Baltimore Orioles right fielder Albert Belle made obscene gestures to fans in the right field bleachers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards during a game on June 4, prompting the club to apologize to a Washington attorney whose family witnessed the gestures and who wrote an angry letter to Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos.
Norm D. St. Landau called Belle's behavior "reprehensible and disgusting" in a letter to Angelos dated June 9. After Angelos investigated St. Landau's complaint, St. Landau and his family were invited to attend the Orioles' game June 22 as Angelos's guests.
Belle, whose tumultuous first half-season with the Orioles has included a smashed television set in St. Petersburg, Fla., an angry exchange with Manager Ray Miller and numerous run-ins with the media, could not be reached to comment today. His twin brother and business manager, Terry Belle, said he could not comment on this incident.
Angelos was out of town and could not be reached, and Orioles chief operating officer Joe Foss declined to comment other than to say the matter was handled internally. However, Foss told the Baltimore Sun for a story in today's editions, "It was the first time I was aware of any of Albert's actions being directed at our fans."
St. Landau said he was at the game June 4 between the Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies with seven family members, including four children, when several fans in right field began heckling Belle. St. Landau said Belle responded by making an obscene gesture with his middle finger and grabbing his crotch.
"He also had a habit of rubbing his finger and thumb together to remind you of how much money he makes," St. Landau said today. "That more than anything else is what bothered me. It was more in-your-face and offensive than anything. . . .
"This was way beyond anything I had ever seen. I may be naive, but I think baseball is still something special and needs to keep a special relationship with fans. In a city where baseball is so well represented by Cal Ripken, with such wonderful fan relationship, to be confronted with this, it was too much."
St. Landau's faxed letter, which was also faxed to The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun, demanded a refund for the tickets and parking, an apology from Belle, an apology from Angelos and a suspension of Belle. "I cannot imagine any standard of public conduct under which Mr. Belle's behavior is acceptable," St. Landau wrote. "Nor can I imagine that any business would permit an employee to treat paying customers in the manner we were treated by Mr. Belle."
Club spokesman Bill Stetka said the team received several e-mails and letters from other fans who attended the same game, complaining about Belle's conduct. Angelos ordered club officials to interview ushers and other ballpark operations employees to get their accounts of Belle's actions. After the inquiry was complete, Angelos called St. Landau.
St. Landau, a season ticket holder since 1983, said he was "blown away with the sincerity and tenaciousness with which [the Orioles] pursued discussions with me, and with their heartfelt apologies."
Apparently, the club did not punish Belle specifically for the incident that spawned St. Landau's letter, but a team source said Belle's benching in Atlanta on June 11 -- which followed his run-in in the dugout with Miller on June 9, the same day Angelos received St. Landau's letter -- stemmed from both the shouting match with Miller and the obscene gestures on June 4.
Every major league contract contains a clause binding the player to a level of "professional conduct."
Belle's conduct June 4 was not serious enough to warrant an attempt by the Orioles to go to such drastic measures as trying to void his contract, a team source said. However, by accumulating examples of Belle's behavior and threatening to take action, the club might attempt to negotiate a settlement that would cancel a clause in Belle's contract that prevents the Orioles from trading him during the first three years of his five-year, $65 million deal.
On April 21, Belle threw a beer bottle through a television in the visitors' clubhouse at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and immediately paid for the damages. On June 9 in Florida, he engaged Miller in an expletive-laced argument after Belle did not run hard on a ground ball and Miller took him out of the game.
Data: vs. Montreal Expos at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, tonight and Friday at 7:35 p.m., Saturday at 7:05 p.m.
Tickets remaining: 8,000 for tonight, 7,500 for Friday, 2,200 for Saturday.
TV: HTS tonight, WNUV-54 and WBDC-50 Friday, WJZ-13 and WBDC-50 Saturday.
Radio: WTOP-1500, WBAL-1090, WTOP-FM-107.7, WMJS-FM-92.7.
Records: Orioles 36-51, Expos 33-51.
Pitchers: Tonight -- Orioles RHP Sidney Ponson (7-6, 4.10 ERA) vs. Expos RHP Mike Thurman (3-5, 4.52); Friday -- RHP Mike Mussina (11-4, 3.70) vs. RHP Dan Smith (1-3, 4.94); Saturday -- RHP Scott Erickson (4-8, 6.06) vs. RHP Dustin Hermanson (3-7, 5.48).