BELLE'S BAD BETS
The revelation that Albert Belle indulges heavily and frequently
in sports betting had barely come to light last week when the
pooh-poohing began. Even before pledging that baseball would
investigate Belle's gambling, acting commissioner Bud Selig
reminded the press that betting pools and friendly wagers are a
part of every big league clubhouse. Jerry Reinsdorf, chairman of
the Chicago White Sox, the team that signed Belle to a
five-year, $55 million free-agent contract in November, said he
was "not worried" because "there is no indication Albert bet on
baseball." Belle himself downplayed the gambling issue, telling
USA Today that he did not bet on baseball and that he and his
teammates merely bet casually on other sports. Said Belle, "It's
no different than anyone else's office pool."
He's wrong. In a deposition given in Cleveland on Feb. 11 as
part of a civil lawsuit filed against him for allegedly driving
his truck after a group of boys who had egged his house on
Halloween of 1995, Belle admitted that he lost about $40,000
betting on pro football and college basketball games, and in
golf wagers with friends. While Belle can clearly afford the
loss, its magnitude brings into question who was handling his
action. That's why this can't be considered "office pool" money,
even for someone who makes $11 million a year. And even if
evidence proves that Belle did not bet on his own sport,
baseball must take his gambling seriously. "The problem with
gambling of any kind is that it creates debt," says John Dowd,
the Washington, D.C.-based attorney whose investigation of Pete
Rose's gambling led to Rose's lifetime expulsion from baseball
in 1989. "And when people cannot pay, that's when they become
vulnerable to the bookmakers. That is when the integrity of the
game is on the line."
Even if Belle has his losses under control, baseball should be
worried about other aspects of his gambling: the possibility
that he did bet on baseball; violated tax or gambling laws; or,
despite his denials, did business with a bookie or bookies,
thereby violating the sport's unwritten rule against improper
There are other questions for baseball's investigators to
explore. Belle says he "may have" paid off his $40,000 in losses
with eight money orders, each in the amount of $5,000. Had Belle
signed a personal check to a bookie, he would be admitting to
gambling, a misdemeanor in Ohio. If he paid with a single
$40,000 money order, the transaction would have come to the
attention of the IRS. (Purchase of a money order of $10,000 or
more is automatically reported.) Belle instead employed a method
that is frequently used by gamblers to pay off debts while
hiding the losses from authorities. Money orders are traceable,
and baseball should be on the trail of Belle's.
Even before his deposition, Belle's high-stakes habits were
known to the commissioner's office. John Hart, general manager
of the Cleveland Indians, for whom Belle played the last eight
seasons, said last week that Kevin Hallinan, baseball's security
chief, had given him a "heads up" in March 1996 that baseball
was looking into Belle's involvement in gambling. Hart said
Hallinan had not gotten back to him since.
There was, at week's end, no evidence that Belle had bet on his
own sport. "Albert is clearly aware of the rules because he's
been briefed on several occasions," says Belle's attorney, Jose
Feliciano of Cleveland. "He's lived well within the rules."
Maybe so, but baseball owes its public a full investigation. "It
[heavy betting] puts a cloud on him," says Dowd. "And it puts a
cloud on the game."
Fans of English soccer were crushed when their team lost 1-0 to
Italy in a Feb. 12 World Cup qualifying match in
London--England's first defeat in a home qualifier in 40
years--but they weren't the only ones left high and dry.
Alessandro Bernardi, a Venetian-born dishwasher-turned-cabaret
singer now living in London, had been chosen by the Italian
embassy to sing Italy's national anthem before the game in
Wembley Stadium. But after a British paper ran photos of
Bernardi, in the high point of his nightclub act, singing Nessun
Dorma while standing naked on a table, Italian officials
replaced him with a professional opera singer.
"It is a terrible disappointment," said Bernardi, who had
accepted the invitation to sing, he said, purely for the honor.
"I intended to do my best. I would have been fully dressed for
A SHOW OF HEART
At last week's Phillips 66 national swimming championships in
Buffalo, Chad Carvin won four individual events, a feat that
puts him in the company of Mark Spitz and Tom Dolan. Yet
Carvin's greatest victory is written between the lines of the
Late in 1995, Carvin, then a 21-year-old senior at Arizona,
should have been thinking of nothing but preparing for the
Atlanta Olympics, where he would have been a favorite in the
200- and 400-meter freestyle. Instead, Carvin found himself
facing a much more profound concern. Beginning in October '95,
he had started to feel weak and listless, and his times had
become slower and slower. Two months later, Carvin had become so
despondent that he attempted suicide by taking an overdose of
sleeping pills. In the wake of that crisis, Carvin consulted a
doctor, who told him he was suffering from cardiomyopathy, a
life-threatening condition caused by a virus that had invaded
the left ventricle of his heart. He was ordered to stop all
exercise. His swimming career appeared to be over, and the only
question was whether he would need a heart transplant. "I just
kept asking myself, What am I supposed to be doing now?" he says.
What he did was sleep 15 hours a day for the next few months.
