Budig, Belle to meet over ball incident

April 24, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Announcing an investigation into the latest incident involving Albert Belle, Gene Budig, president of the American League, yesterday summoned the Cleveland Indians' troubled star to an investigatory meeting at his office set for today.

Budig acknowledged that no complaint has been lodged over the incident, in which a photographer was hit by a baseball thrown by Belle. But he said in a news release that the league thought "the incident is serious enough to warrant further investigation."

Bart Swain, the Indians' media relations manager, said that Belle has acknowledged throwing the ball but that the outfielder contends it inadvertently sailed over the head of Manny Ramirez when they were warming up before a game with Toronto on April 6.

Baseball officials also are checking to determine whether Belle has been adhering to his agreement to receive regular counseling.

Two officials said the agreement to accept counseling, which previously had not been disclosed, was part of the aftermath of the incident at last year's World Series in which Belle cursed Hannah Storm, an NBC reporter; Belle was fined $50,000 on Feb. 29.

The agreement did not specify frequency of sessions but called for Belle to make regular counseling visits, subject to his travels, for the rest of this year.

Two officials said Belle was seeing Dr. Charles Maher, a professor of psychology at the Rutgers graduate school of applied and professional psychology, who serves as a sports psychologist for the Indians. Maher declined in a telephone interview yesterday to acknowledge that he is counseling Belle, citing the confidential nature of his role.

"He has seen him," one official said, "but we're trying to check how many times."

Neither Indians general manager John Hart nor Arn Tellem, Belle's agent, returned telephone calls seeking comment on the counseling issue. But an acquaintance of Belle's said he agreed to counseling not because he screamed abusively at

Storm but because he recognized that sometimes he is quick to anger.

Some people believe Belle's throw that struck Tony Tomsic, a Sports Illustrated photographer, might have been another example of Belle's trigger temper. Tomsic apparently angered Belle by taking his picture before the game. Tomsic, whose left hand was cut by the ball, and the magazine have not filed a complaint with anyone in baseball.

But Budig, in announcing the investigation, said, "We will work closely with all parties to determine whether further action by the league should be taken."

Budig asked Belle to be at his office for a meeting today that also will include Kevin Hallinan, baseball's security director, and William Schweitzer, the American League attorney. Gene Orza, associate general counsel of the players' association, questioned the way Budig is conducting the matter.

"This is off to a bad start already," Orza said. "Putting out a press release is not the most productive way to get this thing analyzed or resolved."

Maher said he was aware, through news reports, of the latest incident but wouldn't discuss it. "I can't say anything about any counseling," he said. "I work with a range of players in the organization on performance enhancement. I do work with players on personal matters, too. But as a licensed psychologist, fTC I can't say I'm working with a specific person on personal matters."

Maher said the Indians have plans for individual players for mental matters as well as physical. "I deal with the mental side of the game," he said, "somebody's thinking, their emotions and their actions."

The psychologist said he spent "a considerable amount of time" with the Indians in spring training and has been to Cleveland since the season began.

Pub Date: 4/24/96

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