Twenty years have past but many still remember the exploits, both off the field and on, of the Angels most colorful duo of all time : BELINSKY & CHANCE
Now, some 20 years after being separated by trade, they remain best friends, kindred spirits, their names forever linked in the folklore of baseball and the history of a franchise celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Forget Jim Fregosi and Bobby Knoop, Rod Carew and Reggie Jackson, Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana.
For many who have charted the often star-crossed fortunes of the Angels, the most recognizable, most identifiable names remain Bo Belinsky and Dean Chance.
Does that say something about the Angels or the impact of that strange partnership?
Do we always tend to remember style rather than substance?
Are we given to having our history illuminated by neon?
Amid frozen time, the camera of the mind sees Bo and Dean as briefly having it all.
The early 60s.
Kings of the American League hills. Princes of Hollywood when there still was a Hollywood.
Does it matter now how they are remembered or why they are remembered?
Dean Chance, visiting Anaheim Stadium for the recent old-timers’ game, shook his head and said, “Hell, no. I’m happy just to be remembered. A couple years ago I was visiting Bo in Hawaii and we meet Don Ho, the entertainer. Ho was all excited. He said, ‘Hey, I’ve finally met the great Dean Chance and Bo Belinsky. Don’t leave without me because I’m going out with you two tonight.’ ”
The headlines once told us they were out almost every night.
Wilmer Dean Chance is 44 and prowls the multicolored lights of the midway.
He operates games of chance--skill, he insists--at carnivals and fairs. He is one of the most successful operators on a tough circuit.
Big enough to employ 250 people and run some 40 games at the Ohio State Fair, of which he said:
“In baseball lingo, that’s my World Series. I lose about 20 pounds in 17 days. If it rains, I lose my ass.”
Big enough, too, to have blown $250,000 in one year managing fighters, and to be able to spend the winters in Miami, the summers on the road, all calls channeled through his mother’s house in Wooster, Ohio.
He is big enough now to restrict his schedule to the fairs at Columbus, Ohio; Raleigh, N.C.; Augusta, Ga., Syracuse, N.Y; Hollywood, Fla., and Corpus Christi, Tex. He got involved through a friend who sold posters.
“Any idiot can build games and run them,” Chance said. “The trick is to make money with them. I’ve done OK. I’m like retired. I go to four or five fairs a year and a few old-timers’ games to see the guys.
“The smartest thing I ever did was to buy a couple farms while I was still playing. I’ve got about 280 acres near Wooster which I lease. I’m not the richest guy, but I’m not the poorest. I’ve got my health. I’m having fun.”
Robert (Bo) Belinsky is 49. He has weathered a long struggle with chemical dependency, which he voluntarily talks about in schools and on military bases. He has lived on the North shore of Oahu in a remote area called Kua Aaina since 1982. Or as Belinsky said: “Dean has his farms in Ohio. I never thought I’d catch up with him, but I’m now just a country bumpkin, too.”
Belinsky’s life style is simple, secluded. His office is the white sand. His passions are wind surfing and body boarding. He is reluctant to talk about income, but he said:
“I was lucky. I had my run. I saved a little money, made a few investments, bought some real estate when you could still buy it.
“I’m semi-retired, which only means that in a few months I’ll be looking for work. I may go see the mayor, ask him to hang a whistle around my neck and see if I can earn a few dollars working in the recreation department.
“You’ve got to understand that it’s a very humble existence here. Nice people. Clean air. Beautiful scenery. I mean, I’m like Dean. Money is not our god. We may have $100,000 one year and be borrowing $10 the next.”
Belinsky is miles from where he once was.
“If someone had told me 20 years ago that I’d be sitting out here, watching the palm leaves rustle in the wind I’d have said ‘No way.’ It’s just that there comes a time when you have to slow down. I’m finally learning how to live out here.
“In fact, I get the DTs now, the shakes, if I have to go into Honolulu. I still get bored sometimes, but I’m at the stage where if I’m going to get bored, I don’t mind boring myself.”
No major league player ever received more publicity for accomplishing less than Bo Belinsky. He won a grand total of 28 games during a major league career that spanned six seasons. His highest salary was $18,000.
