of a double switch involving reliever Arthur Rhodes and outfielder Rich Amaral.

When Belle entered the dugout, he immediately began screaming at Miller, with the two eventually going nose to nose before being separated by Jeff Reboulet and Harold Baines.

"If he wants to stay out there he needs to play," said one team member. "At some point you have to earn your time."

The Orioles have been careful not to criticize Belle despite his indifferent play, lowlighted by his performance in the exhibition against Cuba at Camden Yards May 3. The club's hands are tied to an extent in that Belle enjoys a three-year no-trade clause in his five-year, $65 million contract.

Though clubhouse support for Miller has eroded steadily during a 22-36 season, the manager was supported last night. "You don't do that, especially when the man has covered up for your [butt] all year," said one player. "When the manager takes you out of the game, you sit down and shut up."

Players compared the confrontation between Miller and Belle to last August's clubhouse meeting that almost degenerated into a fight between Miller and second baseman Roberto Alomar.

In his first comments to reporters since telling them to "save your hassle" on Opening Day, Belle issued a profanity-laced order for them to move away from his locker.

Teammates appeared to enjoy the scene. Reliever Mike Timlin reminded reporters to seek out Belle on his Web site.

"Albert likes to fish. He was just inviting Ray to go fishing with him," quipped catcher Lenny Webster.

Belle never budged from his chair as reporters approached but repeatedly used the same term he had dropped on Miller only moments before. He was among the first to leave the clubhouse for the team bus. Meanwhile, Miller met with general manager Frank Wren with his office door closed.

As he left for the team bus, Miller reiterated the issue would be handled "internally" and would not answer whether he might bench Belle for the first time during the upcoming series in Atlanta.

"It'll be taken care of internally, the same as if it were a clubhouse meeting," said Miller, who has doggedly refused internal suggestions to move Belle from his preferred cleanup spot or sit him despite a season-long offensive crawl.

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