Monday, October 12, 2015

By Rob Goldman, Historical Writer - 

As he peered out toward the pitcher’s mound on a sunny July day in 1964, Mickey Mantle was a bundle of nerves. Hours earlier, he had rehearsed this moment in his head; then he even talked about it during batting practice.

Albie Pearson overheard Mantle talking to Roger Maris behind the batting cage: “When Chance pitches, I want to go hide.”

The former home run king shook his head in morose commiseration, for Maris was apprehensive himself about going up against Dean Chance. In three years, Maris hadn’t hit a single home run against the Angels’ pitching ace. But the M&M boys weren’t the only Yankees with that problem. It seemed the entire team couldn’t hit Chance. 

Against the Yankees in 1964, Chance was a pitcher possessed, allowing only 14 hits in 50 innings against the defending American League champs. Of his five starts against the boys from the Bronx, he had thrown four complete games. Ironically, in the only game he didn’t finish—which was also the one game the Angels didn’t win—Chance threw 14 innings, outlasting Yankees hurler Jim Bouton, who lasted just 13 frames. Over those 14 innings, Chance allowed just three hits, struck out 12, and walked only two batters. He was relieved in the top of the 15th—the game still scoreless—and the Angels pen promptly allowed two Yankees to score. 50 innings pitched against New York: one run allowed.

Mantle dug his spikes into the box, attempting as best he could to concentrate. If push came to shove, he could always try to bunt for a hit. He had successfully done that a couple times against Chance; trouble was, the present situation didn’t warrant a bunt.

The count was 1-1, but Mantle never really saw the two previous pitches. Chance’s release point was hidden in a tangle of flying fingers and gesticulating movements. A precursor to the Hideki Nomo and Luis Tiant school of pitching—where a pitcher’s “wind up” is taken to the absolute extreme—Chance’s unorthodox style showed his back to the hitter first, then hid the ball so it was impossible to pick up. To top it off, he glared at the batter menacingly, almost as if he were an assassin on strict orders. His was the kind of the half-crazed, half-in-control look the hangman gives his victim a second before the chute is pulled. And that’s what Mantle saw when he looked at Dean Chance on the mound—nothing but a six-foot-four tower of holy terror.

Mantle turned to catcher Buck Rodgers and shrugged his shoulders. “This is a waste of time, Buck. I got no chance.”

Rodgers couldn’t help but chuckle to himself. There wasn’t a hitter in the whole league that didn’t feel the same way. In ’64, no one could hit Chance. Rodgers set up inside and called for the curveball. Chance went into his delivery. It was all arms and legs, and Mantle missed the release point entirely and whiffed over the ball by a half a foot for his second strike. Mantle plaintively stared over at the dugout at his teammates, almost pleading for someone to help him. In the on-deck circle, Tom Tresh turned away. He had no answers.

Mantle regrouped. “Concentrate!” he told himself. “Get your head in the game!” Rodgers called for the fastball outside. Mantle picked it up about a third of the way in. The pitch was sinking, clearly a ball. Mantle swung anyway, dipping his shoulder and swinging recklessly, with all of his might.

Forty years later, Rodgers recalled the moment. “[The pitch] was about six inches off the ground, and he golfed it over the fence like a seven iron. That’s the only pitch Mantle could hit off Chance. If he had got it up another foot, he would have blown it right by him.” 

Rounding first base, Mantle knew he was the luckiest son of a bitch in Chavez Ravine. His megawatt smile lit up the stadium. As he jogged past second, Mantle glanced over at Chance, who was glaring at the Mick like he had just caught him keying Bo Belinsky’s candy apple red Cadillac in the parking lot. Mantle’s smile melted away, and that familiar fear bubbled back up. He almost felt like apologizing. 

Chance covered his face with his glove and loosed a primeval scream from the depths of his soul. Mantle hurried along. He knew he had cheated the hangman. For now, anyway.

It was the only run that Chance would allow against the Yankees that season.

* * *

Dean Chance will be forever linked with Bo Belinsky. Although this latter-day Butch and Sundance make for nostalgic and entertaining discussion, 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 righthander in the batter’s box was the baseball equivalent of receiving a root canal.

