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Hell-raisers in Halos
Ron Fimrite
July 19, 1993
The Los Angeles Angels were an expansion team, but they didn't play like one
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July 19, 1993

Hell-raisers In Halos

The Los Angeles Angels were an expansion team, but they didn't play like one

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And so he did, in a penthouse provided for him by some of his new show-business friends. "Picasso had stayed in the place," Belinsky says, "and he painted the ceiling—a Michelangelo type of thing. Dean Chance took one look at that ceiling and wanted to drill a hole in it so he could put a card spotter up above for one of his big poker games. That way, he figured, he could make a killing. Can you imagine anybody drilling a hole through a Picasso so he could cheat at cards?"

After his no-hitter Belinsky bought a candy-apple-red Cadillac (he got a deal); he parked his gaudy machine every night on the Strip, where he and the latest starlet went nightclubbing. The press adored him. Rigney and Haney merely endured him. Bo won a fifth straight game, then predictably lapsed into an irreversible decline, losing six of his next eight decisions. He would finish the year at 10-11 with a 3.56 earned run average. Chance, who started the season in the bullpen, became the staff's big winner, with 14, and his 2.96 ERA presaged a Cy Young season two years down the road.

To the utter amazement of baseball experts everywhere, the Angels, playing only their second season, were solidly in the pennant race with the Yankees and the Minnesota Twins. And they were catching on in Los Angeles. Win or lose, Belinsky was a drawing card, and the team began attracting crowds of 50,000 or more to Chavez Ravine. Rightfielder Leon (Daddy Wags) Wagner would hit 37 home runs, and outfielder-first baseman Lee Thomas would belt 26 that year. Rodgers would finish second to the Yankees' Tom Tresh in Rookie of the Year balloting. Thomas, Wagner and 5'5" centerfielder Albie Pearson would all play 160 games. "I couldn't get those guys out of the lineup," says Rigney.

On the Fourth of July, after a doubleheader sweep of the Senators in Washington, the Angels were in first place by half a game. Naturally, there was a team party that night, at Duke Ziebert's famous restaurant. The Angels showed no signs of faltering after the heady experience of being on top, and they clung tightly to the leaders through July and into August. Then on successive days they lost the heart and soul of their pitching staff. On Aug. 6, Fowler, who had pitched in 48 games and had a 2.81 ERA, was struck on the side of the head by a batted ball while he was chatting with a fan during batting practice in Boston. He was finished for the year and never regained sight in his left eye. The next day Ken McBride, the staff ace, with 11 wins, was diagnosed as having a cracked rib, the result of an attack of pleurisy. He would have only one more decision in the season's final seven weeks, a loss.

Still, the Angels held on and were only 3½ games behind on Sept. 12, when they began their final home stand. Then the championship bubble burst. They lost six in a row and won only four of their last 16 games.

"Maybe the pressure finally caught up with them," says Furillo of the sudden collapse. "But if they hadn't lost McBride and Fowler, who knows? Anyway, for a team just a year old to be in a pennant race that long was just incredible."

In a sense, that remarkable season did more harm than good. Autry and Haney, instead of seeking new talent, foolishly thought they had the makings of a championship team. It did not take long for them to realize their mistake. Hollywood quickly did in Belinsky, not that he minded much. He would win a total of only 28 major league games in a diminished eight-year career; become, in his own words, "a falling-down drunk"; and fail three times at marriage. But he is nothing if not resilient; sober now for 17 years, he is, at 56, living comfortably in Las Vegas and working as a promotions director for an automobile agency. "My psychiatrist won't allow me to have either a telephone or a wife," he says. But he has few regrets in life.

"I've gotten more mileage out of 28 wins than anybody in baseball history," he says over dinner at a Vegas hotel. He looks trim and fit. "Sometimes I can't believe it myself. I was sitting once with Steve Carlton, and this little kid comes up to us and says he wants an autograph. I point to Steve, but the boy says, 'No, my dad says he wants Bo Belinsky's autograph.' All Carlton had done was win 329 games. I don't think he was amused." Bo laughs, then says, "Oh, I could've probably hung on a little longer in baseball if I'd passed up the nightlife. But what difference would it have made if I'd won another 60 or 70 games? No amount of money in the world could take the place of being a star in Hollywood for one year. And I had that."

In 1964 Chance would become according to Rigney, "the best right-handed pitcher I've ever seen." He won 20 games that year and had an ERA of 1.65. He would win 20 only once more, for Minnesota in '67, and be out of baseball by the time he turned 30. Fowler would never be quite the same after his eye injury but would later achieve both fame and notoriety as Billy Martin's pitching coach in Oakland. McBride would last only three more years. Wagner and Thomas enjoyed career years in 1962 that they rarely approached thereafter. Pearson would never again score as many as the 115 runs he scored in '62. Duren would eventually drink himself out of baseball, then, like Belinsky, recover and lead a useful life, much of it spent counseling alcoholics.

Rigney would continue as the Angel manager until 1969, then win a division title in his first season at Minnesota, in 1970. He is now an executive with the Athletics. But 1962 remains his favorite year. "What a cast of characters we had," he says. "But believe me, those characters had character."

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