As you might have heard, today is kind of a big day for Cleveland sports fan.
But the player who took his talents to South Beach wasn’t the first to betray us.
Following the 1996 season, Albert Belle took his talents to the Windy City under similar circumstances. He wasn’t exactly a hometown hero, but we respected him when the rest of baseball hated him. He was a jerk, but he was our jerk. And like Dan Gilbert with his former star, Indians Owner Dick Jacobs was willing to pay to keep Belle in Cleveland. So when he left for a marginally larger contract, it hurt.
And so his return to Cleveland, on June 3, 1997, was almost as anticipated as tonight’s game between the Cavs and Heat.
Chad Ogea took the mound for the Tribe that day, getting the first crack at Belle. Much to the fans dismay, Ogea didn’t plunk Belle with his first pitch, but did induce an inning-ending fly out in the 1st inning.
In the bottom of the 1st, as if remind fans that a new power hitter was hear to fill Belle’s shoes, Jim Thome homered off Danny Darwin, his first of two in the game.
But not to be outdone by Cleveland’s new hero, Belle responded with a three-run shot in the 5th, knocking Ogea out of the game.
Belle would double off Danny Graves in the 8th and again off Eric Plunk in the 9th, as his White Sox cruised to a 9-5 win.
As a player often fueled by anger, Belle’s successful return really should have come as no surprise. He thrived under those conditions, which contributed to our love for him for so many years in Cleveland. He was simply clutch.
But we got the last laugh with Belle. Over the next four seasons Belle’s team would go a combined 6-15 in Cleveland. Belle would hit just .241 as a visitor in Jacobs Field, with his only home run coming in his return to the The Jake.
Oh, and most importantly, he never won a damn thing without us 🙂