Originally created 11/28/98

Belle and Orioles essentially agree to contract

NEW YORK -- Albert Belle and the Orioles essentially reached agreement Friday night on a contract that will bring the free agent outfielder to Baltimore, The Associated Press learned.

While there was no announcement by the Orioles, a source speaking on the condition he not be identified said Baltimore and Belle were "very, extremely close" to an agreement and he expected the deal to be announced in the next few days.

The source said that the money part of the contract had been agreed to but the rest of the deal had not been finalized. The source said the contract "was in the neighborhood" of the $65 million, five-year offer the Orioles had made earlier this week.

Belle's agent, Arn Tellem, was on vacation until Monday and could not immediately be reached for comment. Orioles spokesman John Maroon also could not be reached for comment.

Belle, 32, may be the most powerful right-handed hitter in baseball, but also has been suspended six times and fined twice for a variety of incidents and outbursts.

He will take over in left field from B.J. Surhoff, a free agent sought by both the New York Mets and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Belle was courted by the New York Yankees, who withdrew their offer after re-signing Bernie Williams on Wednesday night.

Boston also had wooed Belle, but dropped out of the competition Wednesday night, leaving Baltimore as his only alternative other than returning to the Chicago White Sox.

Belle hit .328 this year with 49 homers and 152 RBIs, but failed to turn the White Sox into a contender during his two years in Chicago.

After helping Cleveland win the AL pennant in 1995, Belle became a free agent following the 1996 season and signed a $55 million, five-year contract with the White Sox -- a baseball record at the time for total dollars and average salary.

But the deal had a special clause saying Belle could become a free agent again if his average salary dropped out of the top three in baseball. Chicago, which still owed him $35 million over the next three seasons, refused his demand for a $4.25 million raise over three years and he hit the market.

Belle has until Wednesday to return to his deal with the White Sox.

In eight full seasons in the majors, Belle has a .296 average with 321 homers and 1,019 RBIs.

But he's also been suspended for destroying part of a bathroom, hitting a taunting fan in the chest with a thrown baseball, twice charging the mound, using a corked bat and hitting an infielder with his forearm.

He's been fined for a profane tirade at a television reporter during the 1995 World Series and making an obscene gesture to fans, and was ordered to undergo counseling after hitting a photographer with a baseball.

In addition, he got into legal trouble in 1995, charged with willful disregard of safety and fined $100 for using his vehicle to chase trick-or-treating teenagers who had thrown eggs at his house.

Last year, he admitted $40,000 in non-baseball gambling losses and was granted immunity in a federal investigation of illegal bookmaking, money laundering and tax fraud.


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