LAS VEGAS – It was 90 degrees, and there wasn’t much shade at Davis Memorial Park, but I wasn’t there for comfort and fun.
I was there out of a sense of obligation to two Vegas icons who left their marks on this world in different ways.
Liston died in 1970, and on the marker at his grave, it reads, “Charles ‘Sonny’ Liston. 1952-1970. ‘A Man.’”
He was the heavyweight champion of the world and a mob enforcer who died under mysterious circumstances in Vegas. The police called it a drug overdose, but friends and family were convinced the mob-connected former champion was murdered.
Two months ago, on the 50th anniversary of Liston’s loss to Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay at the time) – the fight that began the Ali legacy – I wrote that, based on FBI documents, Liston took a dive in that fight. It caused a furor on that anniversary day.
Bo Belinsky, though, did.
It should have read, “”I probably got more mileage out of 28 major league victories than anyone who has ever played the game. I took it all in stride and went along with the flash and the game.”
That’s what he told me when we got together in Vegas in 1996.
Bo Belinsky was one of those generational icons – a baseball wise guy who ran with beautiful women and fought authority at every turn. He was ahead of the Joe Namaths and other mavericks that came in the late 1960s.
His moment came that May day in 1962 at Dodgers Stadium – where his team, the Los Angeles Angels, were playing their home games then – against the Baltimore Orioles. Bo, a rookie, threw a 2-0 no hitter, the first no-hitter by a rookie lefthander in baseball history.
It was the opening season at Dodger Stadium, and the place was filled with celebrities One of them was columnist Walter Winchell, the fading but still powerful force in the media. Winchell wrote about Bo, taking him out of the sports page and into the national limelight - where Bo seemed right at home.