WHAT: The bottom of the 7th inning of Game 3 of the ALDS between the Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles
WHO: Albert Belle vs. Armando Benitez
WHEN: October 4, 1996
WHERE: Jacobs Field, Cleveland, OH
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: I was there! Sitting down the 1st base line at Jacobs Field I was able to leave school a little early on a Friday and make it up for the game. I don’t quite remember who I was sitting with but do remember coming up in a big group as we had two sets of 4 tickets for this affair. We most likely called upon our old Cobra conversion fan affectionately known as “Bessie” for our journey to Cleveland, similar to this artist’s rendering:
Bessie had a TV and VCR and as you can imagine was simultaneously a parent’s dream and nightmare for all the kids it could stow. The back seat completely folded down with a power control module, which was the most fun the time we played with it so much the whole back seat started smoking. The lesson: Always mess with stuff as much as possible to find out its mechanical limits.
When people think of the 90’s Indians they’re likely quick to think of the two World Series teams in 1995 and 1997. HOWEVAH, there was quite the strong team in between in 1996 as the Tribe finished 99-62, the fifth best record in franchise history. The pitching staff was still a little suspect but the lineup was still as strong as you could find, led by one Mr. Albert Belle. Mr. Belle had a bit of an eventful 1996 season, eloquently detailed on this helpful website. Let’s look at some of the greatest hits:
February 1996: Albert blows off an event hosted by Ted Williams honoring 4 of baseball’s best hitters. Later Roy Firestone flies to LA for an interview with him, but Albert refuses to talk to him.
February 29, 1996: Belle is fined $50,000 for the Hannah Storm World Series incident.
April 6, 1996: Albert hits Sports Illustrated photographer Tony Tomsic, who was photographing him, with a baseball. He contends that it wasn’t deliberate.
May 16, 1996: AL President Gene Budig orders Belle to undergo counsling and perform community service
May 31, 1996: After getting hit by a pitch in the 8th inning of a game vs. the Milwaukee Brewers, Albert hits Fernando Vina with his forearm on a double-play ground ball, blaming Vina for standing in the baseline.
June 4, 1996: AL President Gene Budig suspends Belle and 2 others for 5 games after their roles in coming off the bench into a brawl in the 9th inning of a game on May 30th.
June 14, 1996: The Yankees vs. Indians game is delayed twice due to fans throwing objects at Albert (such as baseballs).
All just before the All-Star break! Not to mention this Sports Illustrated cover came out May 6th:
So why in the world would the Indians put up with him? I’m no quant but the 48 home runs, 1.033 OPS and .311 batting average probably didn’t hurt.
Even with all those distractions the team goes on to win 99 games for the best record in the league, and is rewarded by having to go on the road to Baltimore for the first two games of the Division Series (yes, every team with a better record had to do this, no not bitter at all, not bitter at all). Baltimore takes the first 2 games at home and the series heads back to Cleveland with the Tribe’s season on the line. It’s a back and forth affair in Game 3 until the Indians load the bases with no outs in the bottom of the 7th, with the Orioles bringing in Armando Benitez to limit the damage as much as possible. Let’s go to Jon Miller and the ESPN crew on the call.
First off, Jon Miller, not near the credit he deserves. The Impossible Comeback alone is enough for a career.
We go to highlights from Game 2 of this series and o look there’s Baltimore’s Brady Anderson making a big play. Brady was mostly a middling player for most of his career, save for 1996 of course, when he somehow hit 50 home runs. Next closest total in a season? 24. I only report the facts, you decide. Even with 50 home runs Anderson finished 9th in AL MVP voting that year which uhhhh yeah, inflation was high. He would actually end up spending the last year of his career with the Indians in 2002 and with his one home run and .163 batting average it was we’ll say, less than memorable. Nothin’ but love for you, Brady, at least you beat Juan Gonzalez’s 2005 stint with the Tribe.
Well now I know this must have been photoshopped because Manny Ramirez actually never struck out during his tenure with the Indians. Bet you never knew that, fun trivia tidbit to share at the bar.
I’ll admit, I was a little thrown off when they went around the horn regarding who was on base for the Tribe. “Ok Kenny Lofton, Indians legend………Ah, Kevin Seitzer, forgot about him, wasn’t with the team too long but had that weird helmet piece to protect his face…….Who the hell is Candaele?”
Upon further inspection, Candaele didn’t even have an official at bat in the series but got to be part of this moment. Kind of an Indians Moonlight Graham if you will. If only I knew how to Photoshop Candaele’s series statistics into this photo but hey, a little more complex than drawing sunglasses on Tony Pena.
Even as a snot-nosed 10-year old brat I can remember Orioles Manager Davey Johnson always looking like was stunningly worried, and well I guess he had good reason to in this instance.
First pitch: 98 mph heat fouled straight back. Belle’s got your timing down Benitez, bet you don’t have a hair on your ass to throw him another one.
Second pitch: Then again, maybe he does as Belle swings and misses at 96 mph. Credit to Benitez as he embodies further proof that if you throw in the high 90’s you can make quite the career for yourself. Though he had his struggles, including gout for overindulging in shellfish (who doesn’t?) he played some form of professional baseball all the way until 2012. Now, some of those teams in the last few years were on par with the teams you see on Brockmire, but professional baseball nonetheless. But yet, this was not his day.
Third Pitch: As Jon Miller point out, that one was not 72 mph, Jamie Moyer didn’t sneak on the field or anything.
Tribe bench just thinking “Good God please let Albert hit something here so he doesn’t come back and destroy 5 lockers and dump out all the sunflower seeds.”
Pitch Four: Juuuust a bit outside.
Tribe Manager Mike Hargrove going with the….batting glove? The ultimate “well the coach might have to call on me to play” move of all time. And hey, he’s the Manager so he might just make the move. I will sympathize with Grover on the hat adjustment, as a chronic hat adjuster myself I know it takes some time to get the hat just right for optimum bad hat hair. A true science.
Meanwhile Jon Miller goes on a long soliloquy about Hargrove making all the right moves and wanting no one else in the league up in this moment. It’s almost as if he knows…..
And they say sports aren’t rigged?!?! #illuminati
For real though, part of it might have had to do with sitting under the first base line awning but this was a very, very loud moment. The series had been such a slog to that point and Belle hitting just gave such a release. Easily in my top 10 LOUD SPORTS MOMENT power rankings.
When you think you have all the answers but then, they change the questions.
Albert with his typical celebration: Simple high fives and no smiles or any other sign of human emotion. Basically the Ron Swanson while bowling of celebrations.
“At least……my hands are warm.” Also, note the crowd noise hasn’t gone down at all. It’s 21 years later now so I’m just going to remember it as going on like that for 3 hours.
Whoa! Obviously Albert was known for his temper but never really the celebrations. And this would be the last. The season would end the next day on a Roberto Alomar homer that put the Orioles up in extra innings. A little more than a month later Albert signed a $55 million dollar contract with the White Sox, the richest contract in baseball at the time. Think of it as the poor man’s LeBron Decision moment. But time heals all wounds and when I look back on those 90’s teams it seemed like Belle hit a homer every game. And hey, like that crowd noise you could convince me he did.