Belle's hecklers back off a bit

Fans remain cool to ex-Indian, but ease up on booing

August 14, 1999|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- The Dawg Pound, it wasn't.

The fans at Jacobs Field didn't rival their renowned vocal football counterparts last night, giving Orioles right-fielder Albert Belle -- once a hero here -- more of a cold shoulder than relentless barbs.

Belle has been considered public enemy No. 1 by the city's baseball fans ever since he signed for more money in November 1996 with the Chicago White Sox, the Indians' chief divisional contender, after eight productive seasons in Cleveland.

The crowd of 43,073 did save its loudest round of boos of the night for Belle as he moseyed into the batter's box but did very little heckling when Belle played the outfield.

Belle, who has been accused of flashing obscene gestures back at fans, never glanced at the fans behind him.

Instead, Belle responded with his bat, driving in three runs, two with a double that tied the score at 3 in the eighth inning.

It was an unusual display for Belle at The Jake, where he carried a career batting average of merely .200 entering last night and drew more of a listless attitude from fans.

"I thought it was going to be ugly tonight," said Dorothy Wilson, 45, who sat with two of her children in the first row out in right field, a short pop-up from where Belle positioned himself. "Maybe it's because it's Friday the 13th. Maybe people are forgetting somewhat. Or maybe people aren't drunk enough yet."

In a three-game series here in May, Belle took sanctuary in the enclosed Orioles bullpen in right field during pitching changes to avoid the abuse from fans. Last night, Belle delayed the anticipated fan agitation by skipping pre-game warm-ups and not stepping onto the field until the game started.

Danny Flynn, a 9-year-old dressed in a Jim Thome jersey, was one of the first to yell at Belle when the Orioles slugger took the field in the first inning. However, Orioles reliever Ricky Bones caught the boy's attention from the nearby bullpen and tried to persuade him not to focus on Belle.

Flynn quieted for an inning before laying into Belle once again.

"My father says Albert chose to leave us," Flynn said. "So I'm going to boo him every chance I get."

Like Flynn, most fans expressed their displeasure for Belle with isolated -- but never vulgar -- screams from the stands.

There was only one sign, which was perched in the upper deck behind home plate and poked fun at a message Belle recently placed beside his Camden Yards locker. The fans' placard read: "Show us some love Albert."

Some fans did begin a small chant of "Joey," bringing up a nickname that Belle has publicly asked not to be called.

And others shouted, "What are you going to be doing when we're in playoffs?" and "What is that glove for, Albert?" -- taking a jab at Belle's defensive ability.

But only once did the fans' yells border on poor taste. After the Indians' Manny Ramirez had to duck away from a Scott Erickson pitch, some people yelled to Belle: "You're next; just wait."

Nevertheless, the catcalls last night didn't come close to resembling the ugly scene at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium, where some fans threw batteries at St. Louis outfielder J. D. Drew a few days ago. In fact, the Cleveland police officer stationed on the right-field bullpen specifically for Belle's protection never had to caution anyone.

"I think people here were disgusted about the Phillies incident, and it showed by how they acted tonight," said Donald Richardson, 34, who sat two rows behind the right-field foul pole. "On the top of one of the dugouts it says that this is the home of baseball's best fans. And we proved that tonight."

Some people scattered throughout the ballpark actually clapped for Belle when he first appeared.

Kevin Hollins, 51, was one of those who was drowned out by the boos, embarrassing his wife. But Hollins said he had his reasons.

"I remember the good times when Albert was here," said Hollins, who always has lived in Ohio. "If I was offered that much money, I would leave Cleveland, too."

Pub Date: 8/14/99

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