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Indians Indians Archive Tribe Game Vault: 7/15/94. The Great Albert Belle Bat Caper
Written by Greg Popelka

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Tribe Game Vault: 7/15/94. The Great Albert Belle Bat Caper
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Greg Popelka

albert belle cardOf course, the Chicago White Sox have neither confirmed nor denied. Although to some observers, the team’s scouting department structure is plainly transparent. Certainly, the Sox employ national, regional, area and international scouts. Most teams do. But their major league player acquisition strategy appears to be one of a kind.

History bears it out.

Sources speculate that a certain baseball expert holds tryouts with the entire roster of the Cleveland Indians ball club dozens of times a year. The American League is complicit in this arrangement, as the games the White Sox play against Cleveland count in the standings.

According to the theory, the savant at the helm of this ingenious arrangement hides in plain sight. He is a radio announcer for the White Sox.

One can just imagine the high-level baseball banter that takes place in the scouting, er, radio booth. For example, let’s take a look back at a Friday night in July of 1994. The Indians and the White Sox were each winning at over a .600 clip, and were battling for first place in the Central Division…

“We are about ready to tee it up here on the south side. Center fielder Kenny Lofton steps in for the bad guys…”

Lofton was hitting his prime during this inaugural season of Jacobs Field. He was among the core of the team that the city of Cleveland fell in love with. Bunting down the third base line, Lofton shot out of a cannon and reached first base safely.

“Good speed aboard. So right away it’s time for pitcher Jack McDowell of the Sox to cinch it up and hunker down." With his hand on his mic, to his sidekick: "Ed, that looks like a ballplayer. The Sox need to sign him some day. Put it on the board…. Yesss.”

 Shortstop Omar Vizquel showed bunt, and on the first pitch, Lofton was sliding into second with his 46th steal of the season. Omar bunted him to third.

“They are showing how it’s done- get em on, get em over, get em in. (Ed, when is this guy’s contract up? He's a ballplayer.)”

Second baseman Carlos Baerga singled home Lofton and the Tribe was up by a run. The next batter was left fielder Albert Belle.

albert belle bat wide angelWhite Sox manager Gene Lamont approached the umpire after Belle grounded out. Someone had tipped him off to the possibility that Belle corked his bat. Lamont used his one-bat-per-game right-to-challenge and had the umpire confiscate it. The ump had a member of the grounds crew lock the bat inside the umpires’ locker room under the grandstands.

The game proceeded without further interruption. Privately, the Indians dugout fell into deep anxiety. Albert Belle was their MVP, a league Triple Crown candidate. He struck fear into opposing pitchers with his menacing scowl, his power, and his performance in the clutch. And his teammates knew Belle’s bat would be discovered to have been hollowed out and packed with cork. The benefit to a hitter was debatable; some hold that hollowed out, lighter bats are swung faster. Regardless, it is illegal, and the Tribe’s thumper was looking at a suspension.

“(Ed, who is that number 8? He’s a ball player. The Sox should sign him some day. Write that down.)”

Indians starting pitcher Mark Clark retired the White Sox in order. Same with McDowell, in the 2nd inning. Third baseman Jim Thome and catcher Sandy Alomar, Jr. were the first two outs.

“There’s a can o’ corn. Second baseman Martin is there and there’s one out.”

“And Alomar lines out to Ventura at third. Grab some bench.”

“(Ed? Write this down:  Jim Thome, and Sandy Alomar.)”

jason grimsleyMeanwhile, a spot starter for the Tribe had an idea. Jason Grimsley rose to his feet, summoned a non-playing team assistant, picked up a couple flashlights, and walked out of the dugout toward the visitors’ clubhouse. The twosome entered Mike Hargrove’s visiting manager’s office, and walked to the cinderblock wall at the far end of the room.

In the Tribe 3rd , right fielder Wayne Kirby led off with a swinging strikeout.


Inexplicably, McDowell then walked Lofton on four pitches. On the 1-1 pitch to Vizquel, Lofton stole second again. Number 47. Baerga singled him home. Tribe up, 2-0 in the middle of the 3rd.

Grimsley and his accomplice moved a ceiling tile out of the way, and climbed up and onto an 18in.-wide cinderblock wall. In the hot space, cramped by the sloping stands above, they traveled 30ft. atop the wall. They guessed where the ump’s room was, and removed the ceiling tile- only to make eye contact with someone sitting on the couch in the groundskeepers’ quarters. The unknown person kept quiet as Grimsley replaced the ceiling piece and traveled further through the ceiling.

Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen hit a ground ball to Vizquel.

“A chopper, two hopper.”

It scored catcher Ron Karkovice, who had tripled and who was having an otherwise tough day handling Kenny Lofton on the bases. 2-1 Indians after 3.

The score remained 2-1 until the top of the 5th. The dangerous Lofton lofted a foul fly ball toward third that was caught.

“Lookin’ for it, got it, and couldn’t do nothin’ with it.”

The exact same fate befell Vizquel. That’s when the Tribe went to work- singles by Baerga and Belle put runners at first and second with future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray stepping to the plate.

albert belle broken batRoughly around this time, the partners in crime reached the umps’ room and dropped down to a refrigerator, then to a counter and the floor. Grimsley found Belle’s bat and replaced it with an untampered version- only, it wasn’t an Albert Belle bat; it was a grimy, old, pine tar-covered, Paul Sorrento bat. Apparently, there were no Albert Belle bats that were not corked! Grimsley and his accomplice left the room the way they entered, and made it back to the Indians’ clubhouse. If the theft would have taken place a little earlier, or a few moments later, they would have been busted by officials entering the umps’ locked room.

Murray connected on a ground ball down the right field line. Baerga scored. (Interesting: if Belle had hit that ball and both runners didn’t score, the ‘needle’ on his demeanor would have moved from ‘irritated’ to ‘furious’.)

That pretty much was the ball game. Both Clark and McDowell pitched well, and into the 9th inning. The Indians won by a run, and the teams would leave the ball park in a virtual tie for first place.

The brilliant mind of the cutting-edge scouting department of the White Sox had done his job, however. Eventually, Lofton, Vizquel, Belle, Thome and Alomar all would one day don the garb of the Chicago south side. Very impressive. Wow.

“(Ed, I hear that new kid over there is a natural hitter. Write this name down: Manny Ramirez.)”

"(Paulie. Paulie. I like to say the name Paulie, Ed. I see Cleveland has this Paul Sorrento... Gotta take a look at that guy. Paulie...")


white sox kenny loftonwhite sox omarwhite sox albertwhite sox thomewhite sox sandywhite sox manny


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