Early in the summer, doctors discovered that, against all odds,
his heart had repaired itself. Carvin's physician, Richard
Liebowitz of the University Medical Center in Tucson, says that
while most cardiomyopathy patients heal to some degree, he has
never seen anyone recover as fully as Carvin has. He attributes
the recovery to an early diagnosis and to Carvin's fitness and
attitude. Determined to swim again, Carvin progressed from
walking to skateboarding around campus to biking.
Finally he made it back in the pool. "It was as if I didn't know
how to swim anymore," he says of his first workouts. In time,
though, his fitness returned and he started to think about
competing. He entered a low-level meet in Tucson last July and
swam a national-class time in the 400-meter freestyle. After
that he knew he'd be in Buffalo.
Carvin's performance in the nationals was a soaring one. On
Friday he won the 200 free and the 400-meter individual medley.
The following evening he won the 400 free, and he capped his
weekend with a victory in the 1,500 free on Sunday.
"I'm really happy with this," says Carvin, who is back in the
Olympic picture for Sydney in 2000. "But I'm not putting a lot
of pressure on myself. I don't feel I have anything to prove."
SPARE THE AX
Last Thursday, as NCAA executive director Cedric Dempsey was
announcing the formation of NCAA Football USA, a licensing
program that will coordinate the sport's merchandising efforts,
Syracuse heavyweight wrestler Jason Gleasman was pondering an
uncertain future. "The word I think of is betrayed," said
Gleasman, a junior who wrestled at 220 pounds for the U.S.
Olympic Greco-Roman team last summer in Atlanta.
Gleasman is not alone. The elimination of men's sports
programs--in recent weeks Syracuse announced it will ax
wrestling and men's gymnastics at the end of this year, while
Michigan State said it will say farewell to men's lacrosse and
fencing--has continued over the last several years in the name
of budget tightening (though not usually in the biggest-budget
sport: football) and Title IX compliance. Each cut produces
dozens of victims like Gleasman, whose stories rarely get heard.
He now must decide whether to transfer and disrupt his academic
career, or to stay at Syracuse and give up his final year of
The NCAA's indifference to athletes like Gleasman is appalling.
Consider: Though participation in high school wrestling has
remained steady over the last 25 years, 142 NCAA schools have
dropped the sport since 1972 (251 still participate in it).
Between 1992 and '95, 10 swimming, eight tennis and seven
gymnastics programs, all men's, were sent to the chopping block.
Yet no NCAA committee has been formed to study the problem.
Some hopeful news arrived last week from the U.S. Olympic
Committee, which approved a four-year, $8 million program to
promote Olympic sports at the college level. Starting in
September, the USOC will give grants--typically $600,000 to $1
million over four years--to conferences, which will distribute
the money to schools that meet certain guidelines, one of which
is that a school cannot drop any Olympic sport at the varsity
level. The program will give priority to emerging women's
sports, such as ice hockey and synchronized swimming, and sports
that have declined in the past few years (wrestling, gymnastics
and swimming were mentioned by the USOC).
But the committee's effort won't be enough unless the NCAA
encourages college presidents and athletic administrators to
stop the wholesale scrapping of programs that have created young
men like Jason Gleasman, the deserted class of NCAA athletes.
HE SAID IT
It's unlikely that Andy Van Slyke, who will be attempting a
comeback this season as a nonroster player for the St. Louis
Cardinals, will return to the form that won him five Gold Gloves
as an outfielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates. But even as a
backup infielder and pinch hitter, Van Slyke is a good bet to
contribute--quotes, that is.
The loquacious Van Slyke is to They Said It what Madonna is to
gossip columns. In anticipation of another MVP (Most Voluble
Player) season, we offer the following sampler of Van Slykeisms:
Describing the difference between playing at home and on the
road: "On the road, when you go downstairs for coffee in your
underwear, they throw you out of the kitchen."
After a particularly tough day at the plate: "I couldn't have
driven Miss Daisy home today."
On failing to hit the ball out of the infield during a prolonged
slump: "They're writing a movie about me. It's called The Summer
Finally, on whether there was anyone in the world with whom he
would trade places for a day: "My wife. So I could see how
wonderful it is to live with me."
BAD NEWS FOR A CHAMPION
Mamo Wolde's long and desperate run has taken a new turn. On
Feb. 13, Wolde, the 1968 Olympic marathon champion from Ethiopia
who has been in prison in Addis Ababa for five years (SI, Dec.
4, 1995), was at last charged, along with some 1,200 other
officials from his country's deposed military regime, for crimes
allegedly committed more than 20 years ago. Wolde, 65, whose
plight has drawn the attention of Amnesty International and the
International Olympic Committee, had been a captain in the
Palace Guard of Haile Selassie before the emperor was deposed in
1974 by a military coup. In the brutal Communist government,
known as the Dergue, that took over, Wolde served as a minor
official, though he says he spent most of his time coaching
young runners. After the Dergue was overthrown in '91, thousands
of Ethiopians were rounded up on suspicion of human rights
abuses. Among them was Wolde, who was implicated in the killing
in '75 of an opponent of the Dergue.
