Ex-Astros pitcher Belinsky dies
November 25, 2001
(c) Houston Astros
He died Friday at 64.
The lefthander pitched a nine-strikeout, four-walk no-hitter as a rookie for the Los Angeles Angels against the Baltimore Orioles at Dodger Stadium in 1962, the first major-league no-hitter on the West Coast.
But Belinsky gained as much notoriety for dating movie stars such as Mamie Van Doren, Ann-Margret, Tina Louise, Juliet Prowse and Connie Stevens.
Selected out of the Baltimore Orioles' system by the Angels in 1961 expansion draft, Belinsky won his first three decisions.
On May 5, 1962, the 25-year-old Belinsky had a live, riding fastball, a hard curve and baffling screwball, according to Bob "Buck" Rodgers, who caught the no-hitter.
Rodgers, who later managed the Milwaukee Brewers, Montreal Expos and Angels, said Belinsky had overpowering stuff on the night of the no-hitter.
"He could challenge anybody with that fastball," Rodgers. "He got the screwball over early, but the fastball set up everything. Even on the last out, it was a 3-1 fastball to Dave Nicholson and Bo threw him a fastball right down Broadway. He fouled out to third. When Bo was on, he had that electric kind of stuff."
Shortly after the no-hitter, Belinsky became part of the Hollywood scene, developing a reputation as a pool-hustling, heavy-drinking playboy.
Belinsky had a much-publicized romance with Van Doren.
"We've had a love affair that's continued a long time," Van Doren told the Associated Press on Saturday. "I lost someone that was a very special part of my life. This is very sad for me. Our life was a circus. We were engaged on April Fools Day and broke the engagement on Halloween. It just broke my heart, and his, too. It was a wild ride, but a lot of fun."
Belinsky finished 10-11 his rookie season, his finest in the majors. He was 28-51 with 476 strikeouts and a 4.10 ERA in an eight-year career that included stints with the Angels, Philadelphia Phillies, Astros, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.
"You know, I've probably gotten more mileage winning 28 games in the majors than most guys who've won 200," Belinsky, who suffered from bladder cancer, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2000 before the minor-league Las Vegas 51s hosted "Bo Belinsky Night."
After retiring from baseball in 1970, Belinsky married and divorced Playboy Playmate centerfold Jo Collins. He also married and divorced paper heiress Janie Weyerhaeuser, with whom he had twin daughters.
Belinsky, who had bladder cancer, worked in customer relations for the Findlay Automotive Group for nearly 10 years. He was sober for the final 25 years of his life, was a born-again Christian and was active in his church, the Trinity Life Center.
Belinsky loved to rhapsodize about the old times, but developed a deep religious belief, which former Angels teammate Dean Chance said allowed him to accept his fate.
"Bo was a one-of-a-kind guy and there won't be another one like him," Chance, a Cy Young winner and close friend of Belinsky, told the Review-Journal. "He was full of cancer, his heart was bad and his hip was hurting him terribly at the end.
"He had slipped and fallen, and it was really tough on him. But he had made his peace with the Lord and he is probably better off today than he was last week. He's not suffering terribly any more."
Funeral arrangements are pending, according to Davis Funeral Home in Las Vegas.
Baseball's stage was much too small for Belinsky
Mickey Herskowitz, Houston Chronicle
Robert Boris (Bo) Belinsky wrote his own epitaph 30-odd years ago: "People keep telling me I never lived up to my potential, that I wasted my talent. I don't see it that way. I figure that I used all I had. I just didn't have as much as people thought. I got more ink for doing less than any pitcher who ever lived."
Boris was the middle name Bo gave himself, a joke on the meddlesome press.
"Writers would ask me what Bo stood for," he once explained. "I'd tell them Robert, but they couldn't accept that. So I'd tell them it was short for my middle name, Boris, and that made them happy."
Those really were odd years, and Belinsky sailed through them with an aplomb that befitted one of baseball's legendary party animals. He wandered into our lives in Houston after being discarded by the Angels and Phillies, a 30-year old lefthander with style and a wonderful arm, the kind of promise that gets a manager fired.