In 1964 alone, Chance put together one of 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.

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.” 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. “Shit, 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 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 four saves. But his first half wasn’t without its 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 manager Ralph Houk enough to have Chance start on the mound in that year’s All-Star game at Shea Stadium. 

It was his first time performing on a national stage, and the hard-throwing Midwesterner didn’t disappoint. In front more than 50,000 people and a nationally televised audience, Chance threw three innings of shutout ball. “I struck out Dick Groat to start the game and then got Roberto Clemente out on a hanging slider,” Chance recalls. “His eyes lit up like a light bulb and he [swung out of his shoes], but he missed it. In three innings they got no runs, just one infield hit and one other.” 

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 September 25 was his sixth1-0 decision of the season, tying him with Walter Johnson, Joe Bush, Carl Hubbell, and Ewell Russell 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 and the 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.” 


Born Wilmer Dean Chance (after Dizzy Dean) on June 1, 1941, in Wooster, Ohio, Chance was about as far removed from America’s national past time as one could get. He was using his right arm to milk cows long before he learned how to throw a baseball with it. The backbreaking chores he performed every day on his father’s farm instilled in Chance the work ethic he used to blaze a path to sports stardom. Chance’s hero as a youngster was another rural farm boy who made a name for himself while pitching for the Cleveland Indians—Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller. It didn’t take long for Chance to follow in Feller’s footsteps. 

At Wooster’s Northwestern High, Chance was all-state in both basketball and baseball, but it was on the diamond where he really shined. In three years at Northwestern, Chance compiled a mind-boggling 51-1 record, with 18 no-hitters. In his senior year, Dean averaged 14 strikeouts a game and marched his team to the state championship. Twelve of the 16 major league clubs offered Chance a contract, and he also attracted more than 100 college scholarship offers in basketball.

Chance’s competitive nature was nurtured by a local nemesis who, like Chance, went on to national prominence in sports. Future Indiana University head basketball coach Bobby Knight lived nearby, and the two faced off numerous times on the court and ball field. “When we were growing up, the two of us played baseball and basketball against each other,” Chance recalls, “and the lesson we learned was that it meant something to win. In our day, winning was everything. If you lost, you felt like crying.”

Chance signed with the Baltimore Orioles for $30,000 a year, and was playing at the AA level when Angels general manager Fred Haney selected the 20-year-old in the 1960 expansion draft. “I always felt I had a beaut,” Haney later said about Chance. After being drafted by the Angels, Chance began the season with their AAA affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth, where he quickly learned the finer points of pitching. 

In 1962, skipper Bill Rigney brought him to spring training, where Chance earned a spot in the bullpen to start the season. Impressed with his winning attitude and how he overpowered the opposition, Rigney soon moved him into the starting rotation. Chance didn’t disappoint: He went on to win 14 games, save eight others, and post a 2.96 ERA. For his efforts, he was voted the league’s best rookie pitcher. 

The following year, Chance and the Angels struggled due to anemic hitting. “I figured I was a cinch to win 20 that year. Hell, I damn near lost 20,” Chance recalls. “I lost 18 that year, and in those games we only scored 21 runs. I got shut out 11 times! They never even scored a run for me.”

However, according to Chance, the Angels’ struggles at the plate actually made him a better pitcher. Pitching without the comfort of a big lead forced him to focus. “If you have  a big lead, you don’t work as hard,” he says. “Of my 33 career shutouts, 13 were 1-0 [decisions], because I was bearing down all the time.”

In 1964, with the emergence of shortstop Jim Fregosi, the Angels fared better. He and rookie Bobby Knoop gave the Angels a solid middle infield. Buck Rodgers, who in ’62 set a record for most games caught by a rookie catcher with 155, blossomed into a solid handler of pitchers and provided the team some needed stability behind the plate. The Angels finished with a respectful 82-80 record and a fifth-place finish behind the Yankees, who narrowly edged the White Sox and the Orioles to capture their fifth straight pennant and 14th over the previous 16 years.

