Born: December 7, 1936
Died: November 23, 2001
Robert Belinsky was born December 7, 1936 in Manhattan and grew up in Trenton. He was known for his fighting talent as a boy and was nicknamed Bo after boxer Bobo Olson. Bo hustled pool and was a reluctant student. A rule-breaker, he had no interest in playing on any teams at Trenton Central High, despite his superior athletic skill. Instead, he pitched sandlot and semipro ball, and became something of a local legend with his popping fastball and darting screwball.
A scout from the Pirates convinced the team to sign him in 1956. He made less per week playing ball than he did most nights as a pool shark, and quickly lost interest in the low minors. The Pirates sold Bo to the Orioles and he began racking up big strikeout totals as he moved closer to the big leagues. He also drove the organization crazy with his drinking, brawling and womanizing—and numerous threats to quit the game altogether.
The Orioles left Bo unprotected after the 1961 season and he was grabbed in the Rule 5 Draft by the Los Angeles Angels. LA was made for Bo, and vice-versa. He was a flashy dresser, shameless self-promoter and popular man about town. More important, he was pitching lights-out. In his fourth start as a big leaguer, he no-hit his old club, the Orioles, and mowed down 11 White Sox in his next appearance. He and roommate Dean Chance were the toast of the coast. Bo was popular with the show business crowd and hired an agent to get him acting jobs. He would appear in a handful of TV shows and films, develop a Vegas lounge act, and later was engaged to Mamie Van Doren.
By midseason, however, the hard living caught up with Bo. He couldn’t buy a win and was making enemies in the clubhouse and in the stands. In early July he couldn’t get out of the first inning and gave LA fans the finger as he stormed off the mound. He finished the 1962 campaign 10–11 with a 3.56 ERA, 145 strikeouts and a league-high 122 walks. Bo’s 1963 season started bad and got worse. He was 1–7 with an inflated ERA when he was optioned to the minors. He refused to report for more than a month. He was recalled late in the year and pitched somewhat better, but finished 2–9.
Bo recaptured some of his old magic in 1964 and was pitching the best ball of his life when he knocked out a 64-year-old sportswriter in August and was suspended by the team. He was 9–8 with a 2.86 ERA at the time. The Angels traded him to the Phillies after the season, beginning a long decline.
The Phillies, Astros, Cardinals, Pirates, Angels (again) and Reds all gambled on his arm in the years that followed, but his head got the better of him at every stop. He married and then divorced Playboy model Jo Collins and his drinking and drug use worsened. In 1973, he was the subject of Maury Allen;s best-seller Bo: Pitching and Wooing. A few years later he completed a successful rehab stint and became a born-again Christian. He died of a heart attack at age 64 in 2001.