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9. He was not the Belle of Baltimore

“We know [the media’s] intentions are good, but we can’t let you substitute your judgment for ours. We don’t think you know it all. We think there are times when you’re wrong just like we know there are times when we’re wrong. I tell you what: You can trust in our judgment. It’s pretty good. We’ve gotten this far. We’re going to go even further. Just be a little patient, I think you’ll be delighted with the results.”

Peter G. Angelos

  October 1999

IT DIDN’T TAKE LONG FOR the Orioles and new general manager Frank Wren to feel some foreboding bumps en route to the 1999 season-long collapse. First, Albert Belle was thrust into the situation ­– signed, sealed and delivered totally at the whim of owner Peter G. Angelos. This complicated matters for literally everyone on the team, including manager Ray Miller who was told to figure out how to manage an unmanageable personality. Then, during the first week of spring training, newly signed second baseman Delino DeShields suffered an injury.

Then, the losing began almost immediately in April.

It wasn’t anything specific for the 1999 Orioles – it was everything. But it all started with poor pitching and the ominous tone that surrounded every move of the team’s new poster boy: No. 88 in your scorecard program and No. 1 with his middle finger, Albert Belle.

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The Orioles still had a vibrant national hero in Cal Ripken, and stalwart mostly quiet All Stars like Mike Mussina, Brady Anderson and Scott Erickson, but it was Belle who set the tone and who made the news seemingly every week for some infraction or some social behavior that was less than exemplary. But Wren had been around baseball and knew to expect this from Belle. Miller knew the day of Belle’s signing that there’d be a change in the demeanor of his locker room, which wasn’t particularly stellar to begin with in 1998 after the noisy and disruptive departure of Davey Johnson the previous fall. But Peter Angelos believed that a MLB player making $13 million per year would be better behaved and easier to control because of the investment ownership made in him.

Once again, it showed that Angelos didn’t know much about people and he certainly didn’t know much about Albert Belle or the egos of baseball players.

It didn’t take long after signing Belle on Dec. 1, 1998 for the saga and drama to begin.

On Christmas Eve, as a goodwill gesture to his new city and attempting to play the civic hero role, Albert Belle wrote a holiday poem and allowed The Baltimore Sun to publish it. Here’s an excerpt Belle wrote:

Good luck to the Windy City’s team that gave me a chance,

I hope you win all the games at the dance,

Except when you come to the Mary-old-land,

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I will be aiming for the fences, how grand.

It wasn’t Longfellow but this was a feel-good from the “new and reformed” Albert, as was his pronouncement at the team’s annual winter FanFest that he was going to be more cooperative with the media in Baltimore than he had been in Cleveland or Chicago, where he literally terrified journalists.

On February 22, Belle explained why he came to the Orioles instead of the Yankees. “I

would rather have come to Baltimore than the Yankees,” he said. “You look at their situation, they’re the king pin and you want to be that underdog that knocks them off the top. That’s pretty much the situation I’ve been in my whole career. It just makes for a better season when you knock the big guys off the top.”

On March 8, he held court with the press at the Orioles dumpy old stadium in Fort Lauderdale. “I’ve said all along that I’ll put forth the effort to work with the media,” Belle reasoned. “Spring training is a lot easier to talk to everyone. Once the season starts, I won’t be accessible every day, but I’ve become more and more accessible every year compared to the past, when I just cut everybody off. It’s been a gradual improvement and we’ll just go from there.”

Ever the mercurial personality, just eight days later on March 16, Belle sat at his locker at the same stall and abruptly said, “I’m done with you guys!”

Once the losing began, Belle was impossible to control. Or as one anonymous teammate told Tim Kurkjian of ESPN Magazine, “There’s no figuring Albert except to know that he’s crazy. Once you get that, he’s easier to deal with.”

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On April 21, Belle shattered a television set in the Tropicana Field clubhouse in St. Petersburg by throwing a bottle of beer into it.

On April 26, Belle announced the creation of his own website with America Online (AOL) in the early days of the internet and personal connectivity. He said it would be the only place he would talk to the fans and media. He would also play crossword puzzles with his fans. He posted a note at his locker for reporters: “For interview requests, please refer to my website. AB” (This was 10 years before the advance of traditional social media like Facebook and Twitter. Turns out, Belle was a pioneer.)

On May 3, after the Cuba game in Baltimore, Belle took on the wrath of baseball fans everywhere for not putting forth a legitimate effort. Late in the game at Camden Yards, he came to the plate and refused to move the bat

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