`Chances’ exploits on the mound in ’64 drew inevitable comparisons to Sandy Koufax, who ruled the Southern California market in the early Sixties. The Angels believed they had someone in Chance who compared to the great lefty, and played it to the hilt. The L.A. press tried to turn the two into rivals, but Chance says any comparison of him to the Dodger great is ridiculous. “He was so much better than me, it was unreal. As far as pitching goes, there was no one even close to Sandy Koufax. … He was just unhittable. He’s the best ever—trust me,” relates Chance.

Chance’s unorthodox delivery actually was more like that of the Dodgers’ other great hurler, Don Drysdale, than that of Koufax. During his windup, Dean would turn his back to the batter, then rear back with a wicked, fully extended motion. Chance maintains that the stress on his arm may have cost him a few years, but he has no regrets. “My delivery was a lot like Drysdale or Ewell Blackwell. We came from the side, which helped us; but it’s also very, very hard on you.”

Asked if Rigney overthrew him, Chance’s answer is forthright. “Rig gave me the ball and he had confidence in me. I’d pitch relief or start, it didn’t matter. Nowadays, if they get a great arm they want to preserve it. Back when I played, I didn’t think about it. I just wanted the ball.”

Along with his uncanny delivery, Chance’s icy demeanor allowed him to unhinge the hitters’ psyche. “Everybody was afraid of me. I don’t see too well out of my left eye and I had to fight to have control all the time. I was aware of what I was doing to these guys, and I used it to my advantage. My ball would sink when I threw it across the seams. It would really ride.” 

His combative nature combined with his hatred of losing made for a volatile personality. Eli Grba claims that Chance despised losing so much that he still broods over losses 40 years after the fact. “In early 1962, he came in as a reliever and blew a game for me that he’s never let me forget,” says Grba. “A few years go by and the first thing out of his mouth is, ‘You know Grubsi…’ I tell him, ‘Dean, don’t talk about that game. It’s ancient history.’ He says, ‘Yeah, but I had that son of a bitch and he hit it to right field when I should have had him.’ I say, ‘Who cares? That’s a hundred years ago.’ … He can’t let it go. When he reminded me that he had 18 complete games one year, I almost fainted. He had hellacious stuff.”

First baseman Lee Thomas echoes Grba’s sentiments. “He would have cut your heart out if he could have got you out. He was mean, knew what he wanted to do, and he did it. He had a violent wind-up. After he threw the ball, he came across his body like a whip. He threw so hard I thought his arm was going to fall off. He had a heavy sinking fastball that just ate you up. Right-handed hitters were petrified of him.” 

Albie Pearson adds: “He was wild and mean, and it didn’t matter if you were Mickey Mantle, Bill Skowron, or anybody else. You’d better be loose because Dean would knock your head off as soon as look as you. …Nobody wanted to get near him. Outwardly they would never let it show. They are big leaguers, they all come out there with hoopla and say, ‘Let’s go for it, let’s beat ’em today.’ But down in their heart of hearts they’re saying, ‘You know what? I don’t want to be here right now. I don’t like this guy.’ They would hit him on occasion, but in those few years with the Angels, 1962-’66, I can’t remember anyone that [earned] any more respect on that mound than Dean Chance. He was one of the best pitchers I’ve ever seen in a short period of time.” 

Chance’s free spirit and competitive nature could infuriate his teammates. Tom Satriano recalls one game where Dean’s actions came back to hurt him: “I was catching for Dean on the mound in Detroit, and Norm Cash was up. I put down curveball and Dean shakes me off. I signal for a fastball and he shakes me off. Then I put down the curveball and again he shakes me off. What’s crazy is he only had two pitches! Finally, he throws a fastball and Cash hits it over the moon and we lose the game. Next day in the paper, the big headline reads: ‘CATCHER CALLS THE WRONG PITCH.’ You should have heard Fregosi. I mean, you talk about standing up for somebody! He was right there behind me. He said to Chance, ‘You stupid shit! You could have shaken your head one more time. Hell, you shook it enough! Don’t blame Satriano! He didn’t throw the pitch, you threw the pitch!’ That was Dean…”

Satriano caught for both Chance and Belinsky, and claims they were polar opposites when it came to temperament and demeanor on the mound. “Bo didn’t flaunt his off-the-field escapades at all. Not so with Dean. He was more verbose about it,” says Satriano. “Bo was a team player, a player’s player. Dean was more for Dean. But Dean just had amazing ability, while Bo had talent but tended to take it easy.”

