- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 1, 2001

They held a memorial service for Bo Belinsky on Thursday at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Yesterday they held one at the Trinity Life Church in Las Vegas.
I held my own private memorial service for Bo yesterday. I went to a pool room and shot some pool.
All three places were appropriate ones to honor the death of an American original, Bo Belinsky, a pool hustler, ballplayer and religious man who died of a heart attack the day after Thanksgiving. Chronologically, he was 64, but he had the body of a 100-year-old. He was in a lot of physical pain near the end, with chronic hip and knee problems, cancer and a bad heart.
But he always had the soul of that 25-year-old rookie from Trenton, N.J., who gained the attention of the country when he pitched a no-hitter for the Los Angeles Angels against the Baltimore Orioles while Walter Winchell was in the stands. The newspaper columnist, at the end of his career, still had enough influence to make stars, and he helped make Bo Belinsky a star.
Bo, being Bo, did the rest on his own, becoming one of the first of the legendary anti-heroes of the 1960s. Before there were players associations and baseball strikes, Bo was the chairman of the union of good times.
Like Bo would say so many times, "I got more mileage out of 28 major league victories [he had a 28-51 career mark] than anyone who has ever played the game. I just heard a different song than everyone else."
I got to know Bo in the last few years from my trips to Las Vegas to cover boxing. When I first heard he was living in Vegas, I had to find him to do an interview, because American originals are harder than ever to find these days, and they should be treasured. We had lunch, and after I wrote a story about the life and times of Bo, we stayed in touch and would get together to hear some more stories about the life and times of Bo, because there were many, and often he couldn't remember all of them.
One in particular, involved a trip to Washington not the incident where he punched out sportswriter Braven Dyer in a hotel room here. This story involved a visit from the FBI.
"Two FBI agents walk into the clubhouse in Washington and go into [Angels manager] Bill Rigney's office," Belinsky said. "They ask to see Dean Chance and Bo Belinsky. Rigney goes, 'Oh, what did they do wrong now?'
"They called us into the office and said Mr. Hoover wanted to see us," Bo said. "So they took us to FBI headquarters, and it turned out that Winchell had told J. Edgar to call us down and razz us a little bit. So we went to his office and had a marvelous time for a few hours. He had his picture taken with us, and we went down to the firing range and got to shoot some machine guns."
This was life with Bo. Lawyers, guns and money and women. Lots of women. Mamie Van Doren, Connie Stevens, Ann-Margret and a host of other Hollywood starlets.
But Bo was long past the fun-running days when I met him. His good times eventually turned bad and out of control, until his drinking forced him down to rock bottom in 1976. He sought help, and began a new phase of his life a sober one.
"The first half of your life or so, you try to satisfy your ego, and then for the next half you try to clean the slate a little bit," Bo said.
He turned to religion, and began speaking to groups and individuals about how to save yourself from the downward spiral that can consume so many people.
But Bo even had style doing that. So many people who lived their lives with the needle pointed too far in one direction turn around and point the needle in the other direction with the same irrational zeal. They spend the first half of their lives indulging themselves, and spend the second half trying to dictate how others should run their own lives.
Bo never apologized for the life he led and never preached to anyone else how to live theirs. "The way I look at it is that I had a great run for a while," he told me. "I played the cards that were dealt to me and had the conviction to do it."
He did offer people who sought it a way out, and, in a strange way, he was able to help people in the second half of his life because of the way he indulged himself in the first half because he was Bo Belinsky. He told me a story about a Boston businessman he met on a plane ride from Las Vegas to Cleveland. The man was bringing his 26-year-old son, who had a substance abuse problem and had gotten into trouble in Las Vegas, back home to seek help. The father recognized Bo and they sat together on the airplane. The father told Bo of his fear and despair of the future for his son, and Bo spent the rest of the trip talking to the son, telling him about his own substance abuse problems and the peace he had finally found through sobriety.
Later, the father would tell the Boston Globe how Bo Belinsky saved his son's life.
In the end, he had cleaned the slate a little bit, but didn't erase it, which is good, because the complete Bo is worth remembering.
Bo, this 5-ball in the corner pocket is for you.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide