White Sox

Albert Belle: 'I had a better year' than Sammy Sosa during 1998 season

Albert Belle: 'I had a better year' than Sammy Sosa during 1998 season

The 1998 baseball season might be remembered for the historic home run chase by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, but on the South Side of Chicago, there was another special season that has long been overlooked.

And unlike McGwire and Sosa, the man responsible for it says he wasn’t fueled by PEDs.

“It was probably one of the greatest second halves in the history of baseball without an asterisk next to it,” Albert Belle said of his 1998 season on the White Sox Talk Podcast, clearly taking aim at the two oversized home run leaders from that year.

While McGwire and Sosa captured the nation’s attention, Belle grabbed his bat and put together a jaw-dropping second half the likes of which we might not see again.

In 76 games, the former White Sox outfielder hit 26 doubles with 31 home runs and 86 RBIs. He slashed .387/.451/.816. with a 1.267 OPS.

And his claim that he had one of the best second halves in history? It’s true, especially when you remove Barry Bonds and the PED asterisks attached to him.

The top three second halves since 1933, the first year of the All-Star Game, when seasons were split into halves.

1. Ted Williams, 1957: 1.449 OPS
2. Ted Williams, 1941: 1.373 OPS
3. Belle, 1998: 1.267 OPS

And since this is Chicago, why not ask the question: Who had the better season in 1998, Belle or Sosa?

Belle says he did.

“(Sosa) didn’t get 200 hits. How many hits did he get?” Belle asked.

Sosa was close. He had 198. Belle had 200 on the nose.

“I think Sosa struck out like 150 times. He had a lot of strikeouts that year.”

He did. Sosa actually struck out 171 times. Belle just 84.

“When you look at the strikeouts, usually guys don’t hit .300 when they strikeout over 150 times, so that goes to tell you there that a lot of balls that (Sosa) hit went further than what they should have. Things weren’t adding up because it just kind of came out of nowhere,” Belle explained. “(Sosa) hit .300, but he shouldn’t have with 171 strikeouts. I hit .320 something and had 84 strikeouts. I would say I had a better year.”

I agree. Compare their stats:

— Belle: 49 home runs, 152 RBIs, .328/.399/.655, 1.055 OPS, 7.1 WAR, 81 walks, 84 strikeouts

— Sosa: 66 home runs, 158 RBIs, .308/.377/.647, 1.024 OPS, 6.5 WAR, 73 walks, 171 strikeouts

RELATED: 11 fun facts from Sammy Sosa's career with the White Sox

Then there’s the cheating. McGwire has admitted he took performance-enhancing drugs. Sosa has been denying it for years.

Belle? He was found to have corked his bat while playing for the Cleveland Indians in 1994 and was suspended for seven games. Ask him about PED use, he says he played the game clean.

“Like I’ve told people all along, you can go talk to any one of my strength coaches, any one of my trainers. I can tell you what I weighed when I came into spring training, what I weighed during the season, what I weighed at the end of the season and it was pretty consistent,” Belle said. “At the time, I was living in a glass house, so you could see everything that I was doing. I wasn’t trying to hide anything. You can go ask any of the players. They always saw me in the weight room working out after the games.”

Belle’s 49 home runs in 1998 ranked fifth in the majors, 21 behind McGwire’s 70, which shattered the record of 61 set by the New York Yankees' Roger Maris in 1961.

Belle says he never took PEDs. What if he did in 1998? How many home runs would he have hit?

“If you’re playing over the course of 162 games, you’re probably hitting anywhere from like 12 to 24 balls that are popups and outs that could theoretically go in the first or second row for a home run. I would probably say you could add from 12 (home runs), worst-case scenario, 24, best-case scenario,” Belle said.

That would have given Belle between 61 and 73 home runs. Bonds later broke McGwire’s home run record, hitting 73 in 2001.

But 22 years later, what stands out to Belle aren’t his home runs. To him, it’s those 200 hits.

“The one thing I am proud of is, and that Sosa and McGwire can’t brag about, is I got 200 hits that year. I think that kind of got lost in the mix, that a power hitter got 200 hits.”

That’s a rare feat, especially for the White Sox. Prior to Belle, the last player to collect 200 hits in a season while wearing a White Sox uniform was Nellie Fox in 1954.

“That was a special season, and I consider that one of the greatest seasons in Sox history,” Belle said.

But let’s be honest. Belle’s 1998 season has basically been forgotten. Many die-hard baseball fans probably don’t even know about it. The McGwire-Sosa home run chase was everything in 1998, especially in Chicago, where so much of the focus was on Sosa’s quest to break the home run record.

Belle’s reputation of being difficult with fans and media didn’t help either.