When Belinsky died of a heart attack the other day, at 64, he had been battling bladder cancer and other health problems. He had been sober for 25 years and enjoyed his job in customer relations for car dealerships in the Las Vegas area. His former teammates may be surprised, and pleased, to know Bo was a born again Christian, active in his church.
He never made excuses and never felt he had to apologize for the good times he had. Once, pressed for an example of what made him happy, Bo replied: "Happiness is a nice pad, good wheels and an understanding manager."
He may not have felt obligated to mention romance, but there was a time when the four bachelors most likely to have their names in the papers every day were Sandy Koufax, Joe Namath, Belinsky and Rex Morgan, M.D.
Bo's first wife was Jo Collins, a former Playmate of the Year. His second wife was an heiress Bo happened to save from drowning during his surfing and beach bum days in Hawaii. Nothing about his life can be described as ordinary.
In eight seasons in the big leagues, with four teams, he won 28 games and lost 51. No pitcher ever left an impression on the game so far out of proportion to his record.
In each city he was a perfect fit, although the teams didn't quite see it that way. The Angels signed Bo in 1962; what they call in Hollywood casting against type. Bo was no angel. He arrived two weeks late, explaining that he had been delayed by a pool tournament in Trenton, N.J. Then, before he had thrown a pitch, he demanded a raise.
He made the club as a rookie and, within a month the following happened: He won his first five games, including a no-hitter; he bought a pink Cadillac; he dated dated such sex kittens as Ann-Margret, Connie Stevens and Mamie Van Doren, and he acquired Walter Winchell's readership. All on a salary of $7,000.
He might have conquered the world. "Instead," said Bo, "the no-hitter I pitched actually cost me money. I had to buy drinks for everyone. It was like making a hole-in-one."
After that, his three years with the Angels were a kind of Tom and Jerry cartoon. On one road trip, Bo and his running mate, pitcher Dean Chance, pulled up in a taxicab at three in the morning to discover the entire team, including manager Bill Rigney, standing on the sidewalk in their nightclothes. The hotel had been evacuated because of a fire alarm.
The Angels traded him to Philadelphia, a kind of homecoming for Belinsky, a New Jersey guy. He had a miserable year, unaware that he was pitching with a cracked rib. When X-rays revealed his injury, the Phillies praised his toughness, but their season was gone -- and so was Bo.
He ended his first press luncheon with the Astros by raising a champagne glass and offering a toast: "If music be the food of love, by all means, play on."
Reporters fell out of their chairs. They had found a pitcher who paraphrased Shakespeare. If only he could have won a few games.
Nobody ever had a spring like Bo had when he joined the Astros in Cocoa, Fla. He adopted a mutt named Alfie, who became the team mascot, and had his own sand box between Bo and relief pitcher Barry Latman.
"How am I going to explain to my wife," wailed Barry, "that I have the locker next to a dog?"
After a week in the team dormitory, observing a 10 p.m. curfew, Bo went over the wall and joined his future wife, Collins, in a motel on the beach. The club suspended him, leading to weeks of wild negotiations. Bo compared himself to the Duke of Windsor because he had given up baseball "for the woman I love."
In Bo's defense, other players gave up the game for reasons far weaker.
Odes to an original
Tom Singer, AngelsBaseball.com
From the streets of Trenton to Chavez Ravine,
From a cue ball to a baseball, with a rogue named Dean
Bo's big day came in May, who could forget,
Not one batter up could get a hit.
The no-hit game brought Bo instant fame,
young Bo's life was never the same.
Handsome and dashing, he got around,
Quickly becoming the talk of the town ...
.... The ballgame is over and the lights go dim,
Our gift to Bo is to remember him.
-- Louis Rodophele, friend of Bo Belinsky (1936-2001)
LOS ANGELES -- And remember Robert Belinsky they did, about 150 friends and former teammates who gathered in Dodger Stadium's Stadium Club on Thursday afternoon to reminisce about a special era.
