It's tough to get a word in edgewise when chatty Albert Belle telephones

June 13, 1999|By Michael Olesker

THE NEXT TIME Albert Belle telephones here, will somebody please tell him I'm not in?

You know how Albert is: Yakety-yakety-yak. All the time, the guy's got to chat up some reporter, cornering one of them in the locker room for one of his "special" talks, wrapping an affectionate hug around another guy's Adam's apple out by the batting cage, or telephoning at any hour of the day, just to see if everything's as swell in our perfect little world as it is in his.

He called just the other day, the way he always does.

"It's Albert," he said.

"Albert who?" I said.

I always do this, just to kid the big guy.

"Albert Belle," he said, falling for my little joke the way he always does. "You know, from the Baltimore Orioles. The baseball guy."

"Oh, that Albert Belle," I said. And then the two of us just laughed and laughed, in that special way of all pals who have worked hard to get to know each other and appreciate each other's sensitivities and professional needs.

But it does get a bit too much sometimes.

"Don't you want to interview me?" Albert will say with his usual puppy-dog enthusiasm every time he calls here.

"Interview?" I'll say. "About what, for goodness' sake?"

"I don't know," he'll say. "About how I hit that home run when we were down by three in the ninth and the bases were full? Sure, it was in 1995, and I was playing for Cleveland, but still "

"Nah," I'll say, "I got a Harford County Zoning Board meeting to cover, and they're talking about some fascinating issues regarding sewage disposal. Some other time maybe."

"Well," Albert will say, "how about my philosophy on how to hit a right-handed submariner coming out of a late-afternoon haze when he's throwing inside and the sun's in my eyes and every fiber in my body's worried that the guy's gonna plunk one in my ribs?"

"Nah," I'll say. "I got Kathleen Kennedy Townsend on the other line, and she wants to talk about the fun side of Parris Glendening. Get back to me later. Maybe in November."

See, this is what got Albert in trouble in Chicago, and Cleveland before that -- this constant sucking up to reporters. Ask Mr. Rosenthal or Mr. Eisenberg of The Sun about it. They'll tell you, the guy's constantly trying to win brownie points with them. Or ask Mr. Steadman or Mr. Schmuck, or Mr. Strauss or Mr. Kubatko, who travel with the Orioles every day. They'll tell you, they can't shut the guy up. Even Mr. Rodricks will be getting calls from Albert, asking to be taken on fishing trips and generously volunteering to buy the anchor to wrap about someone's neck.

It's the selfless way of all modern ballplayers. They model themselves after the best of Mother Teresa and Father Flanagan, only wishing to do right by others.

It's always been typical of Albert. He called here the other day and said, "How ya been? The wife and kids OK? Can I loan you some money? How about if we go out after today's game and see if we can loan somebody else some money?"

"Albert, Albert, Albert," I told him. "Sure, you make $13 million a year, pal, but you've got to pace yourself. Over 52 weeks in a year, that comes out to only $250,000 a week. You start handing out $1,000 here and $1,000 there, and pretty soon you're down to only $248,000 a week."

The modern athletes, God bless 'em.

The baseball players pick up an elongated piece of wood and pound a round object with it, the way Neanderthals once did, and we call them heroes for this.

The football players learn the art of separating a man from his knee cartilage, and we glorify them for this.

The basketball players stand over a basket and jam a ball into it, and the hockey players make an art form out of knocking out each others' dentures, and we deify them.

And yet, the athletes insist on never letting it go to their heads. Self-importance is an alien term to them. They only want to be helpful, only want to be role models to children, only want to set down roots in a community, even if it means sacrificing a couple of bucks to do it.

Like my pal Albert, who keeps calling here just to say hi.

"Albert, Albert, Albert," I said when he called the other day. "What's this business about you failing to run all the way to first base on a ground ball? It's only 90 feet."

"So what?" he said. "I ran most of the way, didn't I?"

"Well, yeah," I said. "I suppose you have a point there. But what about that fight with Ray Miller in the dugout?"

"Fight?" Albert said. "That was no fight. I was only offering my views on the peace settlement in Kosovo."

See, that's why I won't take Albert's calls any more. First he wants to talk baseball, then he wants to talk money, then he wants to talk politics.

I can't get a word in anywhere.

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