Cubs: Albert Belle says his 1998 was better than Sammy Sosa’s

Chicago Cubs, Albert Belle AFP PHOTO Henny Ray ABRAMS (Photo credit should read HENNY RAY ABRAMS/AFP via Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs, Albert Belle AFP PHOTO Henny Ray ABRAMS (Photo credit should read HENNY RAY ABRAMS/AFP via Getty Images) /

Did Chicago White Sox slugger Albert Belle have a better 1998 season than the Chicago Cubs’ Sammy Sosa?

With the recent Long Gone Summer documentary, there’s been a lot of interest in that 1998 season. Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs blasted one home run after another to fly by the single-season home run record of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961. Sosa’s career has received lots of extra attention lately, but another former Chicago hitter doesn’t want people to forget about him.

Former White Sox slugger Albert Belle recently said that he believes that his 1998 season was better than Sosa’s. Now, the Cubs fan in all of us might at first think that’s crazy; after all, Sosa won NL MVP while blasting 66 home runs. How can you top that?

Yet while Sosa topped Belle in home runs (66 to 49) and RBIs (158 to 152), Belle, at the very least, has a strong case. His other numbers from that year compare well to Sosa’s. For instance:

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  • Belle had more hits, 200 to 198.
  • Belle had a higher average, .328 to .308.
  • Belle had a higher OPS, 1.055 to 1.024.
  • Belle had more doubles, 48 to 20.
  • Belle had fewer strikeouts, 171 to 84.
  • And what makes these numbers look even more impressive is that Belle had more walks, 81 to 73.

Belle, in particular, had a second-half for the ages: In 76 games, he batted .387 with 31 home runs and 86 RBIs. His 1.267 OPS is the third-highest post-All-Star Break mark since they started playing the Midsummer Classic in 1933. Yet he’s gotten little recognition for it, both then and now; somehow, he only finished eighth in AL MVP voting that year on a White Sox team that went 80-82. His bad reputation with the media could have been a reason for that.

Add to all this the fact that Belle, though he was suspended for using a corked bat in 1994, claims that he put up his numbers without the use of PEDs.

"“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 was quoted as saying in the above-linked article, expressing pride in his 1998 accomplishments."

What would have really been fun is watching Belle and Sosa go at it head-to-head more in 1998, had the two teams been in the same division as has been discussed for resuming baseball this year. In any other year, Belle probably would have gotten more attention, but McGwire and Sosa had all the headlines in 1998, and because of that, Belle has been lost in the shuffle.

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I know the natural bias we have as Cubs fans will lead us to proclaim that Sosa’s 1998 season was better than Belle’s, but upon further inspection, as baseball fans, we have to admit that Belle’s season, at the very least, was just as good overall. As a baseball fan in general, it wouldn’t bother me to see Belle get more recognition for it.