Double the fun: The Two Lives of Bo Belinsky

During Bo Belinsky’s final two years in baseball, his skills were totally shot. In eight games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1969 and one with the Cincinnati Reds in 1970 his record was 0-3 with a 4.50 ERA. But in 1962 when he first burst on the scene in Los Angeles with the original Angels, Belinsky looked like he would dominate the American League for years to come.

Belinsky won his first five starts including a May 5 no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles. Then on May 20, in the second game of a Fenway Park doubleheader, Belinsky reached what was to be his career peak.

Against the Boston, Belinsky pitched a complete game, 2-hitter to dominate the Red Sox, 1-0. For the rest of 1962, the bottom fell out as Belinsky posted an unimpressive 4-10. Then, in the seven following seasons between 1963 and 1970, he was never better than mediocre—and rarely even that.

Off the field, Belinsky dated “B” list Hollywood starlets, drank heavily and made the headlines more often than Angels management liked. The final straw for the Angels came Belinsky started a hotel room fight with elderly Los Angeles Times sportswriter Braven Dyer. The Angels immediately suspended Belinsky, then traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies where opposing batters proved to him that he was washed up. The consensus around the Major Leagues was that Belinsky had totally wasted his considerable talent.

Although his reputation during his playing days was one of a heavy drinking, barroom brawling playboy, toward the end of his life, Belinsky had sobered up and become a born again Christian. In 1973, veteran sportswriter Maury Allen wrote a biography of Belinsky, Bo: Pitching and Wooing, with the uncensored cooperation of Bo Belinsky, in 1973.

Belinsky had come to terms with his lost opportunities.

As he told Allen:

“I came to the Angels as a kid who thought he had been pushed around by life, by minor league baseball. I was selfish and immature in a lot of ways and I tried to cover that up. I went from a major league ballplayer to hanging onto a brown bag under the bridge, but I had my moments and I have my memories. If I had the attitude about life then that I have now, I’d have done a lot of things differently. But you make your rules and you play by them. I knew the bills would come due eventually, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to cover them.”

In 2001, Belinsky died after a long struggle against bladder cancer.

“Double the fun” is a Friday series here that examines one famous doubleheader each week.

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