Albert, show some heart and fans will embrace you

July 27, 1999|By MICHAEL OLESKER

AN OPEN LETTER to Albert Belle:

Dear Albert: If you ever decide to let your Vesuvian rage subside for a while, and allow the wisdom of your 32 years to kick in, you might reflect on the following: With the slightest effort on your part, you could own this entire town.

You could own it in the most important places, in the hearts of those who are hungry to embrace all who wear the uniform of the Baltimore Orioles but boo you for reasons strictly related to the public displays of your personal demons.

After hitting those three home runs Sunday, you deigned to utter the first printable words you have said in months, and immediately did yourself no good at all. You declared yourself "shocked" that fans cheered you.

Oh, please.

"That's the way it's happened before," you said in a truculent post-game news conference. "You do bad, they boo you; you do good, they cheer for you. Actually, I'm disappointed that it's come to a time when they boo me. But it's a long season.

"I'm not going to get a hit every time in clutch situations, but [See Olesker, 4b] over the course of the season I'll get a lot of clutch hits. I'm very disappointed. And then to turn around and have the nerve to cheer for you ... that's the way baseball goes."

Oh, Albert, please.

The "nerve" to cheer for you? You'd prefer booing in the face of home runs, perhaps? You didn't hear the cheers and recognize the admission implicit in their sound? The cheers said, Yes, you win. Yes, on this day, in this hour, you've silenced the anger in our souls with your remarkable skills.

Yes, Albert, sports fans boo. It's the expression of collective frustration and, for the price of a ticket, it's always been part of the game. Ask an old relief pitcher named Eddiet, who once gave up a home run in the 1970 World Series and heard nothing but boos here for the rest of his career. Ask a fellow named Unitas, the greatest of them all, if he ever heard boos after throwing an interception. For that matter, ask a fellow named Ripken if he heard the boos along with the cries, "Take a day off, Cal," when he'd pop up during his immortal streak.

But the boos you hear aren't related to your playing skills, Albert, and you must know this. Baseball fans understand the arithmetic: Even the best hitters will fail 70 percent of the time.

The boos you hear reflect your indefensible attitude. They're about failing to run all the way to first base on ground balls. They're about loafing in the outfield, fighting with a manager who has consistently defended you in public and making obscene gestures to fans whose support pays your breathtaking salary.

The odd thing is, these are generally polite crowds that go to Oriole Park.

(Did someone say polite? Actually, they're practically docile; hell, they're somnambulant. Somebody rouse them from their cell phones and their Wall Street Journal and inform them that a baseball game is in progress!)

They once booed Terry Mathews because he couldn't get anybody out in the clutch. They've booed Mike Timlin for an amazing stretch of dreadful pitching.

But the incidents are easy to recall because they're so isolated -- and remarkably so. On a team that spent three months as the biggest (and most expensive) disappointment in all of baseball, has anybody else really borne the brunt of noticeable booing?

Only you, Albert.

Did your teammate Charles Johnson hear boos when he drove in only a single run over the season's first month? No. Did your outfield mate B.J. Surhoff hear boos when he bone-headedly ran home from third with only one out? No. Did Scott Erickson hear boos when he was 1-and-8? No.

Why? Because everybody knew they were hustling, and they blamed only themselves. Hustling, Albert. Not drifting after baseballs hit to right field as if they're an imposition. Talking, Albert. Not treating reporters as though they're pariahs.

It's really simple, Albert: Reporters are middlemen between the athletes and all those fans who are poignantly hungry for information about their heroes. Without information, reporters have nothing. With nothing to report, the fans lose interest and drift away, unable to connect the actual human being to the primitive act of swinging a wooden club at a thrown ball.

This is a community waiting to fall in love with Albert Belle. It's the gift that comes to anyone wearing the Baltimore Orioles uniform: Hustle, make a few simple gestures of human civility, show that you care.

It's not too late, Albert. That's what those cheers were all about after your Sunday home runs, when you braced yourself for boos that never arrived.

It's a town still waiting to embrace you, Albert.

Sincerely,

Michael Olesker

Pub Date: 07/27/99

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