BEST FACE FORWARD

December 30, 1996

You know going in that Albert Belle, the great slugger, can be
temperamental. You know he doesn't like reporters, he despises
interviews, he hates interruptions. You are determined to get
off on the right foot with him; you want your story to be fair
and honest and balanced. You go to a couple of his
teammates--Kenny Lofton, Sandy Alomar Jr.--and ask them the best
way to approach Belle. This is in March, during spring training,
when everything is fresh and light, when Belle is still with the
Cleveland Indians. Alomar puts in a good word for you. Lofton
does the same. You wait for the right moment. Alomar tells you
the right moment has arrived.

You approach Belle gingerly. As far as you can tell, he's not
doing anything. He's not doing a crossword puzzle. (You have
been warned not to interfere when he's doing crossword puzzles.)
He's not reading. He's not playing chess. He's not listening to
music. He's in front of his locker, and he's doing, basically,
nothing. You work your way over. Your face is about three feet
from his. With all the diplomacy and grace you can muster, you
introduce yourself, telling the man your name and the name of
your publication. You say, "Do you think at some point we might
be able to talk?"

Belle's eyes narrow. His nose wrinkles. His chest, already
massive, broadens. Finally, he opens his mouth and snarls,
"SPORTS ILLUSTRATED can kiss my black ass." He turns and walks
away. You get out your pen. Your notebook is enriched by seven
words.

COLOR PHOTO: TONY TOMSIC [Albert Belle]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)