Born on December 7th, 1936, Bo Belinsky once said, “It’s no fun knowing that in every home in America your home is celebrated as a day of infamy.” He was known for his self demeaning wit, his playboy persona, and his electric fastball. But by the time his career was over, he was also known as one of those tragic figures whose vices prevented him to ever reach his full potential.
Bo Belinsky began his career as a rock star in LA. As a handsome 25-year old rookie, he won his first five starts, threw a no-hitter in his 4th start, and dated Playboy models, soon becaming the toast of the town in a city that rarely elevates baseball players to the level of movie stars. But it wasn’t long before his hard living took a toll, and his fall from grace was swift and spectacular.
In some ways, Belinsky was a perfect example of a typical “What if?” question: if you could be a superstar for 2-3 years, dating Playboy models and partying with the Rat Pack, but have a rough life for the next 40 years, would you do it? It’s a question worth pondering, especially when you consider that his stay at the top included girlfriends such as Connie Stevens, Tina Louise, and Mamie van Doren, the latter of whom he was engaged to. (He later married Playboy Playmate Jo Collins, though the marriage was brief).
His wanderlust and naivete were paradoxically charming and destructive. This from an incredibly fascinating piece by Pat Jordan on Belinsky in SI in 1972 (seriously, a must read).
“My problem was simple, Babe,” he says, staring straight ahead. “I heard music nobody else heard. I remember once in the Texas League when the team bus stopped in Veracruz so we could eat. All the players went into the restaurant except me. I thought I heard music down the street, so I went looking for it. I found a two-piece jazz band playing on the sidewalk in front of a bar. I listened for a while, and when they went inside, I followed them. I had a few drinks and then left. I had every intention of returning to that bus until I ran into another jazz band. I followed them into a bar, too. What I didn’t know was that all these bars hired jazz bands to lure customers inside. Man, after that bar, it seemed like every step I took there were these buglers waiting for me. I woke up six days later in a hotel room in Acapulco. I had a sponsor. This blonde Mexican—she had to be blonde, right!—was sitting by the bed saying, ‘Belinsky! Belinsky! I make you great yanqui bullfighter! But first we must change your name.’ I said, ‘Sure, Babe, we’ll change it to Lance. Lance Belinsky, how’s that?'”
After such a promising start with the Angels, he quickly came crashing down to earth, never to rise again. A month after his no-hitter, he was accused of pulling a woman out of his Cadillac and assaulting her. Two years later, he punched a 64-year old reporter. His days as an Angel were done. His next stop? Philadelphia. The Phillies were, like Belinsky, coming off a disastrous year, and manager Gene Mauch was hoping two negatives would equal a positive. Belinsky arrived with much fanfare, making the cover of SI before throwing his first pitch in Philly. The team was excited that Belinsky was bringing some LA glamour (and his on again off again girlfriend Mamie van Doren) to Philly.
Glamorous Mamie Van Doren was coming to Clearwater to root for ex-fiance Bo. During batting practice several players waited near the gate Mamie was supposed to enter. No luck. Once the game began, shiny heads kept popping up out of the dugout; shiny eyes scanned the stands for Mamie. No Mamie. The Phillies, left at the altar in last year’s pennant race, had been stood up again. Mamie sent word that the weather was too cold. The following day was overcast but mild. Again, no Mamie. “I wasn’t feeling groovy,” she explained. “This would never have happened,” Catcher Gus Triandos told Belinsky, “if we had won the pennant.”
Mauch wasn’t worried about Mamie van Doren, but he was hoping he could bring the former phenom back to the top of his game. He explained what happened in Philly in an excellent 2005 piece in LA Magazine (only the PDF is available, but it’s worth a read, and made the “Best Sports Writing of 2005” book, where I first came across it.)
“I went to a great deal of trouble to get Bo. People said, ‘You’re crazy.’ But I was pretty cocky and thought I could take on anybody.” Convinced that Belinsky’s fastball was his most effective pitch, the manager did his best to persuade him to abandon the showier but less consistent screwball…At first Mauch appeared to make headway. “Bo went to Houston and threw a 3-hitter relying on his fastball. Four days later, we get to Los Angeles, Bo gets two strikes on a hitter in the first inning, and here comes the goddamn screwball. I go to the mound and say, ‘One more of those and you go to the bench.’ The fastball wasn’t flashy enough for Bo. Flash meant a lot to him, ore than baseball did, which he saw as sort of an hors d’oeuvre to get things started-girls, parties.”