They swapped stories about a flamboyant, meteoric left-handed pitcher who made it special. A lovable lout from Jersey with Hollywood looks and, ever so briefly, Cooperstown stuff, who blazed whatever trail the Los Angeles-California-Anaheim Angels have followed ever since.
Belinsky passed away last Friday in his Las Vegas home, two weeks shy of his 65th birthday. He spent the last few years of his life ravaged by illness, in considerable pain. And in relative seclusion. But he remained an immensely popular person, judging by the many who flocked to this opportunity to remember him.
The memorial, a couple of hundred feet above the mound where Bo gained immortality with a no-hitter on May 5, 1962, was organized by charter Angels publicist Irv Kaze, former Angels clubhouse manager Bob Case and Dean Chance, the only Cy Young Award winner in Angels history.
Other teammates in attendance included Buck Rodgers, Jay Johnstone, Clyde Wright, Tom Satriano, Ed Kirkpatrick and Albie Pearson. But even former Major Leaguers who weren't teammates -- Greg Goosen, Al Downing -- or not even from the same era -- Darrell Evans -- grasped this opportunity to remember an original.
They came -- many from Las Vegas, even though a previously scheduled memorial will also be held in that city's Trinity Life Church Friday afternoon -- through the rain, letting their anecdotes pierce the gloom.
As the informal tributes began, sure enough, the sun broke through the clouds and illuminated the glassy Stadium Club.
"Bo did that," someone called out.
Bo did a lot with a Major League career compressed into eight years and 28 victories. He was less a pitcher than a character -- in the most flattering, Damon Runyon-esque sense of the word.
Pearson, an ordained minister, recalled a 1999 visit with a hospitalized Belinsky, ill and confronting his mortality.
"What do you want out of life, Bo?" Pearson asked.
And Bo leaped to his feet atop the bed and said hoarsely, "To live fast, die young -- and leave a good-looking corpse."
Belinsky, whom the Angels drafted out of the Baltimore organization in December 1961, could have hustled the Hollywood-starlets crowd on his good looks alone.
Pitching the West Coast's first Major League no-hitter just made the process easier.
"He got a lot of us in trouble. But you couldn't stay mad at him for more than 15 minutes ... he always had a twinkle in his eye," said Rodgers, Belinsky's batterymate who recalled making an interesting discovery while dressing for a game alongside the lefty.
"I'm putting on all my equipment, the cup and everything," Rodgers said, "and there's Bo not even putting on a pair of shorts under his uniform pants. Here's Bo, with girlfriends all over town.
"So I said to him, 'Don't you want to protect yourself? You've got a lot to do after the game, a lot more than me.' "
Johnstone recalled also making an issue of that. Belinsky told him, "Kid, if I can't catch the ball, I don't belong out there."
Before Derek, before Schembechler, before Jackson, there was Belinsky. Even before Dennis Rodman, there was Belinsky. No one could party as hearty.
Jack Disney, one of the town's legendary sportswriters who covered the original Angels for the old Herald Express, recalled the time Belinsky invited him out to dinner on his birthday.
"I got to the restaurant ahead of him, and waited," Disney said. "In a while, Bo showed up with my birthday present on his arm."
Most of the tales spun concerned Belinsky's no-hitter, over the Orioles. Rodgers recalled the "devastating fastball, that's all he had that night." Chance could still see in his mind's eye the game-ending foulout to third base.
Kaze was flooded by memories of the postgame scene. Gene Autry had watched the game with a guest in his private box -- Leonard Firestone, one of the club's original minority owners who was renowned around town as a sophisticated, eminently polished gentleman.
Kaze, eagerly making introductions in the chaotic clubhouse, pulled Bo aside and said, "Bo, this is Leonard Firestone."
And Bo stuck out his paw: "Hey, Lennie, what's shakin', baby?"
That was Bo. But he was much more, a slice of reality in a baseball pie increasingly given to images and egotism.
"I'm much younger, and I didn't get to know him when he was playing," said Evans, the former National League home run king who was 15 when Belinsky found no-hit stardom. "But, growing up in L.A., he became my idol.