“If you talk to X number of fans, half are going to say they had a wonderful experience with me, and the other half are going to say they hate my guts,” Belle said.

What did the media think of Belle? The MVP voting in 1998 pretty much sums it up.

Despite finishing the season with 48 doubles, 49 home runs, 152 RBIs, those 200 hits and leading the league in slugging and OPS, Belle finished eighth in AL MVP voting. Sosa won the NL MVP, beating out McGwire.

Nonetheless, Belle’s 1998 season was extraordinary. He set new White Sox single-season records for home runs, RBIs, total bases and extra base hits, all of which stand today.

McGwire and Sosa might have made the most noise in 1998, but there was also a loud Belle ringing that year on the South Side. It’s time you heard it.

Listen to the entire interview with Albert Belle on the latest edition of the White Sox Talk Podcast.

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Nick Madrigal's four-hit day shows what White Sox newest core member can do

Nick Madrigal's four-hit day shows what White Sox newest core member can do

We knew we'd see a bunch of base hits off the bat of Nick Madrigal.

We didn't think we'd see them all in one day.

After going hitless in his first two games as a big leaguer, Madrigal ended his 0-for-8 start to his major league career with a four-hit game in Sunday's White Sox win over the Royals.

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"I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, I’m going to be honest with you," Madrigal said after the game. "It’s something I was thinking about, and it’s a huge of sigh of relief one I got the first one."

He got the first four in four consecutive trips to the plate Sunday, the second of back-to-back offensive eruptions the White Sox capable lineup unleashed on Royals pitching this weekend. A 1-4 start has yielded to a four-game winning streak for the South Siders, a team that looks more complete with Madrigal in the lineup.

Pegged as the second baseman of the future since he was drafted two summers ago, he's now the second baseman of the present, with manager Rick Renteria declaring, regular days of rest aside, that you'll see Madrigal in his lineup every day moving forward. You wouldn't expect anything less for the newest member of the White Sox impressive young core.

Folks have been anticipating the arrival of Madrigal's different kind of hitting style for a while now, simultaneously wondering if a high-contact, singles-hitting guy can thrive in modern baseball, which is so often defined by patience and power.

Madrigal's just three games into his career, so the answer to that question will have to wait, even though it's already looking like his approach is a valuable addition to a potent White Sox lineup. But Sunday, he delivered as advertised. He knocked out four singles, going the other way to right field for his first big league hit and bouncing one up the middle for No. 2.

If you were playing Madrigal bingo, you would've marked off spots on your card.

You would have, too, after a display of his much touted high baseball IQ. A game that finished 9-2 was still a low-scoring tie in the seventh inning, and it was Madrigal who broke the 2-all deadlock. He led off the inning with a single and went from first to third when Luis Robert followed with a base hit. It was a heads-up play that allowed him to score when José Abreu grounded a ball through the infield two batters later.

Considering the White Sox ended up hanging a seven spot on the scoreboard that inning, it's not like Madrigal's base-running play made the difference in the ballgame. But it certainly showed off what the team's new everyday second baseman is capable of.

"His approach has been making adjustments to everything," Renteria said. "I think he was a little calmer, and after the first hit he was even much more relaxed. When you get to the big leagues, you want to get that one out of the way, and everyone was extremely ecstatic for him. It loosened him up."

RELATED: White Sox prospect Nick Madrigal arrives, was 'a little mad' missing opener

It's perfectly reasonable to suggest that Madrigal should've been doing this kind of thing at the major league level since Opening Day. Certainly he'd argue that.

"Once they told me (I wasn't going to be on the Opening Day roster), it was kind of hard to hear," Madrigal said. "Once I went down to Schaumburg, I stayed positive. I knew my time would come. ... I was hoping it would be soon and just a couple of days in. It was definitely tough to hear, to be honest with you."

But while the White Sox have talked about 2020 playoff expectations since January, the ultimate goal is to be a contender for as long as possible. While the supposed "developmental years" of this rebuilding project are over, that doesn't mean there aren't two guys in the White Sox lineup — at the top and bottom of it Saturday and Sunday, with Robert batting leadoff and Madrigal in the No. 9 spot — who can count their major league games without taking their shoes off.

In other words, there's still developing and growing and figuring things out to be done.

But it doesn't look like Robert is having much trouble adjusting to major league pitching, though, and Madrigal, now the owner of a four-hit game in just one weekend of big league action, might follow suit. If the new second baseman can strengthen the lineup even further — a lineup he said, by the way, hasn't even fully clicked yet, despite the 20 runs and 35 hits it amassed over the last two days in Kansas City — then those playoff expectations could become reality.

"That was one of the things they said once I went down," Madrigal said, "once I got here, they would be looking at me for a big role on the team."