Several former Olympians, among them runner Kip Keino, a
two-time gold medalist from Kenya, '68 decathlon champion Bill
Toomey of the U.S. and American marathoner Kenny Moore, who
wrote the SI story, have taken up Wolde's cause. Still,
Ethiopian officials have refused to release Wolde pending his
trial, which remains unscheduled.
Meanwhile, Wolde, who has maintained his innocence and has faced
his ordeal with a marathoner's tenacity, seemed resigned to
continued incarceration. In a letter to Toomey in November,
Wolde expressed his thanks for the efforts made in his behalf
and asked for help in acquiring an advocate for his trial and
for funds to help support his wife and two children. He signed
his letter, "Your respecting brother, Captain Mamo Wolde."
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY VICTOR JUHASZ [Drawing of Albert Belle swinging baseball bat amid whirl of money orders]
COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. [Darryl Dawkins in game]
COLOR PHOTO: JOE TRAVER After enduring a harrowing battle against heart disease, Carvin is back in the swim. [Chad Carvin]
COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW MCCLOSKEY SMOKIN'! Wayne Gretzky drew fire last week for his un-PC appearance on the cover of "Cigar Aficionado." But stogies have long been a pungent part of sports. Consider: [Cigar]
COLOR PHOTO: BRAD TRENT/CIGAR AFICIONADO [See caption above] Wayne and wife [Cover of Cigar Aficionado magazine featuring Wayne Gretzky and Janet Jones]
B/W PHOTO: SAM SHERE/LIFE [See caption above] The Babe and the butt [Babe Ruth smoking cigar]
B/W PHOTO: FRED KAPLAN [See caption above] Red and his best butty [Red Auerbach smoking cigar]
COLOR PHOTO: HERB SCHARFMAN [See caption above] Luis Tiant's hot tub [Luis Tiant smoking cigar in hot tub]
COLOR PHOTO: STEPHEN GREEN-ARMYTAGE [See caption above] The real Cigar [Racehorse named Cigar]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO As he attempts a comeback, the voluble Van Slyke will surely toss off a few good lines. [Andy Van Slyke tossing batting helmet]
Percentage success rate of two-point conversions in Div. 1
college football in 1996.
Type of conversion, in points, that college football teams must
now attempt beginning in the third overtime period, a policy
introduced to reduce the chances of four or more overtime periods.
Percentage of raise, from $380,000 to $1.1 million, that Boston
Red Sox pitcher Aaron Sele will receive this season after
"losing" his arbitration case; Sele had asked for $1.4 million.
Sele's ERA last season.
Percent jump in New Orleans Saints season-ticket requests (from
25 per week to 1,000) now that Mike Ditka is the coach.
Dollars won in the New Jersey Lottery by former NBA dunkster and
Lovetron resident Darryl Dawkins, who based his Pick-4
selections on his old jersey number, 53.
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
A ruling on whether to dismiss a $110 million product placement
lawsuit in the eponymous movie about sports agent Jerry Maguire
was postponed last week because the U.S. district court judge
making the decision fell asleep while watching it.
FANTASTIC FETING FOLLOWS THE FREE-AGENT FAN
When last we spoke to Michael Volpe, the 44-year-old Virginian
who abandoned his long allegiance to the San Francisco Giants
and declared himself a free-agent baseball fan (Scorecard, Dec.
30), he was mulling a handful of major league offers. Now Volpe,
who dumped the Giants after they traded his favorite player,
third baseman Matt Williams, to the Cleveland Indians on Nov.
13, is rubbing elbows with celebrities. In recent weeks he has
pitched to New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine; gone on a
private tour of Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia and then dined
with Phillies manager Terry Francona, general manager Lee Thomas
and several players; gotten an offer to appear on a trading
card; and received a letter from Bud Selig telling him how
"fascinating" the acting commissioner finds Volpe's
correspondence with big league clubs.
Volpe has been so sought after by baseball people, fellow fans
and one script-strapped film company that he has set up an
E-mail address specific to his life as a free-agent fan. Twenty
major league clubs have contacted Volpe, as have six minor
league franchises and even the investor group that hopes to
secure an expansion team in Virginia. ("True, we have no team,
but...," the group's letter said.)
"Now I know how a free agent feels," says Volpe. Many clubs have
been wooing him with gifts. The Los Angeles Dodgers, for
instance, sent wool caps and sport bags, the attempt at bribery
accompanied by a note from publicity director Derrick Hall
saying, "This is in no way bribery." Volpe, who donates most of
the trinkets he receives to a Catholic school near his house in
Falls Church, swears he "can't be bought off," not even by the
Florida Marlins, who put him up at a resort hotel in Miami for
three days so he could hang with general manager Dave Dombrowski
at the team's Fanfest.
Volpe plans to choose a team by the end of spring training and
is rating his suitors on the sincerity of their love for him,
how they treat fans in general and the strength of their team.
The last criterion favors the New York Yankees, the defending
World Series champions, who have offered to let Volpe throw out
the ceremonial first pitch at a game if he'll please, please
THEY SAID IT
Vice president of Turner Sports, on the fact that ratings for
the Feb. 10 Westminster Dog Show on USA Network were triple
those of any of the three college basketball games shown on TNT
and ESPN the following night: "All that shows is that more
people raised dogs than athletes."