They unveiled the Albert Belle Candy Bar in Cleveland on Tuesday.
Is it nutty? Some might ask: Is the man himself?
Belle didn't show for the introductory news conference, infuriating the manufacturers and embarrassing the Indians. His excuse: He didn't sleep well.
Belle's sense of public relations might have improved only sightly from his earlier, angrier, more tempestuous and often-suspended days, but he remains a formidable weapon in baseball's deepest and most formidable lineup.
Orel Hershiser, a new member of the Cleveland rotation, said, "This is the best offensive club I've seen since I've been in the majors. That's not a knock at the Dodgers [with whom he spent the previous 12 seasons] or anyone else. I see it as a fact.
"Usually you're talking about three or four guys, like the Giants with Will Clark, Matt Williams and Kevin Mitchell or the Pirates with Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Andy Van Slyke.
"But talking about three or four guys is selling this club short. The thing I notice is the consistency of the people who can beat you with one swing. There's not a place in the lineup that a pitcher can relax. You make bad pitches against this team, and the ball winds up out of the park."
Said Bud Black, another National League expatriate now pitching for the Indians: "In the National League, you get to the number eight guy, and you can make him chase some bad pitches because you've got the pitcher behind him. That doesn't happen with this club, and it's mentally draining for a pitcher. You get through the middle of the lineup and here comes three or four more guys who can rake."
It's even contagious. Shortstop Omar Vizquel ended a 333-game homerless streak by hitting two in five at-bats Monday and Tuesday. Paul Sorrento, among the league leaders in home runs and runs batted in, plays only against right-handers. The Indians led the majors in runs and home runs last year and are doing it again, averaging more than 6.6 runs per game while batting .300 as a team through Thursday.
All of that, of course, takes the load off a pitching staff that has been almost entirely rebuilt over the last two years and is no longer a punching bag for opposing batters. Chuck Nagy is the only remaining starter from 1992. The Indians are second in the American League in team earned-run average and may be close to calling off their pursuit of a closer since Jose Mesa had converted all six of his save opportunities through Thursday.
The more important numbers are those in the standings, and the Indians should close out the AL Central by Labor Day, with the Chicago White Sox no longer a factor.
Again, said Hershiser, what's impressive is the depth and management's ability to retain and build on it.
"What I've come to realize is that you have two generations of power hitters here," he said. "While some clubs may have waited a year or two to see a little more, management aggressively signed the first group of Belle, [Carlos] Baerga, [Kenny] Lofton and [Sandy] Alomar to multiyear contracts, and now you've got a second group of Sorrento, [Jim] Thome and [Manny] Ramirez [who had a rookie-of-the-year type debut in 1994 and is now laughing at the sophomore jinx].
"Fill in with a couple of Hall of Famers [Dave Winfield and Eddie Murray], a Gold Glove shortstop [Vizquel] and an all-star catcher [Tony Pena] who can take over when Alomar is hurt, and the depth is amazing."
Sweet, indeed. Who needs a candy bar?
SALUTE TO A WARRIOR
The Oakland Athletics' Dennis Eckersley became the sixth relief pitcher to get 300 saves Wednesday against the Baltimore Orioles, but he's the first to do it within 500 appearances (499) and the first to combine it with 188 victories, 100 complete games, a 20-victory season and a no hitter--clearly, a Hall of Fame package.
In addition, Eckersley's animation and competitiveness has always been complemented by his accessibility, his willingness to address his performance, good or bad.
Relieving, Eckersley said, awakened emotions and energies that starting never did.
"Even when I'd win 17 or 18 games in a season, in how many of those games was I around at the end?" he said. "How many times did I walk off the field and get to shake hands, exchange high-fives? That was the first thing I enjoyed about the success of relief pitching, the immediate impact on the game and the response of the team.
"Little did I know what was in store down the road, the home runs, the blown saves, the sleepless nights. Jay Howell used to tell me, 'No one can understand what being a closer means until they've done it.' It's so intense, so exhausting. Every time we get to the seventh or eighth inning my stomach starts to flip.