Five of those wins came in succession at the start of the 1962 season and included a no-hitter May 5 against Baltimore. Years later, Belinsky said:
“The night before my no-hitter I met this tall, thin, black-haired secretary out at a place on the Sunset Strip. We had a couple of drinks and I wound up at her pad. . . . I got home about 4 a.m. and that night pitched my no-hitter. I went back to look for her after the game and couldn’t find her. I never found her again. She was my good-luck pitching charm. When I lost her, I lost all my pitching luck.”
Nothing says more about the way Belinsky went about it than that. He also used to say, “If you want a helping hand, look at the end of your own arm.”
When not wrapped around a waist or a glass, Belinsky’s hand was on the steering wheel of his candy-apple red Cadillac convertible.
It was the appropriate chariot for a street-smart pool hustler from Trenton, N.J., who was 5-0 with a no-hitter. He had made a mark even before his first win of that first season by staging a contract holdout that ended with a poolside press conference at the Desert Inn in Palm Springs.
It was an auspicious introduction and it only got better.
Thin, black-haired and good looking, his appeal intensified by a battery of headlines, Belinsky became a pal of syndicated columnist Walter Winchell and the hottest of Hollywood’s hottest. He dated Ann Margret, Tina Louise, Queen Soraya, Paulette Goddard and a DuPont heiress, among others.
He eventually became engaged and disengaged to Mamie Van Doren. There was a party every night, Bo thinking it would never end.
The alliance with Chance was a strange one: Belinsky, the street hardened left-hander from the big city of the East; Chance, the hayseed right-hander from the farm in Wooster.
Both were from the Baltimore organization, where they had barely known each other, only of each other. Everyone knew of Bo. His potential was reflected by minor league strikeout totals of 202 in 195 innings and 184 in 173. His eccentricity was characterized in countless stories.
There was the time he was smuggled out of Knoxville on the floor of a car after an 18-year-old girl, with whom he had spent the night, accused him of rape.
There was the time he and teammate Steve Dalkowski drilled holes in the wall of a Miami hotel room so they could watch one of the contestants in the 1961 Miss Universe contest, drawing the wrath of their manager and the hotel. Dalkowski shined a flashlight through one of the holes and the contestant became aware she was being watched.
When Belinsky became available in the 1961 minor league draft, Angel General Manager Fred Haney asked scout Tuffie Hashem why no one had picked him up before.
“Bad arm?” asked Haney.
“No, he’s a wiry guy who can pitch regularly,” Hashem said.
“What else is there about him?” Haney asked.
“Well, you keep hearing the same things,” Hashem said. “Mention Belinsky’s name and people smile at you like you’re nuts. They say, ‘Sure, we know Bo. He’s got a million-dollar arm and 10-cent head.’ ”
Haney decided to find out for himself. So did the impressionable Chance, five years younger and attracted to the bright lights like a moth. Bo and Dean became inseparable, one’s problems becoming the other’s to an extent that it was difficult to determine whether Bo was having the more damaging effect on Dean or Dean was having the more damaging effect on Bo--a theory they both dispute.
Each had major league ability--on the field, as well as off. Belinsky’s forte was his screwball. It was frequently written that nothing was more appropriate. Bill Rigney, his manager, said Belinsky should have won 15 to 18 games a year easily.
Chance was said to have as much talent as any pitcher of his time. His fastball, clocked at better than 90 m.p.h., was dispensed from an intimidating full pivot during which Chance did not even look at the plate. Belinsky had it together for half a season, Chance for maybe three.
Nothing registered. Curfews, fines, lectures. Haney, Rigney and even owner Gene Autry gave it a shot, without lasting effect. They were roomed together because Rigney said he didn’t want to screw up two rooms. He ultimately roomed Belinsky with a guardian, pitching coach Marv Grissom, then with a straight arrow, outfielder Albie Pearson, who said he merely served as Bo’s answering service.
“I never saw him at night,” Pearson said. “I roomed with his suitcase.”
