When it comes to gambling, baseball has historically taken a hard line. Just ask Pete Rose. But that stance seems to have softened in the curious case of Albert Belle. Last week in federal district court in Akron, it was revealed that the White Sox slugger lost as much as $300,000 placing bets with two Cleveland-area men between 1994 and '96. Belle's losses, which were far more than the $40,000 previously reported, were incurred on pro football and college basketball, as well as his own rounds of golf.
The information came to light during a sentencing hearing for Nicholas Zambataro, a 37-year-old cement-truck driver, and Michael Kling, a 30-year-old carpet salesman. Zambataro and Kling, reported golf pals of Belle's, were each sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $3,000 for failing to report gambling income from Belle on their 1995 federal tax returns. Belle, who cooperated with the IRS's investigation of Kling and Zambataro and has not been hit with criminal charges himself, had paid off at least some of his debts with money orders of under $10,000, an apparent attempt to circumvent a federal law requiring banks to report transactions greater than that amount.
Belle's gusto for gambling has been known since February 1997, when he admitted in a deposition for an unrelated civil suit that he had lost $40,000 betting on pro football and college basketball. That revelation prompted baseball to conduct an investigation, which concluded quietly in May. Commissioner Bud Selig says there was not enough evidence to justify punitive action or continuing the probe. Baseball's chief investigator, Kevin Hallinan, says Belle was not interviewed but insists there were "no surprises" in the information that came out last week.
Still, the amount of Belle's losses, and the apparent "structuring" of payments in violation of the law, should be a serious concern for Selig and his fellow owners, among them White Sox boss Jerry Reinsdorf, who sits on baseball's executive council. Baseball has long held that the integrity of the game is in jeopardy whenever a player, coach or official associates with gamblers. Does the game no longer care if one of its players loses six-figure sums while gambling illegally?
In 1991, Phillies centerfielder Len Dykstra received a year's probation from then commissioner Fay Vincent after it was learned that Dykstra had lost $78,000 in golf and high-stakes poker games. Belle's gambling appears to have been considerably more serious. Baseball's response, regrettably, has not been serious enough.
Daring to Face The Future
Early on the evening of July 21, at the Goodwill Games in Union-dale, N.Y., 17-year-old gymnast Sang Lan of China made a simple mistake on a simple practice vault. Sang, her country's champion in the event, overrotated her somersault, landing on her head. The impact fractured and dislocated two vertebrae in her neck and left her lying on the mat unable to move and with no feeling below the middle of her chest.
Surgeons fused the vertebrae and administered experimental drugs intended to help regenerate nerve tissue. Sang has some feeling in her shoulders and can flex her arms, but doctors say she is unlikely to walk again. Of her daughter's future, Sang's distraught mother said, "I just dare not imagine it."
One person who does dare imagine it is a woman who, in a sense, is living it herself. Adriana Duffy was an 18-year-old sophomore at Stanford and the 1987 Puerto Rican all-around champion when she fell while performing a practice vault at the '89 world championships in Stuttgart, Germany, and broke her neck. The injury left her paralyzed from the midchest down-but far from defeated.
"People calling [what happened to Sang] a tragedy should remember that she is still alive," says Duffy, clearly speaking for herself as well. Duffy, who uses a wheelchair, graduated from Stanford in 1993 with a degree in philosophy and religious studies. She earned a law degree from Yale three years later and works as an associate with the firm of Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe in San Francisco. Duffy has also become an internationally accredited gymnastics judge and hopes one day to officiate at the Olympics. "Gymnastics didn't do this to me; I love the sport," says Duffy, who refuses to view her achievements as extraordinary. "If people are impressed because they think I should be moping around the house being depressed about my life, they don't get it."