Wilmer Dean Chance sat in this little cafeteria filled with giggling office girls, the smell of sauerkraut and the mumbling of old men hiding from the cold rain, and destroyed a hill of mashed potatoes. His pants, white flannel, were cuffless and tight, and they hung about three inches above a pair of alligator shoes, which he said he should be saving for Los Angeles, where people are more accustomed to such flash. A white knit tie rested comically short on a white shirt, and his pale-blue summer sport coat seemed a size too small. The customers stared at him, not because of his costume or the ferocity with which he attacked his lunch, but because—next to producing the first Christmas tree and a small Presbyterian college—producing Dean Chance is the biggest claim to identity that Wooster, Ohio has ever had. For better or—heaven forbid—for worse.
Chance, for those who may remember him only because of his widely chronicled nocturnal gambols with Bo Belinsky, his flamboyant teammate on the Los Angeles Angels for the past three seasons, was the best pitcher in the big leagues last year. After being only 5 and 5 in July at the All-Star Game break, he won 15 of his last 19 games to finish with a 20-9 record and a 1.65 earned-run average. He shut out the Yankees three times, beat them four times and allowed them only one run in 50 innings—a home run by Mickey Mantle. In all, he pitched 11 shutouts during the season. " Walter Johnson," said Dean, "was the last in the league to get that many shutouts."
For these and all his other accomplishments ("I gave 100 less hits than innings pitched, and ain't nobody done that before") he won the Cy Young Award, presented annually to the outstanding pitcher in the major leagues. From the Angels, who finished in fifth place, largely through his efforts, Chance last week received a contract for $42,000, which would seem enough to help him support his wife, Judy, a Wisconsin farm girl he met when playing minor-league ball in Fox Cities, Wis., and his 2-year-old son—plus 60 head of cattle and 100 pigs that lounge on the 80-acre farm near Wooster that he bought several years ago. All of this, the success, the money, the family, the farm and another year of age, will serve to bring about, the people of Wooster hope, a sharp change in Chance's character—from something near Frank Sinatra, say, to nothing more extreme than Henry Aldrich.
To many in his audience in Wooster, a slightly puritanical community in which pool is still considered by some to be a nefarious distraction, a new Chance would be welcomed with a sigh of relief. His past conduct, which to conservative Wooster people has been only a shade short of cutpurse, has been an embarrassment. People here ain't used to those sort of things, one is likely to hear from voices that sound remarkably like that of Lamar Gene Gumbody, a Jonathan Winters invention. They ain't used to the way he's acted, always in a pool hall, always carrying a pool stick around everywhere he goes, always saying things he ought not to be saying, always getting in trouble with that Belinsky.
They seem to be asking whatever happened to the big kid who pitched on the sandlots wearing street shoes and street socks and bottle caps on his hat, the boy who used to walk home from 4-H competition with blue ribbons all the time. Other citizens of Wooster, more worldly, wonder why in his big-city travels he has never acquired sophistication and discretion, and why he remains a heedless clod (Chance has many advisers in Wooster) stumbling into one fuss after another.
Still, none of these views appeared to hurt the attendance at a Dean Chance testimonial dinner this winter in Wooster that Chance seemingly created and produced himself. Dean sold tickets and newspaper ads and arranged for the appearances of other stars (free) as well as for the distribution of baseballs, bats, Los Angeles Angel yearbooks, photos and 50 pounds of bubble gum. The
Wooster Daily Record published a special section devoted to the dinner and the life of Dean Chance. Chance volunteered his profile for 23 ads ("No Need to Take a Chance when Buying Your Meat") and his thoughts to a number of interviewers, like Ernie Infield, who concluded: "There can't be too much wrong with a kid who prefers to spend the hours of his greatest triumph with his home folks—and for their benefit." A big crowd turned out "for their benefit." Tickets were $6, and all of the proceeds were contributed to the Northwestern High athletic fund. Chance was visibly elated by the town's response, and the town was pleased to see that there was a lot of the farm still left in the boy.
"Look, he's only 23," explained a sympathetic friend. "Who was any different at 23? Especially a farm boy loose on the town!"
"I just like to have a little fun now and then," Chance said. "I do what I want to do, and I pick my own friends. Belinsky is the best friend I've ever had. He's never tried to influence me."
Much of the criticism of Chance's personal conduct is provoked by his relationship with Belinsky, who this winter was traded away from Los Angeles and Chance to Philadelphia. The names Belinsky and Chance had a vaudeville ring, and Los Angeles was more than suitable for their act. With Bo as his sponsor, Chance plunged into the social swirl of the city. Parties and introductions to "big, important people" followed. It was a long way from Wooster, where the manager of the bowling alley might well be considered a celebrity. "Bo sure knows his way around," said Chance. Dean found fun with Bo—and trouble. Curfew infractions, absence from a spring training practice, a nebulous involvement with a woman who, sporting a black eye and cuts, railed about them to a policeman, and other activities not considered particularly uplifting to Little Leaguers caught the disapproving eye of Los Angeles General Manager Fred Haney. For the episode with the woman, Chance, along with Belinsky, was fined $250, despite Dean's plea that he was being victimized for just being there. For missing the practice, Haney relieved him of $500. "Five Cs!" ranted Chance. "That's a lot of dough. I could buy five cows with that." And then he said, "I don't understand it. Other guys get in trouble, and they give 'em a small fine. But with Bo and me they gotta make a federal case out of it."
Naturally, Belinsky emerged from all this as Chance's Svengali. It was Bo, critics contended, who was responsible for Dean's behavior. Dean, they said, was just a dumb old farm boy who did not know any better, and Dean was just a caddie for Bo. Someone said Chance trailed behind lugging Belinsky's collapsible cue. Leon Wagner, the hip and outspoken outfielder who has since been traded from the Angels to the Cleveland Indians, disagreed. "Dean isn't any starry-eyed hanger-on," said Wagner. "Compared to Chance, Belinsky is a quiet guy. Dean knows his way around, and he can show Bo a few things."