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Once He Was an Angel
Pat Jordan
March 28, 1994
In this SI Classic from March 1972, bon vivant Bo Belinsky muses on the pitching promise he wasted, and the fun he had doing it
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March 28, 1994

Once He Was An Angel

In this SI Classic from March 1972, bon vivant Bo Belinsky muses on the pitching promise he wasted, and the fun he had doing it

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Near midnight, just as they were leaving The Candy Store, Belinsky noticed a man with chalky white skin, wearing a purple-velvet jump suit, leaning against a wall. "Catch his act," said Bo. "He's doing a line imitation of Hugh Hefner." Suddenly Belinsky realized it was Hefner and, after a few words of greeting, Bo and friends were invited to Hefner's Beverly Hills mansion.

"I'm bored tonight," said Hefner, as he led Belinsky, Lennie and the rest of the group to his Mercedes limousine. "Barbie's in the hospital, and I could use some company."

The party that followed at the million-dollar Elizabethan castle did not go well at all. The scene contused and bothered Belinsky. Hefner began by leading a tour of his possessions. When he had shown his guests all he felt they should see, he ushered them into the living room, where servants had spread out a snack of caviar, strawberries and melon, assorted cheeses and hors d'oeuvres and bottles of champagne. He was teasing Belinsky's friends and his other guests with his opulent way of life. Belinsky noticed the men, their quick hustlers' minds clicking into gear, searching for a way, as Bo put it later, "to hitch a ride on that big bunny bird in the sky." The guests began talking loudly about "deals" and "scores" they could make with proper backing. The women, urged on by boyfriends, whispered in Hefner's ear about "deals" of their own, about "scores" they had in mind.

Hefner, all the while, watched the scene impassively, sitting on the floor Indian-style on a velvet pillow. He did not say more than a dozen words and seemed content, perhaps even amused, to watch the ardent strivings of those about him. Belinsky followed the proceedings with increasing anger. He grew sullen and began to drink heavily. At dawn, Hefner stood up suddenly, thanked everyone for coming and left. The guests looked dazedly at one another. Half-drunk, unsure of what was expected of them, they rose unsteadily and wandered from the house into the chill and foggy morning.

When Belinsky returned to the house in Hollywood Hills, Phil met him at the door and complained about the constantly ringing telephones. "What followed," said Lennie with a grin, "was a typical Polack rage."

"Going to Hefner's house was no big thing for me," Belinsky is saying. "I've known the guy for years. I never much liked that Playboy philosophy. I mean, you don't use women, Babe, you complement them. They complement you. How can you use a woman? But still, Hef's a gracious host. I wanted my friends to enjoy themselves. It was a score for them, something they could talk about for a week. Instead, they tried to hock his silverware.

"I met my wife through Hef. She's one reason I quit baseball. I've got this thing going with her, a divorce action. It's no big thing, but it started to get me down. I haven't done much these past months except try to get amnesia." He raises his glass. "But it was my fault. I split when she said she wanted to be a Bunny Den Mother at the Playboy Club in Denver. How's that, trippy? A Bunny Mother? What would that make me, a Bunny Daddy?

"My wife wasn't the only reason I quit," he continues. "You could say I no longer heard the Tunes of Glory. I never liked baseball that much—at first, anyway. I only signed a contract to get out of Trenton. I was hustling pool and hanging around with bad people. At the time $185 a month and a ticket to some witches' monastery in Pancakesville, Georgia, didn't look bad. I quit baseball a number of times over the years, but for one reason or another I always went back. I almost quit in the spring of 1962. The Angels wanted me to sign a standard rookie contract, and I refused. Then a few months later I pitched the no-hitter. The rest is history. I threatened to quit a few times after that no-hitter, like when they tried to ship me to the minors for hitting that sportswriter. I felt disconnected, so I threatened to quit. But that was just a bluff. There was no way I could quit. I had learned to love the game by then.

"That's funny, isn't it, Babe? Me, the guy everybody said didn't love the game enough. Ha! I ended up devoting 15 years of my life to baseball. Man, I loved it. I just didn't take it seriously. I mean, Babe, I don't take myself seriously, how could I be expected to take a game seriously? It's a little boys' game. To play it you've got to be a little boy at heart. The problem is some of these jocks take it too seriously. They let the game define them. They become, say, a great hitter, and they begin to think of themselves as great in ways that have nothing to do with their baseball talent. I never let any game define me. I was serious when I pitched, but once off that mound I defined myself. I tried to live my life the way I wanted, with a little style, a little creativity. In the long run it wore me down, physically and mentally. Not the playing around but lighting those guys who misunderstood me. They said I was bad for the game. Managers were always trying to straighten me out. They'd call me into their office and try to read my act. You know, 'Come on, kid, what seems to be bothering you? You can tell me, I'm on your side.' And when I opened up, when I stood there with my insides hanging out, they buttoned themselves up. The next day I'd get shipped to the minors again.

"It was then I realized this wasn't a man's game. Men chased broads and got drunk and were straight with you. They don't have an act. They aren't hypocrites. For example, when I was going with Mamie, they called me into the office over and over and told me she was no good for me. Finally, when I wouldn't listen, they shipped me to Hawaii. And while I'm there, I get a call from Mamie telling me that the same front-office people who shipped me out were bothering her all the while I was gone. If only I didn't see all that, I would have been all right. But I had this third eye, and when I saw things that I shouldn't have, I overreacted. Usually it was in a way that made no sense, like getting drunk. Maybe I see things out of proportion, or things that aren't even there. Maybe I just don't know how to express what I feel. Who knows? You tell me, Babe. You're my doctor. I always felt the front office and manager and players should be one big family. They shouldn't take sides against each other. Man, you live part of your lives with these people. In a sense, they are your family. The owner should be like a father to you, take care of you, protect you. Take my last year at Cincinnati [1970]. Everybody knew I was on the way out. So why didn't they start me one game, just one last game? Why couldn't they let me go out in style instead of letting me rot on the bench?"

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