On the heels of Jered Weaver’s May 2 no-hitter, one can’t help but look back at what transpired that same week 50 years ago, on May 5, 1962. On that day, southpaw Bo Belinsky tossed the first of 10 no-hit, no-run games in Angels franchise history, defeating the Baltimore Orioles 2-0 at Dodger Stadium. It was the fourth straight win for the 25-year-old rookie, who shares the team record of consecutive wins to start a career with Weaver (Weaver started his big league career 7-0 back in 2006).
Belinsky’s no-hitter was the first ever pitched in California and the first pitched in Chavez Ravine. In a game lasting exactly two hours, Belinsky walked four and struck out nine. He also hit two batters, first baseman Jim Gentle and opposing pitcher Steve Barber. Said battery mate Buck Rogers: “Belinsky had a live, riding fastball, a hard curve and baffling screwball. He could challenge anybody with that fastball. He got the screwball over early, but the fastball set up everything.”
Following the game, Belinsky was reported to have joked, “If I’d known I was gonna pitch a no-hitter today, I would have gotten a haircut.”
The only real threat to Bo came in the fourth inning when he worked around a bases-loaded jam set up on an error by third baseman Felix Torres. Said Braven Dyer of the Los Angeles Times, “I can report that the Birds didn’t even come close to getting a hit.”
Aside from the no-hitter, Belinsky had a rather unremarkable professional career. He played for eight seasons and five teams, including the Los Angeles Angels (1962-64), Philadelphia Phillies (1965-66), Houston Astros (1967), Pittsburgh Pirates (1969), and Cincinnati Reds (1970). He finished his career in the bigs with a pitching record of 28-51, 476 strikeouts and a 4.10 ERA. “If music be the food of love,” he said, “by all means let the band play on.”
It was his behavior off the field, however, where Bo really left his mark on the game. With his charm and matinee-idol good looks, playboy Belinsky led a life in Hollywood of partying, drugs, hard liquor, fast cars, and women … lots of them. “You know, I’ve probably gotten more mileage winning 28 games in the majors than most guys who’ve won 200.” Tragically, it would also be his undoing.
Robert Belinsky was born on December 7, 1936, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to Polish Catholic-Russian Jewish parents. His father was a day laborer, who later set up a television repair shop following the family’s move to Trenton, New Jersey. Robert earned the nickname “Bo” for boxer Bobo Olson, in honor of his street toughness. By the age of 14, he began to earn a reputation as a good pool hustler.
Unlike most big league ballplayers, Belinsky never played an inning on his high school team. He did, however, always have a lively arm and could blow hitters away. On May 15, 1956, a scout from the Pittsburgh Pirates saw him strike out 15 batters in the sandlots of Trenton. It was then that Belinsky signed a $185 a month contract to play for the Buc’s Brunswick Class D affiliate in Georgia.
When his bachelor escapades and pool hustling weren’t getting him into trouble, Belinsky pitched fairly well in the minors, including a 13-6 record for the Pirates’ Pensacola Class D team in 1957. After being acquired by the Orioles, Belinsky toiled in the minors for four more seasons with stints in Knoxville, Abderdeen, Stockton, Amarillo, Vancouver and Little Rock. Bo was then selected by the Angles in the 1961 Rule 5 draft.
Belinsky made news even before his big league career began, as he was holding out for more money and felt insulted by the team’s $6,000 offer. Finally agreeing to the team’s offer and willingness to renegotiate during the season, Belinsky held a wild poolside press conference at the team’s spring training hotel in Palm Springs announcing the deal. He was sporting a cashmere jacket, an open-collared shirt, long slick hair, and according to Angels PR Director Irv Kaze, “The biggest sunglasses you’ve ever seen.”
The entire event was staged, right down to a full bar and bikini-clad girls. Angels owner Gene Autry and GM Fred Haney, who were trying to steal headlines from the Dodgers, fully sanctioned the event. Belinsky’s tales about woman and pool hustling were certainly entertaining and made for good quotes. The event helped put the Angels on the map in southern California and after Belinsky’s no-hitter, helped put $2,500 more in his back pocket (in addition to being given a new Cadillac from the team).
Famous gossip columnist Walter Winchell was one of the 15,886 fans in attendance at Belinsky’s no-hitter. He was formally introduced to Belinsky through Bo’s “Social Director,” Bud Furillo. ”Walter took a liking to me and we became good friends,” Belinsky once recalled. ”Walter did a lot of writing about me. He used to get letters from women all over the world saying they wanted to meet Bo Belinsky. I’d go over to his hotel room and he’d have this stack of letters about me with all these pictures.”