Belinsky refused to abandon the screwball, and was relegated to a role in the bullpen. It was in the Philly bullpen that he got hooked on amphetamines. Things went steadily downhill. He left Philly and went to Houston, then to Pittsburgh, then to Cincy. He never recaptured the magic, and ended his career with a 28-51 record and a 4.10 ERA (the ERA sounds respectable, but remember the 60s were a pitcher’s decade).
The above SI article portrays him as a alcoholic, and after that article, things got a lot worse before they got better. He graduated from booze to coke, and began hanging out with gangsters and pimps. He got remarried, but while wacked out of his mind, he shot his wife in the hip. He went in and out of rehab. After he and his wife divorced, he neglected his children. He found Jesus, tried to get clean, and often would go years without a drink. He spent the last decade of his life gainfully employed at a car dealership in Las Vegas. But he never fully escaped his demons. He tried to commit suicide in 1997, and four years later he died at age 64. Interestingly, he was buried 5 plots away from another 1960s star who never could escape his demons, Sonny Liston.
Another Philadelphia tragedy, if you missed it the first time, the Fast Rise and Tragic Fall of Tyrone “The Mean Machine” Everett.
Before he was an alleged criminal, stealing people’s money*, buying stolen cars*, and showing off his genitalia to housecleaners*, Lenny Dykstra was a hero. And it was on October 10th, 1993, that he sealed his fate as a Philadelphia immortal. The Phillies and Braves were tied at two games apiece, and the winner of Game 5 would be one win away from the World Series. It was a premier pitching matchup, as Curt Schilling faced off against Steve Avery, a 23-year old lefty phenom coming off an 18-6 year with a 2.94 ERA.
Schilling was masterful, and after 8 innings he had a shutout, giving up only 4 hits and allowing no runs. The Phillies went into the bottom of the 9th with a 3-0 lead. Then it all began to unravel. A leadoff walk by Jeff Blauser was followed by an error by Kim Batiste (the Phils defensive replacement at 3rd also had a crucial error in Game 1), and there were runners on first and second. Schilling was pulled and in came Wild Thing. Singles by McGriff, Terry Pendleton, and Francisco Cabrera tied the game at 3, and Mitch Williams almost earned his goat tag two weeks earlier than destiny would have it. But in the top of the 10th, Lenny Dykstra came up with one out and nobody on. The count went to 3-2, and Dykstra knew exactly what pitch was coming from reliever Mark Wohlers. The fastball came down the middle, and Dykstra took it for a ride over the right field wall.
Dykstra is the guy who always wants to do something and is never afraid to step up and shoulder the pressure.
“I’m a situation player,” Dykstra said. “I like those big situations. There are players who like to be on the spot and have to make the play, and there are players who fear those situations. I’ll just tell you, there is no fear here.
“I want to be like Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter were for that Mets team I played on back in ’86. I want to be the leader. I want to be the guy that everybody looks to in the tough situations. I want to be the one who gets it done when it has to be done. As far as I’m concerned, it’s never too late.”
“I thought we wanted to get something done against them right there in that inning,” Dykstra said. “We didn’t want to mess with them too long.”
The series would come back to Philly, where the Phils would knock off the Greg Maddux and the Braves in Game 6, with Dykstra scoring twice.
The Daily News had the headline today that read, “Worst Weekend Ever.” Is that true? Well, I decided to look back on some previous baseball disappointments to see what the football team did that weekend. As far as I can tell, it looks like this weekend was the worst ever.
-On Sunday, September 20th, 1964, the Eagles fell to the 49ers 28-24. It hardly dampened the spirits of Philadelphians, however. The baseball team beat the Dodgers that day and had a 6 1/2 game lead with but 12 games left to play, and World Series tickets were beinng printed. On September 21st, Chico Ruiz stole home, and by the next weekend they were in a freefall. It certainly didn’t help the city’s mood when the Eagles fell to the Browns 28-20 on September 27th, the same day that the Phils lost the lead in the National League. The next Sunday, the 4th of October, the Phillies beat the Reds 10-0. It was too late, however, as the Cards won that evening to win the National League. It was of small consolation that the Birds beat the Steelers 21-7 that day.
