Miller takes post-blowup stand: Belle sits

Sidelight

Maybe `he'll be fresher'

move on slumping slugger halts 392-game streak

June 12, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- The Orioles answered the $80,247 question last night.

Albert Belle sat down.

Manager Ray Miller, who verbally sparred with Belle in the visitors dugout at Pro Player Stadium two nights before, acted upon several Thursday conversations with general manager Frank Wren by deleting the right fielder's name from the cleanup spot in the series opener against the Atlanta Braves.

Steadfastly refusing to categorize Belle's benching as punishment, Miller terminated Belle's string of 392 straight games, longest in the majors.

"I decided it's two days off, and hopefully, he'll be fresher tomorrow," said Miller. "Like I said before, everything else is internal and taken care of."

The matter gained national prominence when Belle reacted angrily after being removed in the ninth inning of Wednesday's 4-2 win over the Florida Marlins. Replaced by Rich Amaral during a double switch, a standard maneuver late in a National League game, Belle engaged Miller in a nose-to-nose, profanity-laced confrontation before the two were separated. At one point, Miller dismissed Belle with a wave.

Aside from profanities, Belle loudly asked Miller whether he thought he was able to play nine innings, according to a source. When Miller reminded Belle that he was the manager, Belle replied with a derogatory remark about Miller's fitness for the job.

On Thursday, Belle's brother, Terry, insisted the dugout incident had been "sensationalized," adding, "Albert likes Ray."

Miller inserted Jeff Conine into Belle's spot in the field and batting order. Conine downplayed the appearance while allowing it cameamid a "sensitive" situation.

Asked what conclusions could be drawn from Belle's absence from the lineup, Miller said: "That Albert's not in the lineup. I don't want to get into a discussion of why's and where's and anything. He'll have two days off and come back fresh tomorrow.

"Obviously, Albert hasn't had the stats that he wants, or any of us wants, or hasn't pounded the ball like he normally does. But let's also keep in mind the No. 3 hitter is tied for the American League lead in hits, and we've got 50 RBIs from the No. 5 spot. I'm sure that's in direct relation to Albert hitting fourth, obviously. When anyone's not going good, there's a lot of pressure on everybody, especially when the club's not winning ballgames. Hopefully, that will change."

Miller insisted Belle was available to play, implying he had not been suspended. No mention was made of a fine.

Belle's numbers caused Wren to suggest removing him from the cleanup spot before Wednesday's outburst. However, club sources said the financial stakes involved would require majority owner Peter Angelos to endorse the idea.

Belle entered last night hitting .203 with one home run and four RBIs in his last 16 games, dragging his overall average to .244, 52 points below his lifetime average before he signed a five-year, $65 million contract with the Orioles last Dec. 1. Belle never missed a game in two seasons with the Chicago White Sox, averaging 47 doubles, 40 home runs and 134 RBIs.

Pub Date: 6/12/99

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