Lee Thomas played two seasons with Chance and remembers him as a mixed bag—an intimidator one minute and a free spirit the next. In Palm Springs, he generally presented his kinder, gentler side. “Every spring training Dean brought his home-made ice cream making machine and made ice cream for all of us,” recalls Thomas. “Dean was a fun-loving guy and kind of goofy. I’d call him a flake, but a kind-hearted one.” 

Despite Chance’s best efforts, the Angels’ woes continued. In 1965, their hitting was once again dismal. The team went 75-87 for the season and finished in seventh place. The only bright spots were the continued excellence of Fregosi, then coming into his own as a perennial All-Star, and Knoop, who continued his brilliant glove work in the field. Chance was still a respectable 15-10, with a 3.15 ERA. 

As the Angels kept losing, the crowds diminished. There were times when weeknight crowds at Chavez Ravine were less than 3,000 people. Chance was growing tired of pitching his guts out only to lose by a run. One afternoon he was so disgusted after a loss to the Yankees that he blew out of the clubhouse. It wasn’t until he was on the freeway that he realized he had forgotten something back at the ballpark. 

“I had a no-hitter going into the eighth inning,” recalls Chance. “Bobby Richardson was the hitter; two outs, runners on second and third. I shook Rodgers off twice. I wanted to throw a slider, and the little shit Richardson hit a little dinky line drive on the chalk line for a double. I lose the no-hitter and the game, 2-1. I was so damned mad I left early, got in the car, and headed for home. I drove for a while before I realized I had left my wife and son at the ballpark.” 

* * *

Gene Autry had decided in 1963 that there was no way he would renew the club’s option to play at Chavez Ravine. He had studied possible sites, with Long Beach and Anaheim most often mentioned as the Angels’ likely new home. Long Beach was considered the front-runner until city officials insisted that the team be called the Long Beach Angels. Autry knew that mouthful would be a publicist’s nightmare, and with the quiet support of Mayor Rex Coons he began to lean toward Anaheim. Orange County was one of the fastest growing counties in the United States and had huge potential. Only 45 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, Autry felt Anaheim would be perfectly suited for major league baseball. Long-term growth forecasts were favorable, and its proximity to Los Angeles guaranteed a huge fan base. On March 10, 1964, the Angels and the City of Anaheim unofficially joined forces. A few weeks later, county supervisors voted to finance the stadium and formalized the deal. 

In August of ’64, Chance and an Angels photographer drifted down to the proposed site in Anaheim to take a few publicity photos. Gazing at the endless rows of alfalfa and citrus trees, it was hard for the pitcher to visualize a world-class ballpark there. The site was tranquil and rural, with tall eucalyptus trees acting as windbreaks and an occasional horse prancing into view. To the ace pitcher, it was more like Ohio, and certainly a far cry from Chavez Ravine. 

On August 31, wearing hard hats and holding shovels whose handles were made out of baseball bats, Autry, Anaheim mayor Frank Paulson, and developer Del Webb broke ground for the new park. Autry was beaming his best singing cowboy smile, as this marked his first step toward true independence. The deal included a 35-year lease and called for the team to be renamed the California Angels. Since Anaheim Stadium would be municipally owned, it would serve as a multi-purpose facility—something that would eventually come back to haunt the team. 

Right after the ceremony, a platoon of earthmovers began leveling the vegetation, and within weeks the outline of the stadium and its giant parking lot took form. Webb, who had backed Autry at the 1960 winter meetings when the deal for the team was approved, received his just reward. Not only was he commissioned to build the new $24 million structure, he was also hired to construct the new Anaheim Convention Center across from Disneyland about a mile away.

The stadium was finished in two years, and when it opened in the spring of 1966, it was considered one of the finest facilities in baseball. Unlike Dodger Stadium, the seats were close to the action. Fan friendly and safe, it was a comfortable place to watch a game. On days when the smog was sparse, magnificent vistas of the Saddleback Mountains were visible beyond the outfield. A giant A-shaped scoreboard was placed in left field and the looming structure soon became a landmark. Players and fans alike loved “The Big A,” considered the stadium’s focal point. 