-Friday, October 7th is known as Black Friday in Philadelphia, as the Phillies choked in the 9th inning of Game 3 of the NLCS against the Dodgers in 1977. They had a 5-3 lead with 2 outs in the 9th. But then Vic Davillo laid down a perfect bunt, Luzinski ran into the wall, Sizemore misplayed the throw in, the umps blew a call at first, and suddenly it was a tie game. An errant pickoff throw put Davey Lopes of the Dodgers at 2nd, and Bill Russell drove him in with a single. The Dodgers would win the game 6-5, and win the series in 4 games. Many people think that the ’77 team was the best Phillies team ever. Two days later, the Eagles would defeat the Giants 28-10 to go 2-2 on the season. They would end the year 5-9.
-On October 26th, 1993, Mitch Williams gave up that infamous home run to Joe Carter, allowing the Blue Jays to win the World Series. There was nothing to distract Philly sports fans from their misery, either. The Eagles had a bye week that week.
September 21st is, quite simply, the darkest day in Philly Sports History. It was on this date, in 1964, that a mediocre utility infielder born with the name Hiraldo Sablon Ruiz did one of the stupidest things a baseball player can do, and in so doing started a chain of events that resulted in one of the most monumental collapses in the history of sports.
Born to a cigar maker in Cuba in 1938, at the time of the events in question he was a 25-year old rookie known as Chico. He is today more famous in Philadelphia than he is in his native city of Santo Domingo. If you don’t know who he is, ask your father. Or better yet, don’t. He seems happy. You’d hate to ruin his day. If your father is the salty sort, he’d probably just utter, “Chico F***ing Ruiz…I don’t want to talk about it.”
Ruiz is the gut punch in Philly that Bartman is in Chicago, and nearly as unlikely. He was a utility infielder with a .236 batting average when the Reds faced off with the Phillies that afternoon in 1964. The Phillies had Art Mahaffey on the mound, and a 6.5 game lead in the National League with 12 games to play. At 2:30 that afternoon, a young second baseman by the name of Pete Rose stepped into the batters box at Connie Mack Stadium, and the darkest day in Phils history began.
The 1964 Phils were a team whose whole was greater than the sum of its parts. The Giants had Mays, the Reds had Robinson, the Pirates had Clemente, the Braves had Aaron, the Phils had…Cookie Rojas. But it was a gritty team, the kind that Philadelphia falls madly in love with (see ’93 Phillies, 2001 Sixers). Go Phillies Go! bumper stickers started appearing on cars, and when World Series tickets went on sale in September, 90,000 were sold within hours. When their plane landed in Philly on September 19th after a West Coast swing, 2,000 fans had greeted them at the airport.
Mahaffey had his best stuff that day, and the game went into the 6th inning at double nil. With one out, Chico Ruiz got a single. Vada Pinson lined a screamer off of Mahaffey’s glove and into right field. Pinson tried to stretch it into a double, but Johnny Callison nailed him at 2nd with a perfect throw. And so, with two outs and Chico on 3rd, up to the plate stepped the dangerous Frank Robinson. Mahaffey quickly ran up two strikes on the right handed slugger, paying little attention to the Cuban dancing off of third base. Mahaffey wound up to deliver the pitch that he hoped would quell the Reds rally…and inexplicably Chico Ruiz broke for home.
If there is anything in baseball that is stupider than stealing home with 2 outs, 2 strikes, and a right hander at the plate, I can’t think of it off the top of my head. Mahaffey would explain why years later. “Chico Ruiz stole home with two outs and two strikes on Frank Robinson. Now you must realize that with two outs and two strikes, if you throw a strike Frank Robinson swings and knocks Chico Ruiz’s head off. It was just so stupid. Ruiz wasn’t even thinking. Robinson was so upset because he was one of the league’s leading hitters and near the lead in RBI and this guy’s stealing home with him hitting. It was just such a crazy thing. We didn’t know it was going to start a 10-game losing streak, but it couldn’t have started in more ridiculous way.”