They were fined repeatedly, and Bo was farmed out once--to Hawaii, from where he was reluctant to return when recalled. Both were ultimately traded, the catalyst in Belinsky’s expulsion being an incident in which he allegedly used a can of shaving cream to slug veteran sportswriter Braven Dyer, a man almost three times his age.
Bo was traded to Philadelphia for pitcher Rudy May and outfielder Coston Shockley in the winter of 1964, his three-year record with the Angels 20-28.
The 5-0 start of 1962 ultimately turned to 10-11, followed by a 2-9 in 1963, the year he was sent to Hawaii, and a 9-8 in 1964, when his earned-run average was a very good 2.87.
Chance, a prize from the 1961 expansion draft but a pitcher whom teammate Bob Rodgers described as the dumbest he ever caught, was traded to Minnesota in the winter of 1966 for first baseman Don Mincher, outfielder Jimmie Hall and pitcher Pete Cimino.
Chance won 74 games in his five seasons with the Angels, a frequent victim of ineffective and inconsistent support. A yardstick of his ability was a 22-4 record at Dodger Stadium during the 1964 and ’65 seasons, when he was 7-0 against the Yankees.
In 1962, when Bo started 5-0 and the Angels went on to stun the baseball world by finishing third, the 21-year-old Chance was 14-10, the winningest rookie in the American League. He was 13-8 with a 3.19 ERA in 1963, and then became the youngest pitcher ever to win the Cy Young Award, turning in a 20-9 record with baseball’s lowest ERA, 1.65, in 1964. It was a year in which he pitched 14 games of five hits or fewer, prompting Rigney to call him the best right-hander he had ever seen.
Chance may have had a similar year in 1965 except for what was described as an abscessed tooth but was believed to be an infection centered lower in his body. He was 15-10 with another good ERA, 3.15.
His ERA (3.08) was even better in 1966, but he had a 12-17 record, and the offensively impoverished Angels decided to trade him while his value was still high.
Thus, five years after they had made their big league debuts--the Angels seeing in Belinsky a personality to counter the Dodgers’ popularity and in Chance a talent around which to build a future--both were gone, only the memory lingering to be laughed at amid the frustration of what might have been.
Bo pitched for Philadelphia, Houston, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Cincinnati before his career ended at Indianapolis in 1970. There were a total of eight more wins and an eventual string of empty bottles and empty hopes--not to forget failed marriages to former Playboy centerfold Jo Collins and paper-goods heiress Jane Weyerhaueser, whom Bo had met while rescuing her from the surf in Hawaii.
Chance won 20 games again for Minnesota in 1967, held out for a $60,000 contract the next spring, injured his back rushing to get in shape and was never the same pitcher. He performed for the New York Mets and Detroit Tigers before ending his career after the 1971 season.
Chance once said his only regret was that he had failed to emulate Belinsky’s success with women, though he enjoyed trying.
“I had my moments and I have my memories,” he said a few years ago. “If I had the attitude about life then that I have now, I’d have done a lot of things differently. But you make your rules and you play by them. I knew the bills would come due eventually. I knew I’d have trouble covering them.”
Now, on the phone from Kua Aaina, Bo displayed a combination of his old flair and new sensitivity. He is still mixing his pitches, still tough to measure accurately.
It is as if he played the role so long he can’t let go of what he now admits was part facade. On the other hand, he seems to say, this is the way he was and still is.
“I had nothing planned and still don’t,” he said. “If I start thinking too much about what I should do or should have done, I’m in trouble.
“My best shot is to let it go. I can’t get too deep into thinking about things. I mean, I was sitting here the other day, looking out at that beautiful ocean, the blue sky, the palm trees, and I started to think about why I had been put on earth.
“I finally decided that I was put here to live life. Nothing complicated or sophisticated, just to live life. I was in baseball too long to become a sophisticate.”
What was he then?
“I was an egotistical bastard,” Belinsky said. “I was so cool that I was freezing myself to death.
“I came to the Angels as a kid who thought he had been pushed around by life, by minor league baseball. I was selfish and immature in a lot of ways and I tried to cover up.
“I mean, I was never tutored in how to handle it and I went the only way I knew how . . . the-don’t-care, I-want-it-now attitude.
