Bo was traded to Philadelphia, where Gene Mauch had no use for him. He bummed around baseball, in and out of the big leagues, for the next few years. In 1968 he was back in Hawaii, where he made the mistake of throwing a no-hitter. That meant the Major Leagues came a-calling, and he had to leave paradise.
Bo married Jo Collins, the 1965 Playboy Playmate of the Year whose “Vietnam issue” was the highest selling in the magazine’s history. Her Marilyn Monroe-style appearance in front of the troops at Black Virgin Mountain was the model for the “Playboy bunny” scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Bo and Jo were a huge item. After a few years away from the limelight their marriage created more attention than ever. They were happy in Hawaii, green with jealousy in L.A. Divorce was inevitable.
Belinsky retired in 1970, hitting the skids. His interviews with Maury Allen for Bo: Pitching and Wooing took place in a Malibu beach pad Bo shared with a busty hooker who turned tricks by night and catered to Bo’s needs by day. Bo’s needs consisted of watching soaps and drinking Vodka.
The Pat Jordan interview, which became “Once He Was An Angel” in The Suitors of Spring and in Sports Illustrated, took place over the course of an all-night party and morning hangover session in the Hollywood Hills. It might have been the best human-interest story in the history of sports journalism. Jordan’s spot-on descriptions of every detail of the night and its aftermath are nothing less than masterful.
Bo, like the subject of Bob Segar’s “Beautiful Loser,” was a guest in the Hollywood Hills pad and tagged along for a trip to the nearby Strip, where they ran into Playboy magnate Hugh Hefner. Hefner, who knew Bo from his marriage to Jo Collins, invited the group to his Holmby Hills mansion.
Jordan artfully described the party, mostly small-time hustlers, as losers trying to work Hefner for a “score,” using their trashy women to sidle up to Hefner, as if their entrees could get him to agree to some nefarious business proposition.
“They tried to hock his silverware,” said Bo, who sat off to the side getting drunker and drunker.
Hefner eventually excused himself. The group came to realize it was his way of telling them to get the hell out of his mansion. Back in the hills, Bo exploded at his “friends” for embarrassing him in front of Hef, causing him to break up half the room.
Everybody finally fell asleep. In the morning Bo and Jordan resumed the “interview,” with Bo sniffing the hair of the dog in the form of Vodka, constantly re-filled by his latest squeeze, “a fleshy, attractive red-head” who filled out her bikini as she played bartender and maid.
Bo just called her “babe,” and his requests for more Vodka were met by an easygoing, “Sure, Bo.”
Sitting on the nearby couch was a hot teenager in a flowered bikini, painting her toenails.
“Do you like them, Bo?” she asked.
“Sure, babe,” said Bo.
“She’s a stray from the night before,” he informed Jordan. “We found her on the Strip. She wants to stay.”
Jordan then described the others, still sleeping or “softly moaning, head in hands” scattered throughout the room like “planets occupying their own private orbit.” Below the window, two topless chicks lay face up by the pool, burning in the L.A. heat, while two painters worked a few feet away.
“They’ve been painting that same wall for two days,” said Bo.
Bo gave Jordan boozy nuggets of philosophy, expressing a true love for the game of baseball, but not the business of it. The years following the books and articles about Bo Belinsky were not kind to him. At one point he became homeless, “living under a bridge.” He became a total alcoholic and major drug abuser. He lost touch with most of his past associates and had no real “friends,” other than whatever hooker or floozy still found him charming.
He moved to Hawaii, living the life of a beach bum. Few if any of his “neighbors” knew he had once been famous (in what is amazing serendipity, he lived next door to this author’s cousin, who had no idea who he had been). Then one day he saved the life of a girl drowning in the surf. She turned out to be the heiress to the Weyerhaeuser fortune. She fell for her hero and married him. They eventually did divorce, but it had the effect of helping him get back on his feet.
Bo found Alcoholics Anonymous and blessed sobriety. He moved to Las Vegas, of all places, finding steady work with a Saturn car dealership. That was where this author discovered him in 1994.
In the beginning, we had high hopes that Robert DeNiro, who met Bo and told him he remembered the Jersey-raised pitcher, wanted to make a movie about him similar to Raging Bull. Bob Case, the Angels’ clubhouse manager and longtime friend of Bo’s, put us in touch with Charlie Sheen, who considered him a “role model” in a twisted kind of way. We thought the Sheen connection might result in a movie, since Charlie had some clout at the time, but it never happened.
Eventually we connected with a producing team involving Frank Capra Jr. and Frank Capra III, offspring of the It’s A Wonderful Life director. The screenplay this author wrote was optioned. Producer Edgar Scherick seemed a good bet at one point, but he passed away. The option expired and that was that.
Bo could be testy. I had my ups and downs with him. It is strange to be around a man you know so much about, when he knows little about you. I arranged for Bo to conduct some interviews, hoping to generate interest in his story. He appeared with Ralph Barbieri on San Francisco’s KNBR, and with old pal Bud Furillo when he hosted a show in the 1990s, and with Irv Kaze on the old KIEV.
Bo died in 2001 at the age of 64. His hard lifestyle most likely took 10 or 20 years off his life, but Bo would have said it was all worth it. What was most encouraging was that, after everything he went through, in the end Bo Belinsky found the Lord Jesus Christ. He was also credited, through prodigious work with the Las Vegas chapter of A.A., with saving many, many others from the perilous path he had walked.
The so-called “Fallen Angel” who in many ways had inspired this author to find his true calling as a writer was fallen no more.
BY THE NUMBERS
28-51 – Bo Belinsky’s career record in the Major Leagues from 1962-70.
What Angel player was named Most Valuable Player in the 1962 All-Star Game?
Leon “Daddy Wags” Wagner was the MVP of the second 1962 All-Star Game. For two years (1961-62), baseball held two mid-summer classics, one in each league’s city. In ’62 the Nationals won, 3-1 playing in front of President John Kennedy in Washington, D.C. The second game was played at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Wagner’s homer propelled the A.L. to the 9-4 win. It was the last year of the two-game format, and the final game won by the American League until 1971. After that, the A.L. never won again until 1983. In recent years, the Americans have dominated the Nationals in inter-league play, All-Star Games and the World Series.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism