The Los Angeles/California/Anaheim Angels have played almost 60 seasons of baseball. As the baseball world is suspended due to circumstances outside its control, it is time to look back at the history of this organization. There have been many talented players to put on the uniform, and we at Crashing the Pearly Gates wish to highlight the best who have ever represented the Angels. Without further ado, here we go!
Bo Belinsky was the first national superstar for the fledgling Los Angeles Angels, bastard sons of Chavez Ravine, second team in a one-team town. Belinsky had a magic moment (pitching the first no-hitter in Angel history – and the first one ever at Dodger Stadium) that allowed his over-the-top rebel image to capture the imagination of just about every sports reporter and, because of his fearless association with glamorous starlets, every entertainment reporter as well. Well into the 1980s, no anniversary of his no-no could pass without an extensive retelling of his fabled exploits – most of them off the field. He was an Angel great when Angel greats could be counted on one hand.
These rankings are compiled mostly by stats, but this one takes a much wider view – would the Angels be the Angels without certain players? From a statistical point of view, Belinsky is a blip on the team radar. For many years after they both were long retired, the mere mention of Sandy Koufax would cause a baseball fan to almost bow with reverence, while the mention of Belinsky would elicit at least a cackle of delight, rolling of one’s eyes optional. That he was the antithesis of hallowed tradition set up this franchise’s iconoclastic inferiority complex that was to last right up until October of 2002. That we could always claim the first no hitter in Dodger Stadium for ourselves gave us the rare bragging rights that pugnacious fans of the underdog hold onto like uncashed winning lottery tickets.
But he was also infamous as a ladies’ man (he dated Ann-Margaret, Connie Stevens, Tina Louise, Mamie Van Doren, as well as marrying Playboy centerfold Jo Collins) and a pool shark, all of which added to that ineffable quality some players achieve: LORE. Bo Belinsky was the proverbial million-dollar arm with a ten-cent head, but it made for great copy and pushed the status of the franchise higher than what could be accomplished in the W-L columns. Belinsky won his first three major league starts, and pitched that first major league no-hitter on the West Coast against the Orioles on May 5, of 1962.
All of this generated headlines. Press is the greatest advertising. Bo Belinsky can be seen as a forerunner to Elon Musk in a lot of ways. Musk famously has never spent a dime on advertising, using the press to get attention, seemingly for himself and yet a top brand has been built – the nascent Angels franchise entered the league with a companion replacement Washington Senators (who eventually became the Texas Rangers) and were, basically, nobodies. The antics of Belinsky on and off the field can never be underestimated in positioning the franchise itself as a known entity across baseball. The Angels may have played in the shadow of the Brooklyn Landgrabbers here but nationally, the tales of Wild Man Bo built shareholder value early upon which the franchise was built. Until Nolan Ryan became a perennial strikeout king in the mid 1970s, no player was the symbol of the Angels in the national consciousness like Belinsky.
He also frequently couldn’t find the plate, leading the league in walks in 1962 with 122, placing third that year in hits allowed per nine innings, and second in hit batters (13). Belinsky pitched 14 complete games, 11 in an Angels uniform, but alongside his starlet-studded adventures off the field, he was probably best known for one episode that eventually got him traded. A terrible hitter with the bat (he had a .162 average even in his best offensive year, 1962), Belinsky knocked unconscious Los Angeles Times sportswriter Braven Dyer, then 64 years old, following a misunderstanding on a story Dyer didn’t even write. The team immediately DFA’d Bolinsky to then-AAA Hawaii, and set out to look for a replacement, finding one in the then-Houston Colt .45s’ George Brunet. Belinsky’s Angels career ended with a trade to the Phillies for Rudy May — who would go on to be a mainstay in the Angels’ late 60’s rotations — and Costen Shockley, who played only a single year for the Halos.
For his part, Belinsky regretted what happened, stumbling into alcohol dependency after his career ended in 1970, recovering, and working for a Las Vegas car agency. “I came to the Angels as a kid who thought he had been pushed around by life, by minor league baseball,” Belinsky told the Times years later. “I was selfish and immature in a lot of ways, and I tried to cover that up. I went from a major league ballplayer to hanging on to a brown bag under the bridge, but I had my moments and I have my memories. If I had the attitude about life then that I have now, I’d have done a lot of things differently. But you make your rules and you play by them. I knew the bills would come due eventually, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to cover them.”