Mahaffey was shaken by Rico’s brazen stupidity, perhaps scared that if he threw a strike he would be an accessory to an involuntary manslaughter. The ball went flying out of his hands, far outside of catcher Clay Dalrymple’s reach. Ruiz slid safely into home. There was a stone silence, as Phillies fans shook their heads in shock, and the Reds bench was dumbfounded by the stupidity of their 3rd basemen. “It was,” said Pete Rose years later, “The dumbest play I’ve ever seen. Except that it worked.” The Reds took a 1-0 lead, and they held it. The Phillies went 0-8 with runners in scoring position, and the game ended 1-0 in the Reds favor.
After the game, Phils manager Mauch would scream in the clubhouse, “Chico Fucking Ruiz beats us on a bonehead play of the year. Chico Fucking Ruiz steals home with Frank Robinson up! Can you believe it?” The next night, Mauch ordered his pitcher to drill him in the ribs. Ruiz smiled as he walked to first.
The “bonehead play of the year” started the monumental collapse of 1964. The Phils would lose their next 9 games as well, manager Gene Mauch would panic and start his two best pitchers (Bunning and Short) on two days rest 6 times, despite having Ray Culp waiting in the wings. The rest of the collapse is another story for another day. But today is a dark anniversary of the steal that started it all.
As for Chico Fucking Ruiz? In 1967, he became the first and only player to ever pinch hit for Johnny Bench. In 1969, he would utter one of the most hilarious sentences in baseball history. After starting for two straight weeks for injured shortstop Leo Cardenas, Ruiz stormed into the managers office with an ultimatum. “Bench me or trade me!” He was traded to the Angels, where he had a Gilbert Arenas moment with teammate Alex Johnson, allegedly pulling a gun on Johnson in the clubhouse. In 1972, he died in a car accident in San Diego. He was 33-years old. In his 8-year career, he stole home one time.
On September 20, 1992, the Phillies were floundering in last place in the NL East and facing the division-leading Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium. Curt Schilling and Randy Tomlin dominated for their respective clubs pushing the game into extras with a 2-2 score. The score remained knotted until the bottom of the 13th inning, when Jeff King smoked an RBI liner into center field off Keith Shepard scoring Cecil Espy and giving the Pirates a 3-2 win.
A 13-inning-win is exciting in and of itself, but this game will be remembered not for the score, but for a defensive play that occurred in the bottom of the 6th. With the game tied at 1, Andy Van Slyke led off the inning with a single to right field. Barry Bonds then hit a seeing-eye single between Juan Bell and Dave Hollins. With no outs and men on 1st and 2nd, Schill was in a bit of trouble as Jeff King stepped to the plate. King worked a full count then smoked a line drive towards Morandini. The second baseman leaped to make the catch, stepped on second to double Van Slyke, who was almost to third, then tagged Bonds, who had taken off from first.
Morandini’s was the first unassisted triple play in the majors since Ron Hansen made one for the Washington Senators in 1968. It was the first in the National League since Jimmy Cooney’s for the Cubs in ’27.
In terms of Philadelphia baseball history, Morandini was the first to accomplish the feat. No Philadelphia Athletic is credited with an unassisted triple play and the only other Phillie to make one is Eric Bruntlett, whose game-ending triple play sunk the Mets on August 23, 2009.
On August 17, 1957, Richie Ashburn showed the world his true colors. Although he is universally beloved in Philadelphia for his performance on the field and the relationship he forged with fans as a broadcaster, he was actually a belligerent grandmom hater. Just ask Alice Roth.
Mrs. Roth, the wife of Philadelphia Bulletin sports editor Earl Roth, decided to take in the Phillies-Giants game with her two grandsons, Preston and Tom, at Shibe Park. She and the two young boys were seated in the press box behind third base when Richie Ashburn stepped to the plate. Whitey, known as one of the best pitch-spoilers in baseball history, lined a foul right at Mrs. Roth. Unluckily, she was paying more attention to her grandsons than the game and didn’t see the ball coming. It struck her directly in the face and broke her nose.
