A New Look
When major league owners ratified a collective bargaining agreement on Nov. 26, they guaranteed labor peace in baseball for at least four years and cleared the ground for a seismic shift in scheduling: Interleague play will begin next season. Each of the four teams in the American League West will play four games against each team in the National League West; the five teams in the American League East will play three games apiece against their National League East counterparts; and the five American League Central clubs will do the same against the National League Central teams. The new matchups, while they may be anathema to the purists, conjure up some tantalizing scenarios.
In the West: Oakland A's Mark McGwire hitting in the Colorado Rockies' Coors Field. McGwire homered every 8.1 at bats in '96, and Coors is the best hitter's park ever; Al McGuire could hit one out of that place.... Texas Rangers first baseman Will Clark returning to San Francisco for the first time since he bolted as a free agent in 1993, leaving behind legions of grieving Giants fans.... Seattle Mariner Randy Johnson, the game's most intimidating pitcher, facing San Diego Padre Tony Gwynn, the game's best hitter.... The 6'10" Johnson batting for the first time since '89; with luck he'll face San Francisco reliever Doug Creek, who is a mere 5'10".... The Los Angeles Dodgers' dominant Hideo Nomo facing Seattle's daunting 2-3-4-5 hitters: Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner.
In the East: New York Yankees pitchers David Cone and Doc Gooden pitching against the New York Mets for the first time; Darryl Strawberry swinging against his old team too.... Atlanta Braves shortstop Rafael Belliard, who hasn't homered in his last 1,805 at bats, dating to '87, hitting for the first time against Detroit, which last season surrendered a record 241 home runs.... The Boston Red Sox returning to Shea Stadium for the first time since their collapse in the 1986 World Series.... The Montreal Expos and the Toronto Blue Jays playing the first all-Canadian series, with Toronto perhaps starting lefty Paul Spoljaric, who hails from Kelowna, B.C., against Montreal's Rheal Cormier, a native of Moncton, New Brunswick.
In the Central: Chicago White Sox outfielder Albert Belle stepping up against the Pittsburgh Pirates, his salary ($11 million) being higher than those of the Bucs' entire starting nine.... Kansas City Royal Bob Boone managing against his son, Bret, the Cincinnati Reds second baseman (the last time a father managed against his son: Seattle skipper Maury Wills versus Texas second baseman Bump Wills in 1980).... The Pirates playing the Milwaukee Brewers in the Small Market Series, with all 3,000 fans in attendance (whether in Milwaukee or Pittsburgh) receiving, we hope, a copy of the new basic agreement autographed by owners Bud Selig of the Brewers and Kevin McClatchy of the Pirates.
Update: Blood Money
Six years ago outside a barn in Newberry, Fla., investigators watched as an itinerant stablehand named Tommy Burns and an accomplice used a crowbar to crush the leg of a valuable show horse. This cruel act was part of a plot by the horse's owner to kill the animal and collect insurance money (SI, Nov. 16, 1992). Last week in a U.S. district courtroom in Chicago, Judge Charles Norgle sentenced Burns; 35, to six months in jail—the minimum term under federal rules—for his role in the Florida attack and in 19 other equestrian killings. The light sentence reflected the extraordinary cooperation Burns had given authorities since his arrest. With information provided by Burns, the FBI, the Illinois State Police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms launched an investigation that rocked the U.S. equestrian world and led to 27 indictments and 26 convictions.
"The results of Mr. Burns's cooperation have been truly extraordinary," says assistant U.S. attorney Susan Cox. According to authorities, Burns helped convict 14 equestrians for killing their horses for insurance money, and he assisted in many prosecutions for stable fires and other frauds.
Clearly, Norgle's sentence also reflected his belief that Burns, who ran away from home at 14 and drifted from job to job in the horse world before sliding into crime, has turned his life around: He now has an auto-sales and-rebuilding business in suburban Chicago and is planning to buy a house there as well. Burns's transformation has also been noted by the agents who have worked with him for the past six years. "What he has done with his life," says Cox, "is nothing short of remarkable."
Making a Point