"He was a human being, like everyone else, not somebody you had to put on a pedestal. I said to myself, 'If I ever get a chance to play, that's the kinda guy I want to be like.' "
No one ever became quite like this guy. No one ever will.
Beyond the flash of no-hit glory, beyond the live-for-today escapades, way beyond the fast lane that derailed a longer and more productive pitching career, Robert Belinsky was remembered by all as a caring, compassionate, helpful man.
Rodgers took one last look around the assembled, many of whom hadn't shared a room in many, many years. "This was Bo's way of getting us all together.
"Doggone it, Bo."
Tom Singer is the site reporter of AngelsBaseball.com.
Belinsky dies of apparent heart attack
Former major-league pitcher, playboy dead at age 64
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Sunday, November 25, 2001
Former major-league pitcher Bo Belinsky, known as much for his womanizing and colorful personality as his baseball career, was found dead Friday of an apparent heart attack in his Las Vegas home. He was 64.
Belinsky pitched a no-hitter as a rookie for the Los Angeles Angels against the Baltimore Orioles at Dodger Stadium in 1962, but gained notoriety for dating movie stars such as Mamie Van Doren, Ann-Margret, Tina Louise, Juliet Prowse and Connie Stevens.
He was only 28-51 in an eight-year career that included stints with the Angels, Philadelphia Phillies, Houston Astros, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds, but was nearly as well known as his close friend and sidekick, Cy Young winner Dean Chance. Belinsky's winningest season was his rookie campaign, when he finished 10-11.
"You know, I've probably gotten more mileage winning 28 games in the majors than most guys who've won 200," Belinsky said last summer before the Las Vegas 51s hosted "Bo Belinsky Night" at Cashman Field.
Belinsky, who was fighting bladder cancer, worked in customer relations for the Findlay Automotive Group for nearly 10 years, first at Saturn of West Sahara and most recently for Findlay Toyota. He was sober for the final 25 years of his life and found religion, adopting his church, the Trinity Life Center, as something of a second home.
He loved to rhapsodize about the old times, but developed a deep belief in God, which Chance said allowed him to accept his fate.
"Bo was a one-of-a-kind guy and there won't be another one like him," Chance said. "He was full of cancer, his heart was bad and his hip was hurting him terribly at the end. He had slipped and fallen and it was really tough on him. But he had made his peace with the Lord and he is probably better off today than he was last week. He's not suffering terribly any more."
The highlight of Belinsky's career was the no-hitter on May 5, 1962. Belinsky had a live, riding fastball, as well as a knee-buckling curve and a screwball. He didn't have his best stuff in the bullpen that day, said the man who caught the no-hitter, Bob "Buck" Rodgers, but he made the most of what he had.
Rodgers, who later managed the Milwaukee Brewers, Montreal Expos and Angels, said Belinsky's fastball was dancing on the night he no-hit the Orioles.
"He could challenge anybody with that fastball," Rodgers said. "He got the screwball over early, but the fastball set up everything. Even when he was down in the count 2-0 or 3-1, the ball was moving enough that he had enough to pop them up.
"Even on the last out, it was a 3-1 fastball to Dave Nicholson and Bo threw him a fastball right down Broadway. He fouled out to third. When Bo was on, he had that electric kind of stuff."
His Las Vegas friends remember him more as a kind person who was always looking for a way to help someone. The also recall his love of golf. Rich Abajian, who was Belinsky's supervisor at both auto dealerships, said Belinsky learned from the mistakes of his oft-wild youth.
"Bo admitted that when he first came up in baseball, he did things for Bo and not with the team concept first," Abajian said. "He learned from that and in the past few years, his main concern was helping others and being a good person. He did that, because Bo was a guy you wanted for a friend.
"At work, he would do things and let the credit go to someone else. He was content to stay in the background. He was a wonderful person and I'm going to miss him."
Belinsky has twin daughters, but was estranged from them for more than 20 years. Funeral arrangements are pending.