Heading into the weekend, Albert Belle had nine home runs and a team-leading 31 RBI, numbers that project to more than 30 home runs and 115 RBI for the season.
Still, Belle clearly is suffering from a lack of protection in the Orioles lineup.
Belle has just one double in 153 at-bats. A year after slamming 49 doubles with the White Sox, Belle has one fewer double than utility infielder Jeff Reboulet in 101 more at-bats. He has actually been thrown out more attempting to stretch a single (twice).
Considered one of the game's most intelligent hitters, Belle has never accepted 100 walks in a season. His current pace would give him 158. Belle, the game's most prolific slugger the past eight seasons, now finds himself with the Orioles' eighth-highest slugging percentage (.458), trailing leadoff hitter Brady Anderson, Jeff Conine and Cal Ripken, among others.
SAMMY STILL SLAMMING:
Sammy Sosa's game-winning homer against Florida Wednesday at Wrigley Field was his 73rd in 154 games since last May 25. Mark McGwire, for what it's worth, has 59 in the same time span.
Before Sosa's homer off Atlanta's Kevin Millwood last May 25, he had been just another slugger with nine home runs on the season. Who would know he was about to go on one of the greatest rolls in big-league history?
"It has been different," Sosa said. "It has been great for my career -- meeting a lot of people, doing a lot of endorsements. But everything that happened is not just because the year I had on the field, but also the way I am, the way I handled myself. If you don't have any charisma, and if you're not nice to your fans ... Sure, they may still say, `You're the man.' But they won't appreciate what you do."
Sosa's endorsements includes deals with McDonalds, Fuji Films and the Spanish network, Telemundo. He is finalizing plans to join the pantheon of Chicago sporting types with their own restaurants, putting his name alongside Michael Jordan, Mike Ditka and the late Harry Caray.
Sosa's restaurant apparently will be right there on Michigan Ave., in space that has been a Bigsby and Caruthers store. But despite the upscale address, he says it will not be as pricy as Jordan's restaurant in downtown Chicago.
"It's going to be for everybody," Sosa said. "This is the way I am. I'm not looking for it to make money. This is me."
GO AHEAD, TRADE ME:
It is worth noting what Rick Aguilera received for waiving the no-trade clause in his contract: A $500,000 signing bonus, a new 1999 contract that raised his base pay from $3.25 million to $3.5 million with a $500,000 incentive for finishing a games finished incentive and also a player option for 2000 at $3.5 million, with the same $500,000 games-finished incentive he has this season.
No wonder Aguilera insists he isn't worried that he could be used as a set-up man when Rod Beck returns from elbow surgery. "I'm not concerned about that," he said. "I hope he gets back and we can both help out in the bullpen and get the job done."
Aguilera says he would have approved the deal even if Beck was healthy. "Whether I was going to come in and set up Rod or whatever, I thought it would still be a good place to play," Aguilera said. "It became more appealing, and one thing led to another."
COVER BOYS COMING ON:
Carlos Lee is no top secret. After all, Baseball America made him a cover boy this spring, when they rated him as the White Sox's top prospect. But he was not a sure thing when they promoted him from Class AAA to replace Jeff Abbott as the left fielder.
There are signs that Lee will have staying power, however. Not only is he hitting .291 with three homers and 14 RBI in 55 at-bats, but manager Jerry Manuel had moved him into the fifth spot in the struggling batting order. "Lee has a knack for driving in runs with clutch hits," Manuel said.
The 22-year-old native of Panama has spent his career playing third, moving to left field only a few days before being promoted. ...
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