Belle finally agreed to a $65 million, five-year contract Monday night and signed on with the Orioles before being introduced during a news conference at Camden Yards.
Belle said Baltimore was always his favorite team when he was growing up and Eddie Murray, now a coach for the team, was one of his heroes.
"I finally get an opportunity to come here," he said. "I'm looking forward to working with these guys. They definitely want to go all out to win. This club is definitely a contender."
Orioles general manager Frank Wren called Belle "one of the outstanding hitters" in baseball.
"We're just thrilled to have him," Wren said.
Before checking into Baltimore, however, Belle checked out all his options.
Wren settled Friday with Belle's agent, Arn Tellem, on the financial terms of the deal. But while the sides worked to solidify other issues, Belle did some probing on his own.
According to a source who was in contact with several major-league teams, Belle personally placed telephone calls Monday to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and Chicago White Sox general manager Ron Schueler, asking if they were interested in him.
New York withdrew its offer last week after Bernie Williams re-signed for $87.5 million over seven years.
Belle had until Wednesday to return to the White Sox nd complete a $55 million, five-year deal that guaranteed him $35 million in the next three seasons, but Chicago refused to increase Belle's salary.
So Belle chose the Orioles, who were lagging behind the other AL contenders in the free-agent sweepstakes and felt compelled to overlook Belle's checkered past by offering him one of the most lucrative contracts in baseball history.
The contract ties Belle with Mike Piazza of the New York Mets for the third-highest average salary ($13 million) behind only Anaheim's Mo Vaughn ($13.33 million) and Arizona's Randy Johnson ($13.1 million).
It took until Monday for an agreement on the final detail -- the extent of the no-trade clause in the contract.
Belle's deal is the sixth highest in total dollars, trailing only Piazza ($91 million), Williams, Vaughn ($80 million), Boston's Pedro Martinez ($75 million) and the Los Angeles Dodgers' Gary Sheffield ($68.5 million).
Belle became available because his contract with the White Sox included a clause that allowed him to ask for a raise or become a free agent if his average salary didn't remain among the top three in baseball. Belle was knocked out of the top three when Sheffield received an additional $7.5 million for agreeing to waive his no-trade clause and go from Florida to the Los Angeles Dodgers last spring.
Belle's deal with the Orioles does not include a similar reopener clause, one source said.
After the White Sox refused Belle's request for a $4.25 million raise over three years, he decided to take more money with the Orioles despite saying in October, "I've said all along I was happy I'm in Chicago and I would like to stay in Chicago."
"We wish Albert the very best," Schueler said in a statement. "He is a tremendous player, and his 1998 season ranks as one of the greatest in history. Despite losing Albert, our plan for this organization remains in place and our long-term goal remains intact -- bringing a competitive, exciting team to the field every season."
Belle hit .328 this year with 49 homers and 152 RBI. He led the AL in slugging percentage (.655) and total bases (399), and set club records for homers, doubles (48), tota bases and extra-base hits (99). He was second in the AL in doubles, homers and RBI.
But his prolific bat is only part of the package. Belle has been suspended for destroying part of a bathroom, hitting a taunting fan in the chest with a thrown baseball, twice charging the mound, using a corked bat and hitting an infielder with his forearm.
He rarely speaks with reporters.
Meanwhile, the Orioles' bid to re-sign free agent first baseman Rafael Palmeiro was dealt an indirect blow when the Diamondbacks agreed Monday to a $52.4 million, four-year contract with Johnson.
The Texas Rangers, among the finalists for the left-hander, also are seeking the services of Palmeiro and now have a bit more cash available in their effort to outbid the Orioles for the slugging first baseman.
Baltimore has put in a bid for free agent third baseman Robin Ventura, just in case Palmeiro decides to leave. That would set up the possibility of Ventura playing third base and Cal Ripken moving to first.
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