As medical personnel rushed to take care of the bleeding and dazed Roth, the umpires called time. After she was attended to for a short while, play resumed. The next pitch came in and Ashburn did the unthinkable: He sent another foul ball to the left side that hit Alice…while she was lying on a stretcher being carried out of the section.
For another foul ball related article, check out the story of Robert Cotter.
On August 10, 1987, Kevin Gross secured his name in the annals of baseball history as more than just a pitcher with an MVP mustache. He forever joined ranks with the likes of John McGraw, Gaylord Perry, Joe Niekro and Whitey Ford as one of the biggest cheaters in the game.
The Phillies were leading the Cubs at the Vet by a score of 4-2 in the top of the 5th inning when Cubs manager Gene Michael had a word with home plate umpire Charlie Williams. Williams gathered the rest of his crew and paid a visit to Gross at the mound. They asked to see his glove and after a quick inspection, Michael’s suspicions were confirmed: Gross had a strip of sandpaper glued to the heel of his glove to scuff balls. Although no doctored balls were discovered, Gross was immediately ejected.
Even though he was caught red-handed, Gross wouldn’t admit to his wrongdoing after the game: “There was no reason to come out and check the glove for anything. I’m not saying anything.” After he was told the umps found the sandpaper, Gross said “I don’t know. I don’t need anything in my glove. I’ll have something to say tomorrow. I don’t know what’s going on.”
The day after the game, Gross was called into Commissioner Giamatti’s office for a 4-hour hearing after which the league handed down a 10-game suspension. By this time, Gross came around and admitted that he did have sandpaper in his glove, but that he “didn’t use it.” The pitcher said, “I was not scuffing any ball in the game last night.” Instead, he was “just fooling” with the sandpaper.
It was later reported that Gross, who had lost 5-6 mph on his fastball, was using sandpaper to compensate. Gene Michael actually suspected Gross was scuffing balls in a previous game that year, but waited until the August 10th match-up to raise the issue with umpires.
Gross obviously wasn’t paying much attention to the league if he thought he was going to get away with the stunt. The night Gross was caught, Twins pitcher Joe Niekro was in the midst of a 10-day suspension for having sandpaper and an emery board in his pocket during an August 3rd game against the Angels.
As an aside, I never understood why pitchers who scuffed balls or used foreign substances to get the ball to do wacky things are romanticized, while players who use steroids are vilified. Why is one considered part of baseball lore, while the other is downright evil? Pitchers who were notorious for doctoring balls are proud members of the Hall of Fame, but I don’t see Barry Bonds or Manny Ramirez ever being inducted. I’d argue that doctoring balls is just as bad, if not worse, than using performance enhancing drugs. Both are against the rules of the game, both are clearly unethical, and both allow the player to do things he couldn’t naturally do. However, while taking steroids may make you a little stronger, a little faster, and recover from injury in a little less time, it won’t make the ball do impossible things. Just because it’s nostalgic, doesn’t mean it’s okay.
Ted Kazanski (not to be confused with Kaczynski) didn’t have a stellar career in the majors. In his six-year career, all of which was spent as a Phillie, the utility infielder batted .217 with a total of 118 runs, 116 RBI, and 14 HR. But on August 8, 1956, Kazanski made a mark that no Phillie has since matched.
On this date 55 years ago, the Phillies were facing the New York Giants at Polo Grounds. The Phils were up 3-2 heading into the top of the 6th inning. Giants pitcher Jim Hearn, coaxed a leadoff ground out from Del Ennis and then gave up consecutive singles to Elmer Valo and Willie Jones. After Granny Hamner was intentionally walked, second baseman Ted Kazanski stepped to the plate with the based loaded and one out. Kazanski smoked a liner to the center field wall, which stood 483′ from home plate. Even with Willie Mays sprinting to the ball, the fact that Polo Grounds boasted the deepest center field wall of any stadium in major league history gave Kazanski all the time he needed to round the bases and score.
