The personnel moves that revamped this year's Cleveland Indians started Albert Belle thinking about moving on. Then last week's trade for third baseman Matt Williams was the clincher.
''Some people are saying it's a slap in the face for me to go to a competitor, but it also was a slap in my face that they would go out and trade for Matt Williams, especially when my situation was unsure,'' Belle said from his hotel room Tuesday after signing a five-year, $55 million contract with the Chicago White Sox.
Belle said earlier trades of designated hitter Eddie Murray and second baseman Carlos Baerga unnecessarily broke up a World Series team.
''What we should have done is kept the same team that played in the '95 World Series,'' he said. ''Those trades caused a lot of chaos in the organization. I didn't feel like we were moving in the right direction.''
Still, Belle said the Indians could have retained him if they had only increased their offer $2 million last spring from the five-year, $43 million deal he turned down.
''I said, 'How about five years, $45 million?' But they felt like that was asking for too much. I just told them I thought they were making a big mistake.''
Belle said he was grateful to the Indians fans ''who stuck by me through some hard times,'' and he praised the only organization he has played for.
''Back in 1987 when they drafted me (in the second round), the Indians were the only team interested in taking a chance on Albert Belle, and I made the most of it,'' he said. ''Hopefully, they got as much from me as I got from them.''
After eight seasons with the Indians, Belle is a career .295 hitter with 242 home runs and 751 RBI. In 1995, he became the first player to hit 50 homers and 50 doubles in a season. Last season, he hit .311 with 48 homers and 148 RBI.
Belle, 30, held talks with four teams, but the Indians took their five-year, $40 million offer off the table last week after acquiring third baseman Williams from San Francisco.
Reinsdorf met with Belle in Las Vegas two weeks ago for a get-acquainted session at the urging of the team's superstar, Thomas.
''We were going down a list of names and saw that Barry Bonds may be available in a trade and I asked Frank about it,'' Reinsdorf said. ''Frank said to me that Albert Belle was the best player.''
Said Thomas: ''With me, Albert, Robin Ventura and Harold Baines, we'll score a lot of runs. And we took an important offensive contributor away from our main opponent.''
Belle said he doesn't plan to change his personality but welcomed the chance to put his controversial past behind him.
''Going to a new team is like going to a new high school,'' he said. ''Nobody knows you. It's a chance to rebuild your image.''
Belle will bat cleanup behind Thomas, giving the White Sox the only two active players to drive in 100 or more runs in each of the last five seasons.
''Now, instead of nonchalantly pitching around Frank, they're going to have to pitch to him,'' Belle said. ''It's exciting to think about what we can do as teammates.''
Published Nov. 20, 1996.