When Angels’ pitching playboy Bo Belinsky owned Los Angeles

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It really didn’t matter much to Belinsky whether he pitched a no-hitter or not, he enjoyed being Bo, and that was enough to attract a lot of attention in Los Angeles and Hollywood in the early 1960s. Whether he was striking out batters on the mound or carousing with starlets at 4 AM, Belinsky was having fun wherever he was. He was a playboy, celebrity, athlete, pain in the ass, charmer, bully, star, and dreamboat. He was never an All-Star – he didn’t even have a winning record in the big leagues – but he had a hell of a lot of  fun, and in LA on a losing team, that was all that seemed to matter.

After a long and uneventful minor league career, Belinsky was selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the expansion draft and slotted in as a last-ditch starting pitcher option. It was 1962 and the Angels were brand new and competing directly with the Dodgers for the hearts and wallets of LA fans. With colorful red, yellow, and blue uniforms and a halo on top of their caps, they looked more like a team that would be written into a B-movie than a major league club. Other than the novelty of it, there wasn’t much reason to go to Angels games, until Bo hit the scene.

The lefty won his first start over the Kansas City A’s, 3-2 on April 18. A week later he was given another chance and he responded by tossing a complete game victory over the Indians. After he beat the Tribe once more to run his record to 3-0, the rookie started to get some headlines. In his next start he slammed the door on the Baltimore Orioles, shutting them down and holding them hitless. The southpaw became the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter so soon in his career. For the Angels it was a public relations wet dream. Less than a month into their season they were stealing headlines from the Dodgers – hell, they were getting front page headlines in LA!

A normal man who found success so quickly may have been flummoxed, but Belinsky wasn’t. He had been honing his skills for years in the minor leagues: chasing skirts, tossing back shots of bourbon, and frustrating his managers by missing curfews and playing pranks. Now that he was a star in the big leagues, an entirely different world was opened to Bo. He partied with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, dated starlets like Ann-Margeret and Tina Louise. The reports of his sexual escapades would have impressed Wilt Chamberlain.

Years before Magic Johnson and his Lakers introduced “Showtime” to LA, Belinsky was the original athlete/celebrity/playboy in the city of Angels. He made appearances on TV shows, popped in at night clubs, and endorsed products. Everyone wanted a piece of him.

The southpaw struck out 11 batters in his start after the no-hitter, running his record to 5-0. In June the tables turned a bit when Belinsky was on the losing end of a no-hitter thrown against the Angels by Boston pitcher Earl Wilson. Unfazed, Bo kept on being Bo. He finished the season a little weakly, undoubtedly tired from burning the candle at both ends. His final mark was 10-11 with a 3.56 ERA. True to his personality, he was wild on the diamond too – his 122 walks led the league.

Bo did a lot of the things we now take for granted with Hollywood playboy/bad boys. Years before Charlie Sheen, Bo dated strippers and married a Playboy centerfold (Hugh Hefner was a friend). He smashed up hotel rooms and had affairs with married women. He was hip, cool, all the buzz words of the 1960s. Though he was a Polish kid from New Jersey, he had the dark, suave California good looks. Women were drawn to him like bees to honey.

Bo never caught lightning in a bottle again like he had early in ’62. The following season he struggled so badly that he was sent to the minors. But Bo didn’t seem to mind, he liked the easier lifestyle of the bush leagues and there were always parties, booze, and women everywhere he went. In the off-season he made his home in LA, and the Hollywood daze reconvened.

Belinsky retired in 1971 after hopping around the majors with several teams. He had a 18-51 lifetime record. He still lived the life of a star for several years.

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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is the author of three books about baseball, including Ty Cobb: A Biography. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and Major League Baseball Advanced Media. He lives in Michigan where he writes, runs, and enjoys a good orange soda now and again.
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