Kazanski was the 4th, and last, Phillie to hit an inside-the-park granny. The others were Irish Meusel (1918), George Harper (1924) and interestingly one of the guys who crossed the plate before Kazanski: Willie Jones (1951). Five Philadelphia Athletics accomplished the rare feat, two of whom did it twice: Harry Davis (1902 and 1904), Danny Murphy (1904 and 1908), Stuffy McInnis (1911), Lee Gooch (1917) and Ferris Fain (1947).
On July 28th, the Phillies faced Tim Lincecum and the Giants and fell 4-1. They haven’t lost since. The Phils went on to sweep the Pirates and Rockies in three-game sets and have taken the first 3 of 4 against the Giants, winning 9 consecutive games. Today, the Phillies are once again up against Luiz the cab-driver with Roy Oswalt looking to extend the team’s win streak to double-digits.
Nine wins in a row is nice, but it’s not even close to the team record. That record, 16 wins without a loss, belongs to the dapper gentlemen pictured above of the 1887 Philadelphia Quakers. On September 15th, the Quakers were stuck in 4th place mired 9.5 games behind the Detroit Wolverines. They then got hot, really hot.
The Quakers swept the Indianapolis Hoosiers, the Wolverines, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, the Washington Nationals and the Boston Beaneaters for 13 straight victories. The final series of the season was a 4-game set at the original Polo Grounds against the New York Giants. The Quakers took the first two, tied the third and then won the last game of the series and the season on October 8th. This capped what Major League Baseball considers a 16-game winning streak, but what the hockey-guy in me wants to call a 17-game unbeaten streak. No matter the name, the streak propelled the Quakers to a 2nd place finish in the National League.
The 2011 Phillies have some work to do if they want to push the franchise record for consecutive wins past 16 games. In addition to beating Lincecum today, they will need to sweep the Dodgers in L.A., sweep the Nationals at home and take the first game of the D-Backs series. It won’t be easy, but if any team can do it, the real dream team in this town can.
Note: The Phillies’ longest winning streak in the modern-era is 13 games, which was earned in 1977.
On August 5th, 1921, the Phillies travelled to Pittsburgh to take on the Pirates. The Phils were just starting that dreadful period from 1919-1947 when they would finish last or next to last 24 times. The Pirates, meanwhile, were leading the National League at the time (they would finish 2nd to the Giants after a late season swoon). The Pirates would win the game, 8-5. But what made the game special was that it was the first one every covered on radio. And though nobody knew it at the time (people thought baseball would be boring on the radio), they were starting a revolution. The man who called the game that afternoon was 26-year old Pittsburgh DeeJay Harold Arlin (left), who announced by talking into a telephone from a box seat in the crowd. Here’s the full story from explorepahistory.com:
On the afternoon of Friday, August 5, 1921, Harold Arlin sat down in a box seat behind home plate to watch the Pirates defeat the Phillies, 8-5. He wasn’t there just to watch, though; he was also there to tell fans beyond the ballpark what he was seeing. When he opened his mouth to speak into the telephone he was holding, Arlin changed the way Americans would enjoy baseball, and indeed, every other sport, forever…
“We were looking for programming,” Arlin recalled years later, “and baseball seemed a natural. I went to Forbes Field and set up shop.” The operation, a hand-held telephone connected to a transmitter in a box behind home plate, had a few glitches, though. “Nobody told me I had to talk between pitches,” he conceded, and when he did, his distinctive deep voice did not always come through. “Sometimes the transmitter didn’t work. Often the crowd noise would drown us out. We didn’t know whether we’d talk into a total vacuum or whether somebody would hear us.”
Plenty of “somebodies” did, and sports” broadcasting became a sensation. Radio sets flew off the shelves, and fans, intrigued by what they were hearing, arrived at Forbes Field in record numbers. The game took on a new dimension as Arlin learned to paint images with his words and infuse drama into the proceedings. For the first time, baseball fans could be in two places at once: in the stands and in their living rooms. It no longer became necessary to make a trip to the ballpark to take in a game; the game, instead, could come to you.
Arlin got out of the radio game in 1925, but he did make a rather remarkable reappearance in 1972. His grandson Steve played several seasons for the Padres. In 1972, the Pads came to Pittsburgh to take on the Bucs. Arlin, by now a 77-year old man, got to call a few innings of his grandson playing baseball, in the same city where he had called the first game. How cool is that?