By JIM ENGSTER
President, Tiger Rag Magazine
Albert Jojuan Belle turns 50 this Thursday. The mercurial outfielder easily reigns as the most prolific baseball player from LSU. Belle was one of the leading sluggers of his time, a period that included Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. In 1995, he became the first and only player to hit 50 doubles and 50 homers in a single season. The former Eagle Scout from Shreveport’s Huntington High School averaged 37 home runs and 120 RBI a season for a decade (1991-2000).
Alex Bregman is off to an impressive start with the Houston Astros, but he has miles to travel to reach the level of excellence achieved by his Tiger predecessor. Despite a career that overpowers MLB statistics produced by LSU Athletic Hall of Fame baseball standouts Joe Adcock and Alvin Dark, Belle has not been embraced by his alma mater in the way that Adcock and Dark were. Belle curiously remains out of the University’s athletic shrine, just as basketball legend Pete Maravich does now and football great Leonard Fournette will be in the future.
In the cases of Maravich and Fournette, the graduation requirement will presumably keep them banned from the LSU Hall. The same rule did not prevent non graduates Adcock and Dark from being admitted, and guess what? Albert Belle, who left LSU as a junior to pursue a career in professional baseball, earned a diploma from LSU. Belle graduated with a degree in accounting in 2003 when he was 37 years old and had already secured more than $97 million playing baseball.
The six LSU baseball players who are enshrined in the school’s Hall of Fame are Dark, Adcock, Todd Walker, Eddie Furniss, Lloyd Peever and Kurt Ainsworth. Ben McDonald lacks a degree but had his number retired. Belle has a sheepskin and 381 major league home runs, a lifetime batting average of .295 and slugging percentage of .564. He has been a member of the Louisiana Sport Hall of Fame in Natchitoches for eleven years.
Belle’s college stats were certainly impressive. Known then as “Joey,” he led the Tigers to the 1986 College World Series, the first trip to Omaha for LSU, but was suspended for the 1987 CWS after going in the stands to confront a heckler spewing racial epithets. At LSU, Belle slammed 49 homers in 585 at-bats, had 172 RBI and a .332 batting average. Controversy likely kept the 6-foot-2, 225-pound specimen from being a first round choice. Belle was selected in round two by Cleveland in 1987. By 1989, he was starring in the big show.
The player generally recognized today as the best in baseball is Mike Trout of the Angels. Trout is a special talent, but his offensive numbers actually trail those of Belle at a similar stage of their careers.
Belle 1989-95: 755 games, 2839 at-bats, 194 homers, 603 RBI, .291 avg., .360 OBP, .571 slugging pct.
Trout 2011-16, 775 games, 2876 at-bats, 162 homers, 474 RBI, .305 avg., .401 OBP, .557 slugging pct.
In the last four seasons, Trout has collected one American League MVP award and finished second in the balloting three times. Belle was second in 1995, third in 1994 and 1996, and in the top eight on two other occasions. His frequent dust ups with scribes did not help his cause. He was the fourth player to have eight consecutive seasons of 30 home runs and 100 RBI, joining Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx and Lou Gehrig (Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez have accomplished the feat since).
Belle’s career ended abruptly at 34 with a degenerative hip condition after just a dozen seasons. Barry Bonds holds the major league record for home runs with 762 in an epic Major-League tenure that ran from 1986 to 2007. After 12 seasons, he had 374 homers in 6069 at bats. In his 12 year stint in the majors, Belle slammed 381 home runs in 5853 at bats. His last at bat for the Baltimore Orioles on Oct. 1, 2000 was a home run.
Belle is the most prominent African-American athlete to have played baseball at LSU where the team is largely or exclusively comprised of white players year after year. Enshrinement at TigerTown is an overdue honor for Belle and would be appropriate recognition to the greatest player sent to the majors by the Ole War Skule.
Maravich is deceased and Fournette has decades for LSU to eventually change its Hall of Fame policy. Belle celebrates a half century on the planet on Aug. 25 and while he is alive should be saluted by his state’s flagship university, the school where he graduated in a challenging curriculum and played his sport with exceptional success. Old habits die hard at Death Valley, and Belle, who is at last report living quietly in Scottsdale, AZ., will not be expecting LSU to dial him anytime soon.
When numbers are analyzed and politics removed, it is not even a close call for Belle and his worthiness for LSU Hall of Fame distinction. In Belle’s case, there is no reason to block inclusion in the Hall other than pettiness.
30 MLB Home Run seasons by an LSU player
- Albert Belle 50 1995 Indians
- Albert Belle 49 1998 White Sox
- Albert Belle 48 1996 Indians
- Joe Adcock 38 1956 Braves
- Albert Belle 38 1993 Indians
- Albert Belle 37 1999 Orioles
- Albert Belle 36 1994 Indians
- Aaron Hill 36 2009 Blue Jays
- Joe Adcock 35 1961 Braves
- Albert Belle 34 1992 Indians
- Albert Belle 30 1997 White Sox
Most MLB Home Runs in the 90s
- Mark McGwire 405
- Ken Griffey Jr. 382
- Barry Bonds 361
- Albert Belle 351
- Juan Gonzales 339
- Sammy Sosa 332
- Rafael Palmeiro 328
- Frank Thomas 301
Most MLB RBI in the 90s
- Albert Belle 1099
- Ken Griffey Jr. 1091
- Barry Bonds 1076
Most MLB Doubles in the 90s
- Craig Biggio 362
- Edgar Martinez 358
- Albert Belle 344