“I didn’t play the game according to Hoyle, and I couldn’t understand when people started stepping on my toes in retaliation. I thought I was a gracious, understanding person, and I went on thinking it until I found myself face down in the gutter.”
Belinsky tried it all.
Amphetamines. Uppers. Prescribed drugs. Alcohol.
The dependency may have always been there, but Belinsky said it was in the late ‘60s, near the end of his career, that he couldn’t face reality sober.
It went on for almost seven years.
“I went from a major league ballplayer to hanging on to a brown bag under the bridge,” he said. “I look at a player throwing away $600,000 today and think he has to be insane, but that’s what I was, too. Sick and insane. I wasn’t playing with a full deck. I was destined to die a horrible death.”
Belinsky said he viewed his problem as a problem with the world. Then, he said, he simply got so sick that he had no alternative but to seek help. He tried several programs, each time succumbing again to Valium or alcohol or some other substance.
“You either die or one of the programs hit,” Belinsky said.
Belinsky found his at St. Johns Hospital in Santa Monica. He says he has been sober for nine years, a span in which he worked briefly with the San Diego Padres, helping Joan Kroc, wife of the late owner, initiate some of baseball’s earliest drug programs. Now, he said, grass-roots education makes more sense than mandatory testing. The problem, he said, must be addressed at the minor league level.
Belinsky’s own addresses are delivered free of charge. It’s his way, he said, of giving something back, an avocation of sorts.
“I’m not qualified to do too many things and I’ve never found anything (in the way of work) that I really wanted to do, though I wouldn’t mind returning to baseball as a manager,” he said.
“I tell people that and they think I’m absurd. Why? Do you have to be a genius, an MIT graduate to manage? I mean, I see guys turning first-place teams into last-place teams all the time.”
An innate restlessness and the recommendation of a friend in real estate influenced Belinsky to give up an apartment in Marina del Rey in favor of his new retreat.
The clean air, he said, lets him see things more clearly.
“I have to feel very fortunate,” he said. “I took a run at baseball and was surprised that I was able to do what I did, considering it takes a certain dedication and energy that I didn’t always give it.
“I’d like to have been a Steve Carlton or Nolan Ryan or Sandy Koufax, but it must be boring going out there expecting to win all the time.
“I had that first year with the Angels and it was total excitement. A new team. My rookie year. The no-hitter. Tinseltown. Meeting all the famous people. Playing for Gene Autry, who had been one of my idols.
“I was a guy who never had anything handed to him, but every dog has his day. I wouldn’t trade 5-0 and the no-hitter for anything.”
It is the same for Dean Chance, who remembers that summer of ’62 as the best ever.
“Considering my motion, the stress it put on my arm, I was tickled to death to get 10 years in,” Chance said. “I had nothing the last three, but I’d turn my back and the hitters didn’t know if that one pitch was coming again.
“When it finally got to a point where I couldn’t do physically what I could still do mentally, it was bye-bye. No one had to tell me. I won my last four games, but it wasn’t any fun.”
Now there is a new Chance on the way. Dean’s son, Brett, 22, is a senior at Ohio State with a dual major of marketing and sports administration. His goal is to become a baseball general manager.
Likewise, Belinsky is a father. He said he has frequent visits with daughters Lee and Katie, 9-year-old twins from his marriage with Jane Weyerhaueser.
“I was my worst enemy and Dean was his,” Bo said. “For a guy to be led astray, he either doesn’t have foresight or is stupid. Dean wasn’t either. He’s dumb as a fox. You can’t be stupid and have the success he’s had in the carny business, where you deal with some of the scum bags of the world.”
Said Chance: “All of that business about Bo leading me astray and me leading Bo astray is BS. Bo never drank in the beginning but people said he did. Did I drink? No way. We stayed up late, but slept late. We got to the park when we were supposed to and did the job to the best of our ability. It’s just that when you get a reputation, it stays with you the rest of your life.”
Bo and Dean have seen it linger for almost 25 years. Would they change it if they could? Not likely. Not when it’s just nice to be remembered.