Perhaps no ballplayer embodies the darker side of New York City's collective psyche—brooding silences, sudden lashings of anger—more than Albert Belle, the Travis Bickle of leftfielders. And with the oft-offended, oft-suspended Cleveland Indian on the verge of becoming a free agent, he may well wind up with the Yankees in his spiritual hometown.
Belle's agent, Arn Tellem, says his client is intrigued by the idea of playing half his season in Yankee Stadium, where in 37 career games Belle has belted 12 homers and batted .331. And though tampering rules prohibit Yankees owner George Steinbrenner from discussing the surly slugger, he has always had a soft spot for him. "Belle reminds me of Billy Martin," the Boss once said. "They're both gunslingers." The '96 Yanks have been a little short on firepower. Though they won their division, their 162 home runs ranked 12th in the American League. Belle alone had 48. The last Yankees leftfielder to hit that many built the ballpark.
Steinbrenner revealed himself as a Belle ally last year when he was the only owner to vote against fining Belle $50,000 for his profane tirade against NBC's Hannah Storm during the 1995 World Series. "Sure Belle has a temper," Steinbrenner reasoned. "But then so do I."
Sounds like a match made in, well, not heaven.
When It Rains, It Pours
Three decades after he broke the world land speed record four times on the Bonneville Salt Flats, Craig Breedlove is up and running again with a superior model of his old jet car, the Spirit of America. But while Breedlove, 59, who was the first to eclipse 400, 500 and 600 mph, is set to challenge the current record of 633.47 and ultimately the 760-mph sound barrier, the 9,000-year-old salt flats in northwest Utah are no longer up to speed.
"The Bonneville Salt Flats are finished as a site for world land speed records," Breedlove said last week after testing Spirit of America over the hallowed but deteriorating 100-square-mile tract of barren saline plain. The flats have been imperiled as a racing surface by years of potash mining, which siphoned brine from beneath the flats into evaporation ponds to use the residue as fertilizer. That process lowered the water table, and the salt surface, which was once several feet thick and as smooth as glass, is now a thin, crumbling shell, unfit for supersonic speeds.
The only other place in the U.S. suitable for a land-speed-record attempt is Nevada's Black Rock Desert, 85 miles northeast of Reno, where the current world record was set by Britain's Richard Noble in 1983. Breedlove, who needs approximately 12 miles of hard, flat surface for his attempt, had planned to rocket across Black Rock this month, but he was waylaid by environmental groups angry over what they consider mismanagement of Black Rock. The groups filed a petition asking that Breedlove's permit be revoked, though he has promised to erase any tracks caused by his attempt, arrange for the cleanup of any debris left behind and restrict the number of spectators. The environmentalists argue that the runs and the attendant crowds could endanger historic Indian trails. If the conflict isn't resolved by November, when rains begin turning the desert to mud, Breedlove says his quest, which to date has cost some $2 million, will have to wait until next August.
The Interior Board of Land Appeals in Arlington, Va., is reviewing the petition, and Breedlove hopes for an expedited ruling. Speed, obviously, is of the essence.
Old Kentucky Homeboys