Throughout the 1960s, Belinsky was seen with several big Hollywood starlets, like Gilligan Island’s Tina Louise, Connie Stevens, Ann-Margaret, Dinah Shore and even Queen Soraya, the ex-wife of the Shah of Iran … all covered in the tabloids by Winchell. He was also engaged to actress and sex symbol Mamie Van Doren for a year.
At the height of his popularity, Winchell even set up a meeting with J. Edgar Hoover. Bo, who along with his best friend pitcher Dean Chance, got to meet the infamous director at the FBI. “J. Edgar! Man, he’s a swinger,” Bo said. “He let Dean and I shoot Tommy Guns at FBI headquarters.”
The public romance with Belinsky became a sudden PR nightmare for the Angels, literally overnight. On an early morning in June 1962, an altercation occurred while he and Chance were out partying with two girls. With all involved inebriated, one of the woman’s heads smashed a window, bloodying her face. After initially not pressing charges, the woman ultimately sued Belinsky, which resulted in Bo paying her off a substantial sum. “You just can’t trust broads,” he said.
Although the Angels finished the ’62 season in third place with a winning record of 86-76, public opinion of Belinsky was never the same, and for the most part, nor were his stats. After starting out 5-0 and 7-1, Bo went on to finish the season at 10-11. He was second in home runs allowed per 9 IP (0.577), seventh in wild pitches (9) and second in hit-by-pitches with 13. In his only career-leading statistic, Belinsky led the AL in walks with 122.
He returned to the team in 1963, going 2-9 with a 5.75 ERA, but was subsequently sent to down to the minors to triple-A Hawaii. It was his first experience playing ball in Hawaii, a place he grew to love, and ultimately where he met his first wife.
Belinsky started the 1964 season in L.A., with a promising record of 9-8 and a career big-league best 2.86 ERA. His time with the Angels ended abruptly, however, as he was suspended in August for punching Times reporter Braven Dyer in a Washington, D.C., hotel. The team traded Belinsky to the Phillies during the offseason.
During his time with Philadelphia, manager Gene Mauch largely relegated Belinsky to the bullpen. This was the first time when he and other ballplayers of his era started taking “greenies,” better known as amphetamines. It was also as a Phillie when, on April 20, 1966, he surrendered Hank Aaron’s 400th career home run.
Belinsky began 1966 with Philadelphia, but with his mediocre 4-9 record the prior season, he was quickly sent down to their triple-A club in San Diego. In 1967, he had left Philly and briefly flirted with the Astros, going 3-9 in 27 games. Belinsky failed to make it to Houston’s big league roster in the spring of 1968 and once again played for the Hawaii Islanders. It was there that he threw another no-hitter, this time versus Tacoma. He finished the season 9-14 with a 2.97 ERA. The following season, Bo was even better with the Islanders, posting a record of 12-5 with a 2.82 ERA. The Pirates brought him up in August, where he was 0-3. Belinsky was traded to the Reds in 1970 but was cut after just three appearances. He retired following the 1970 season.
Following his retirement, Belinsky married and divorced three times. His first marriage was to 1965 Playboy Playmate of the Year Jo Collins, whom he met in Hawaii and married in 1968. The couple had a daughter. In and out of rehab and legal troubles, he divorced Jo and married Jayne Weyerhaeuser in 1975. Jayne was the heiress to the timber and paper fortune of her family, and she gave birth to twins. He last married a waitress in the 1980s and remained estranged from his children to his dying day.
Facing addiction and three failed marriages, Belinsky became a born-again Christian. He was said to be sober the final 25 years of his life. In his later years, he was also field director for six used car dealerships.
“When I was drinking and using, it was total insanity,” he told Sports Illustrated in 2000. “Now, my life is peaceful.”
Belinsky suffered from numerous ailments in his later years, including diabetes, depression, cancer and an ulcerated stomach. He finally succumbed to a heart attack on November 23, 2001, at his home in Las Vegas. He was 64.
“Fallen Angel”, Los Angeles Magazine, by Steve Oney, 7/1/05.
A Tale of Three Cities: The 1962 Baseball Season in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, by Steven Travers, 2009.
“Where Are They Now?” Sports Illustrated, July 31, 2000.