Belle drove in his first World Series run in Game 3. In the next game he hit a home run. In the game after that he homered again. "He uses his emotions to propel him," says Frank Mancini, an Indians clubhouse attendant and one of Belle's closest friends. "Especially anger."
On Feb. 29, Major League Baseball announced that Belle would be fined $50,000, a record, for his outburst against Storm. He was also directed to undergo intensive anger-control counseling. Belle was outraged at the fine. The next day, in Cleveland's first exhibition game, he homered in his first at bat, off New York Yankees ace David Cone. "Albert thrives on his anger," Mancini says.
In 1994 Belle was suspended by Brown for seven games for using a corked bat. When Belle returned to the lineup he was not contrite, as another player might have been. He claimed he had never used a corked bat. He said he was being singled out. He was furious, and his bat sizzled. In the next 20 games, before the players' strike ended the season, Belle batted .476 and crashed 10 homers.
"He looks at a game as a battle," says Mancini. "It's war. Anybody who's not on his team is against him. That's the enemy."
The most convenient enemy for Belle is the press. Newspaper reporters, TV and radio interviewers and magazine writers are often around the Indians' locker room. Belle cannot control them, and he is a man, his friends say, who needs to be in control. The press interferes with his pregame routine, Belle says, and he is manic about his pregame routine. So he has taken a defensive position: When notebooks and microphones hover at his locker, he often becomes surly and rude. And then, Belle's friends say, he wonders why so many of his press clippings are negative.
On April 6, after photographers on assignment for SI had focused on Belle during the opening week of the season in preparation for this article, Belle threw two baseballs at Tony Tomsic, one of the magazine's photographers on the field. One ball cut Tomsic's hand when he raised it to protect his face. Tomsic was treated in the Indians' clubhouse and did not file a complaint against Belle, but after the incident came to light two weeks later, Belle was summoned to the American League office in New York City on April 24.
To Belle the most offensive thing about the press is its intrusion into his personal life. He is a guarded individual, and there are subjects he doesn't want to address in public. He doesn't need or want attention. He wants to be measured solely by his baseball accomplishments.
Belle's lone sibling, his fraternal twin, Terry, is his public relations adviser. Like Albert, Terry has a good head for numbers. He has an MBA, and he has been calculating how much money his brother loses in potential endorsements because of his bad press. Terry seeks to improve his brother's image. "Is this story going to have the word alcohol or Halloween in it?" Terry asks a writer.
Probably, he is told.
"Then he's not going to talk to you," Terry says.