He's here now. And he's already showing off what he's capable of doing.


Streaking White Sox turn slow start around: 'All these games are must-win'

Streaking White Sox turn slow start around: 'All these games are must-win'

Playoff mode, from Day 1.

Remember? That’s how the White Sox were approaching this most unusual, 60-game season, a two-month sprint to October where every game was said to mean so much. A fast start was critical. And so the players were going to treat every game like a playoff game.

Well, if the season was a best-of-seven playoff series, the White Sox would have been eliminated after five games.

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Thankfully for them, it isn’t, and after a 1-4 start that had plenty questioning whether this was really a team poised for a leap into contention mode, the White Sox have rattled off four straight wins — including a sweep-capping 9-2 thumping of the Royals on Sunday — and are above .500.

“The morale is way better,” starting pitcher Dylan Cease said after Sunday’s game. “We're back over .500 now. Nobody was panicked. We have enough vets on the team to calm everyone down. It definitely feels better to be on the positive side of .500.”

There’s limited opportunity for a team still learning how to win to evolve into a winner in this short season. But that doesn’t mean there’s no opportunity at all, and the White Sox are growing nonetheless.

It might end up being proven that this recent surge was perhaps an anomaly caused by a weekend series against a team that lost 103 games last year. While 20 runs and 35 hits in back-to-back offensive eruptions sure looked like a completed puzzle showing what it was capable of, we’ll see what happens when that same lineup gets another taste of Indians pitching or has to go toe to toe with the Twins again.

But there’s been more change than just the competition.

“I think we're in a pretty good spot,” catcher Yasmani Grandal said. “I think the first two series, it was more of trying to feel each other out. Even though a lot of these guys have played together for a while now, we have a lot of young guys who haven't been in the big leagues for a while. It's almost like a brand new team, if you can think of it that way. I think we're getting a sense of what we can do and how we can help each other out in different situations.

“It's starting to learn how to make adjustments. Obviously Minnesota got on us early for two games, but we went right back at them. We ended up losing the first game, but we started making adjustments from then. With the Indians, same thing, ended up winning the last game and we kind of saw and started feeling exactly what we can do in certain situations so that we're not giving up outs.

“We're getting on base, we're making pitches. I feel like making adjustments from one series to another, from one game to another, is going to be the biggest thing.”

RELATED: With Luis Robert on fire and Nick Madrigal aboard, the White Sox future is now

Grandal was one of a couple new White Sox veterans who predicted during “Summer Camp” that the team’s youth could result in either a really good start to the campaign or a really bad one. Who knows how long a “start” lasts, numerically, in a 60-game season. If it’s nine games, then neither of those ends of the spectrum came true and instead the White Sox are right down the middle.

But since the start looked anything but fast midway through last week, the positives have started coming in in droves. This young lineup has looked particularly excellent, with the trio of Luis Robert, Eloy Jiménez and Yoán Moncada putting up big numbers. Jiménez has a .997 OPS, with Robert and Moncada following with marks of .979 and .890, respectively.

Then there’s Nick Madrigal, whose big league arrival alone had a positive effect, seemingly completing the puzzle at the big league level for a White Sox fanbase that’s been drawing up lineups of the future for so long. But he did more than just be in the lineup Sunday, putting together a four-hit day in just his third career game.

After shaky starting-pitching performances the first time through the rotation, not everything’s exactly fixed just yet. Reynaldo López is on the injured list, Gio González lasted just 3.2 innings in his first start for the team that drafted him 16 years ago, and Carlos Rodón hasn’t yet had the chance to bounce back from his first outing of the year. But Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease solved whatever was bothering them in their first starts of the season. Giolito responded with six shutout innings against the Indians, and Cease shone with two runs in six innings against the Royals on Sunday.

The small sample sizes and momentum-swinging stretches of this squeezed-down 2020 season could cause a whiplash of emotion and perception for the next two months. But for right now, things are looking up on the South Side.

“You can see, immediately, how much talent is on the roster, and to be out there with those guys, it’s a lot of fun,” Madrigal said. “I really don’t even think all of us have clicked at once yet. There have been glimpses of some guys getting hot, but I’m excited once everyone kind of clicks in the same game. There’s a lot to look forward to.”

As should come as no surprise, these pro athletes aren’t going to ride that same emotional roller coaster, at least not in their public comments. “Taking it one day at a time” is one of sports’ most used cliches — and for good reason, as it often seems to work, especially for teams that are really good to begin with.

But these White Sox are sticking to their guns that “one day at a time” means a whole lot more in 2020. Playoff mode isn’t going anywhere.

“We know all these games are must-win,” Cease said. “I think we're treating them like playoff games pretty much at this point.”