Tuesday, September 11, 2012

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By Rob Goldman - AngelsWin.com Historical Writer

Dean Chance didn’t want to be embarrassed. He knew some of the players invited back for the 50th anniversary first ball ceremony at Angels Stadium had been bouncing their pitches to the plate and he wasn’t about to do the same.

He figured the reason the honorees were coming up short were the bulky jackets the Angels had presented them before going out. The coats had been designed expressively for the event.  Ornate in Angels red and sporting the 50th Anniversary logo, they were nice but cumbersome and interfered with the pitchers delivery.

As a former Cy Young Award winner, Chance took his mound duties seriously. He wasn’t about to short arm the ball and moments before the event told VP of Communications, Tim Mead, he was breaking with tradition and not going with the jacket.

This was bad news for Mead whose job it was for the ceremonies to go smoothly. Fortunately for Mead, a mutual friend, former 1960’s Angels clubhouse man Bob Case, was in Chance’s entourage. Since Mead had no luck convincing Chance to wear the jacket he left it up to Case to sway him.


Chance insisted on warming up beforehand and as the scene moved to the batting tunnel adjacent to the Angels dugout, Case made his move.

“Dean, you should wear it,” Case pleaded, “everybody else has.”

“Get the @#$% away from me!” Chance barked.

 Surprised by his friend’s gruff response Case looked over at Mead who waved his hands and whispered, “Just leave him alone Bob.”

It suddenly dawned on those present why Chance had been considered one of the most dominant pitchers of his generation. His single mindedness and will to compete had never been more evident. It was obvious why Chance had been named the 1960’s Sporting News A.L. Pitcher of the Decade.

It was also obvious Chance wasn’t going to wear the coat. As the 71 year old paced off the distance from the mound to the plate all Mead and Case could do was watch.

Chance stepped about 20 paces and when he felt had the distance right turned to another friend.

“Get in there Scotty!” he demanded.

Chance had chosen the first Angels batboy Scotty Keane to catch him that night. As he and Scotty warmed up nobody said a word. Chance’s game face was on and no one dared interfere.

 “Lets go!” Chance barked when he was finally ready. As they departed, Case, who was still holding the jacket, gave Mead a final look but Mead shook his head. He knew better then to approach Chance again and face his wrath.

Back in the dugout Chance weighed the odds of pitching from the rubber or the grass. He had heard the grounds crew mention how a few of the honorees had chewed up the mound before the game so he decided on the latter.

On Mead’s cue Chance and Scotty headed for the field. In the corner of the dugout Bob looked on hopefully in case his friend might have a change of heart but it was not to be. Taking the gold ball from the pocket of a borrowed glove, Chance stretched his arm and as the PA announcer listed off his achievements wound up and lobbed an inside strike to Scotty.

As Scotty ran the ball back to Chance the crowd cheered. Pocketing the ball, Chance headed back to the dugout and that’s when Case made his move. Charging the field he caught up with his friend just as the FSN camera came in tight for a close up. As the light turned red Case flipped the jacket over Chance’s wide shoulders.

Everybody was happy. Chance got his strike, Scotty caught the ball, Mead got on the jacket and Angels fans got to see one of their all time greats fire a final pitch.

But to those present before hand they had seen something else.  They had caught a rare glimpse why Chance had been one of the most formidable competitors of his era and one of the most feared pitchers in the game.

***

Dean Chance will be forever linked with Bo Belinsky. Although this latter-day Butch and Sundance make for nostalgic and entertaining conversation, it overshadows Chance’s place among baseball’s elite pitchers in the mid-1960s. Teammates and opponents alike agree that Chance was one of the most intimidating and overpowering pitchers in baseball. Facing the big right-hander in the batter’s box was the baseball equivalent of receiving a root canal.

In 1964 alone, Chance put together one the most incredible seasons in recent history. More than four decades later, the numbers are still astounding. In a league-best 278 1/3 innings, he allowed just 194 hits while striking out 207 batters. More impressive was his miniscule, Major League-leading 1.65 ERA, which was nine-tenths of a point better than Sandy Koufax’s mark the same year. In posting 20 wins, Chance tossed 15 complete games and 11 shutouts. Incredibly, he gave up only seven home runs the entire season, an average of one every 40 innings. Perhaps even more remarkable was his impeccable record against the defending World Champion New York Yankees

“I pitched 50 innings against the Yankees and gave up 14 hits, 13 of which were singles.” Chance recalls, The one home run they hit that year was a shot by Mickey Mantle who hit the top of the fence in Chavez Ravine. If it wasn’t for that, they wouldn’t have scored anything, all year.”

Phil Pepe of the New York World Telegram and Sun, summed up Dean’s domination best when he wrote, “It’s Chance, not CBS, who owns the Yankees. Lock, stock and barrel.” Albie Pearson, who played behind Chance in centerfield, never saw anything quite like it: “When Dean pitched, the Yankees became a bunch of guys in pantyhose. … They had no chance.”

 “It wasn’t enough to just be loose [against the Yankees]. You had to psyche up,” Chance recalls. “Shoot, they were the Yankees! You could never let up against those guys. Maris never got a home run off me and I didn’t have any trouble with Mantle. I just tried to overpower him.”

“‘Amazing,’ is how I’d describe him,” says Bob Rodgers of his battery mate, Chance. “I never saw a pitcher so overpowering. The greatest hitters in baseball—Killebrew, Maris, and Mantle—would just shake their heads in disbelief. Some were visibly scared—he was that overpowering.”

First baseman Lee Thomas agreed. “I know Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax had some great years, but that one season was probably as good as anybody ever had.”

For Chance, the ’64 season began inauspiciously. A blister on the right index finger of his throwing hand limited him to bullpen duty. By the All-Star break, he had only five wins and 4 saves. But his first half wasn’t without it’s thrilling moments, such as his 14-innings of shutout ball on June 6 against the Yankees. Chance considers that marathon the greatest game he ever pitched. It impressed Yankee manger Ralph Houk enough to have Chance start on the mound in that year’s All-Star game at Shea Stadium.

With the painful blister fully healed, Chance went on a tear in the second half of the season, winning 15 of his last 20 games and posting eight shutouts. His 20th win on Sept. 25 was his sixth 1-0 decision of the season, tying him with three others, for the most 1-0 wins in one season. His 20 victories represented nearly a quarter of all the Angels 82 wins that season. And at age 23, Chance became the youngest pitcher ever to win the prestigious Cy Young Award.

Chance says that a number of things fell together for him in ’64, and that his teammates deserve equal credit for his numbers. “I got the breaks, every good thing that could happen, happened for me,” recalls Chance. “Instead of getting beat 1-0, I would get the win 1-0. Instead of going through for a hit, a ball would go for a double play. Bobby Knoop had a tremendous year behind me at second, and made a lot of great plays.”

Chance also credits cavernous Chavez Ravine with its high mound and cool night air for keeping the ball in the park. “I only gave up seven home runs that year. That’s the biggest feat I think.”

Chance remained an Angels until 1966, when the club, in quest of some badly needed offense, traded him to the Twins for Jimmie Hall, Don Mincher and Pete Cimino. The trade would came back to haunt the Halos as he went on to win 20 games in 1967, started the All Star game, striking out both Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente in the first inning and firing a no hitter.

For his cumulative effort with the Twins and Angels, Chance was awarded the American Leagues, Right Handed Pitcher of the Decade of the 1960’s, by the Sporting News.

Chance, who is President of the International Boxing Association, still resides on his working farm in Wooster, Ohio where he was born and raised.
           
© Once They Were Angels-Robert Goldman 2006, 2012
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