Albert Belle didn't answer phone calls yesterday for an interview. Still, we have questions. Even if Belle doesn't want to answer, it might not hurt the $65 million Baltimore Orioles slugger to know what's on many of our minds. Why didn't you run hard to first base in the ninth inning of a close game Wednesday night? Isn't $13 million a year enough to run 90 feet?
Which profanities did you yell at Manager Ray Miller in the dugout in Miami? Did you curse for the cycle? Which blue insults did Miller yell back? Who cussed first? The morning line has you as a 3-to-1 favorite. How do you expect to get the manager fired if you keep boosting his popularity?
Since you've always played in the American League, do you know what a double-switch is?
If you do know, then why were you so insulted to see Rich Amaral replacing you in right field after you made the last out in the ninth inning? That's standard strategy. Miller told Amaral what to do before the inning started. He wasn't yanking you for loafing. But was that what you assumed?
Were you mad at yourself, not Miller, and perhaps feeling guilty, too, because you knew you cruised to first base on your ground out? If you had hustled, you would have been safe easily on an errant throw and, with the Orioles ahead 4-2, you would have brought home a valuable insurance run.
If you weren't mad at yourself or feeling guilty, then why weren't you? Shouldn't a .244 hitter who hasn't hit a home run in his past 96 at-bats do something to justify a five-year contract?
Don't you think anybody on the East Coast gets cable TV? On the Orioles' nine-game West Coast trip, you ran at half-speed to first on almost every ground ball you hit. Don't you think any of us stay up late?
Do you feel bad that Orioles brass has had to have discussions on how to get you to give a presentable effort? (They tell me they've almost given up.)
On the ball up the gap in right field that got past you, leading to a 2-1 loss in Oakland, was it a hard play? Or were you just trotting, as it appeared?
Have you failed to hustle in the past for other teams? Is that why, despite your statistics, you're with your third team in the past four years? Do you think you have a shot at Dave Kingman's mark of being so unpopular that he once played for four teams in one season while in his prime?
Jim Palmer says on TV you aren't asking for help from Terry Crowley, though he is one of the game's most respected hitting coaches. If so, why not? Crowley has helped Charles Johnson so much that he has more homers than you do (11 to 10). The Crow has revamped Cal Ripken's stance, too. Ripken is hitting .298 with more extra-base hits than you (16 to 14) in 92 fewer at-bats.
One veteran Oriole tells me you're a good guy, but adds: "Don't bother trying to get to know him. I like him, but it's weird watching how he gets off on belittling people."
Lenny Webster says you're okay, too. "Maybe after Albert's been here a while, he'll relax and let more people see who he really is." Will you?
Ripken loves your pregame habits and approach to hitting. If you're willing to work far harder than most players to be a great hitter, why won't you sprint to first base or chase a 'tweener in the gap?
Miller, who has covered for you all season despite the way you have shown him up, says you're one of the smarter players he has had. He's prepared to go more than halfway to meet you. Why won't you meet him?
Do you want to be disliked? That's so odd. But possible. Why?
How can a man as proud and accomplished as you not feel pain, and even embarrassment, at performing so badly? Yet you hide it. Is your lack of hustle, and the boos it brings, a way of punishing yourself for failing?
Some in your organization think you are merely an angry bully -- a baseball Roberto Duran -- who is a great front-runner, but curls up and quits when the going gets tough. Is that all you are? A guy whose overall effort rises and falls with his batting average? You seem like so much more.
Are you scared? By age 33, Jimmie Foxx had exactly 500 homers. Then, The Beast lost it, hitting 34 homers the rest of his career. The late Shirley Povich told me that when the pitchers start getting in the kitchens of barrel-chested sluggers such as Foxx -- throwing the high and inside fastballs past them -- it's usually the beginning of the end. You'll be 33 in August. Nobody looks more like a modern Double XX than you. Everybody is pouring gas in your kitchen with impunity. Is that really what's eating you?
If you get hot with the weather, as you often have, will you play the game at full speed -- as you also sometimes have? Are a few home runs all that is required for you to go from an awful team influence to a tolerable one?
Nobody cares if you're a nice guy or ever say a word. Nobody even cares very much about your long history of problems if you don't want to talk about them. Though we'd probably be sympathetic if you did.
However, when you make $13 million a year, repeatedly fail to hustle on the bases or in the field, then curse out your manager in public view, people are going to ask questions. And, frankly, Albert, even those who would prefer to like you aren't going to care whether you like it or not.
CAPTION: Orioles slugger Albert Belle and Manager Ray Miller have shared mellow times, but Wednesday night's dugout debacle wasn't one of them.