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In 1962 the two L.A. teams would share the luxurious new Dodger Stadium at Chavez Ravine. As Dodger tenants the Angels seemed even further below the salt and couldn't match such Dodger drawing cards as Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Maury Wills. The Angels were amusing, but the Dodgers were winners, and there seemed to be no way to crack the older team's grip on the fan base. But on Nov. 27, 1961, the Angels had drafted out of the Baltimore organization a heretofore obscure career minor leaguer named Robert (Bo) Belinsky. After that, even Koufax would be hard-pressed to get his name in the local papers.
Belinsky was a street kid from Trenton, N.J., and pool, not baseball, was Bo's game. Unlike so many other city kids of the time, he had never longed to be a big leaguer. "No aspirations, no inspiration," he would later say. Instead he contented himself with pitching for small change in sandlot games, hanging out in billiard halls and indefatigably pursuing la femme.
Then, in 1956, he was "discovered" by a Pittsburgh scout and signed for $185 a month to pitch at Class D Brunswick, Ga. Belinsky pitched, with moderate success, in the minors for six years and was 25 when the Angels' Haney finally offered him a major league contract at the minimum salary of $6,000. "That isn't much money," Belinsky responded, accurately enough. "Why not make it $8,500?"
Haney was aghast. Belinsky had a 32-35 career record in the minors. And though he was lefthanded, threw hard and had developed an effective screwball, his chances of making the Angels' major league roster were considered minimal. When the club opened camp in Palm Springs on Feb. 24, 1962, Belinsky stayed home in Trenton.
Bud Furillo, who was then covering the team for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, was immediately intrigued by an AP dispatch in which Belinsky reaffirmed his resolve to hold out and said he would happily pass the time that spring shooting a little pool by day and spending his evenings with "a lot of broads." By the time Bo finally did report to Palm Springs for further contract talks, he had been established in the public's eye as a rakehell of Errol Flynn dimensions.
With uncommon aplomb, Belinsky appeared—much to Haney's irritation—at his own poolside press conference, at which he expounded on his salary demands as well as on his plans to ravage every available starlet in Hollywood. The assembled reporters and team publicity director Irv Kaze recognized at once that in this impulsive lefthander they had a public relations bonanza, even if all he could pitch was bull and woo. For his part, Bo liked the attention. He quietly signed at Haney's price after first extracting a promise that there would be a midseason renegotiation of the contract if he did well. Haney thought the chances of that happening were about as promising as Belinsky's dating a movie star. He badly underestimated the young man on both counts.
Belinsky and Chance, an Ohio farm boy and country slicker who was as clever at cards as Bo was at pool, were the two rookies on the pitching staff, and together they quickly developed an affinity for the Hollywood life-style. Chance, a righthander with a blazing fastball and a bewildering peekaboo delivery, was considered a can't-miss prospect. Belinsky, on the other hand, was just one step away from the minors when he got his first start, on April 18 against the Kansas City Athletics at Chavez Ravine. He prepared for this momentous event by entertaining a young woman on the eve of the game. But he held the A's to two runs in six innings, with Fowler closing out the win.
Belinsky then beat Cleveland twice to run his record to 3-0. His fourth straight victory, on May 5, was a no-hitter at Chavez Ravine against Baltimore, the team that had let him go. "Oh, the irony of it all," said Belinsky in the locker room as he groomed himself for a night on Sunset Strip. It was the first no-hitter pitched for any California team and the first ever in the new Dodger Stadium. (Koufax would pitch the second, on June 30.) Just like that, Bo was famous.
A delighted spectator at the no-hitter was the renowned syndicated gossip columnist Walter Winchell; with his keen sense of ballyhoo, Winchell instantly recognized possibilities in the young pitcher that not even the sportswriters had perceived. "Walter Winchell invented Bo," says Rodgers, then the team's catcher and now the Angels' manager. "From then on, all you read in his column was "Bo Belinsky of no-hit fame was cooing last night at the Coconut Grove with Tina Louise' or some other starlet. Every out-of-work actress in Hollywood got introduced to Bo by Walter."
It would be the ruin of him, but Bo embraced Hollywood as no ballplayer ever had. "He inhaled it," Ferguson says. Says Belinsky today, "It was a fantasy world for me. When Walter Winchell wrote about you, pretty girls came out of the woodwork—Connie Stevens, Ann-Margret, Tina Louise, Mamie Van Doren [an off-again-on-again fiancée of Belinsky's]. I took one look at Hollywood and said, 'This is where I'm going to live.' "