At the start of the baseball season, freelance photographer Tony Tomsic was asked to help us illustrate a feature story on Albert Belle, the Cleveland Indians' tempestuous slugger, which appears this week (page 72). Tomsic was particularly well suited to the assignment, for he is a mellow man deft at handling churlish subjects and difficult situations. A professional photographer for four decades and a frequent contributor to SI for most of those years, he has photographed race riots, tornadoes, bank robberies and more mud-bath football games than he cares to remember. He knows what he's doing.
On April 6, Tomsic was taking photographs of Belle stretching on the third base foul line before a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Jacobs Field, in Cleveland. Shaking his finger and shouting, "No, no, no," Belle made it clear to Tomsic that he didn't want his picture taken. Tomsic retreated, although it has long been the practice in baseball that once a player takes the field his picture may be taken without his permission. Minutes later Belle headed to left for some warmup drills, and Tomsic, standing alongside the Indians' dugout, resumed his picture-taking. Through his viewfinder Tomsic saw Belle, some 100 feet away, wind up to throw a ball. Tomsic snapped the picture above and then, realizing that the throw had been aimed at him, raised his left hand to protect himself. The ball struck Tomsic's knuckles, cutting him. Belle yelled, "I told you not to take my picture, a———."
Afterward a few of Belle's teammates expressed concern to Tomsic, who was treated by an Indians trainer. The SI editors asked Tomsic if he wanted the magazine to register a formal complaint or take any action in his behalf. Tomsic preferred to do nothing. "I wish this had never happened," says Tomsic, who has lived in the Cleveland area his entire life. "I feel bad for the Indians and honestly hope somehow, some way, some good will come from it."
Two weeks after the incident, other news organizations reported on Belle's outburst. As a result, the American League began an investigation. "I wish I could talk to the guy, alone," Tomsic says. "Tell him that I am not the enemy."