- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 13, 2014


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.

Sonny Liston and Bo Belinsky are buried at this Vegas cemetery, and I visited the graves of both while I was in town for the Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley rematch.

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.

I figured I owed Sonny a moment in the sun. He settled in Vegas in his final years, but never found peace. Then again, this town is the last place to find that kind of peace.

Bo Belinsky, though, did.

Bo died in 2001, and on his marker it reads, “Robert ‘Bo’ Belinsky,” with “No Hitter 5-5-62.”

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.

“Walter took a liking to me and we became good friends,” Bo told me. “We traveled together for a year and a half. Walter did a lot of writing about me, as did a lot of other writers.”

They wrote about him because he was outrageous, colorful – and destructive.

He didn’t last long with the Angels – just two years, before they traded him after he got into a fight with a Los Angeles sports writer while on the road in Washington. He was suspended, demoted to the Angels minor league system and traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in December.

Washington was one of Bo’s favorite cities, though.

“We were in Washington once, and two FBI agents walk into the clubhouse and go into Bill Rigney’s [the Angels manager] office,” Bo said. “They ask to see Dean Chance and Bo Belinsky. Rigney goes, ‘Oh, what did they do wrong now?’

“They call us into the office and say that Mr. Hoover wants to see us,” Bo said. “So they take us to FBI headquarters, and it turns out that Walter [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. Surprisingly, he had a picture taken with us. I don’t think he had his picture taken with too many people. And we went down to the firing range and got to shoot some machine guns.”

Bo Belinsky and J. Edgar Hoover. Think about that one.

Bo bounced around, playing for the Phillies, Astros, Pirates and Reds before he dropped out of baseball in 1970, with a 28-51 record.

It wasn’t so funny anymore. He was an alcoholic, and burned every bridge he ever built. He hit bottom in 1976, and turned to sobriety. He spent much of the rest of his life preaching about his second life and helping others whose lives had turned from comedy to tragedy.

“The first 50 years of your life, you’re trying to satisfy your ego, and then the next 20 or 30, you try to clean the slate a little bit,” Bo told me.

Bo cleaned the slate a little bit before he died. Sonny never did.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com.

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