On April 9, 1966, Chance became the first Angels pitcher to take the mound at the team’s new home. “I threw the first pitch ever in Anaheim Stadium,” recalls Chance. “We played the Giants in an exhibition game. Hal Lanier was the hitter. Emmett Ashford was the umpire, and he gave it the big strike. Before the game, Walt Disney put on a big show.  It was a tremendous day.” 

Ten days later, the White Sox spoiled the real home opener by beating the Angels 3-1. Angels leftfielder Rick Reichardt—who had already made history months earlier when he signed with the Angels for an unprecedented $200,000 bonus—hit the first  home run in Anaheim Stadium. He was the last of the big “bonus babies,” as one year later baseball instituted the amateur draft.

Chance played out the year at the new ballpark, but to him it wasn’t the same as Chavez Ravine. Anaheim held none of the glory that Los Angeles did, especially now that Belinsky’s time with the team was history. Chance went 12-17 in 1966, posting a solid 3.08 ERA in a team-best 259 2/3 innings, but weak hitting yet again made for a long season. The team finished sixth, two games under .500. But on the bright side, attendance jumped from 500,000 the year before to the magical one million mark. Autry had been correct: Orange County was indeed hungry for baseball. 

With the Angels desperate for hitting, Chance became expendable. In December, Haney dealt him to the Minnesota Twins for outfielder Jimmie Hall, first baseman Don Mincher, and relief pitcher Pete Cimino. Chance thought going to the Twins was a blessing in disguise. He desperately wanted to play for a winner, and with sluggers like Bob Allison, Harmon Killebrew, and a sensational rookie named Rod Carew, the Twins promised to be a contender. Asked about the trade almost four decades later, Chance replies, “Hell, I was happy! I hated to lose. I only won 12 games in ’66, and [the Angels] couldn’t score any runs.”

With the departure of Chance, the Belinsky era officially ended. And with Pearson retiring, the only players left from 1961 were Rodgers, Fregosi, Satriano, and pitcher Fred Newman. The times were indeed a-changin’.

The trade was in fact a shot in the arm for Chance, still a relative young pup at 26 years old. He was simply spectacular in 1967, going 20-14 with a 2.73 ERA. He tossed his first no-hitter that season, to boot. Chance was named the American League Comeback Player of the Year. 

The Angels were competitive as well—coming in fifth, only eight games off the pace—to break their string of losing seasons. And again the team drew well over a million fans out to the park. Mincher provided some much-needed pop in the middle of the order, hitting 25 home runs and driving in 76 runs, both team highs. 

The Twins were among four teams in a race for the pennant. On the last day of the season, Chance had a shot at helping the Twins snatch the flag. Minnesota was tied for first with Boston, and the winner was going to the playoffs. However, making his third start in 12 days, Chance and the Twins were defeated, 5-3. The Twins’ defeat, combined with the Angels’ win over Detroit in the second game of a doubleheader that day, enabled Boston to win the pennant by one game. 

Anaheim was chosen to host the 1967 All-Star game, and Chance, making his second appearance in the mid-summer classic, got the call to start. The game was the longest in All-Star history—lasting 15 innings—and was finally won by the National League on a dramatic home run by Cincinnati’s Tony Perez.

Chance played two more seasons in Minnesota, but the wear and tear on his arm from pitching so many innings with his unorthodox delivery took a toll. He posted a 16-16 record in 1968 with a fine 2.53 ERA, but then struggled to remain healthy in 1969 as the Twins won the AL West. After brief stints with the Indians and Mets in 1970, he closed out his 11-year career with the Detroit Tigers in 1971.

Compared to other pitchers of his stature, Chance’s career was short but memorable. In an era loaded with great right-handers like Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Drysdale, and Gaylord Perry, Chance more than held his own. The Sporting News agreed, naming him the top right handed pitcher of the Sixties. Years later, his ’64 season still remains a high-water mark. He and Bartolo Colon are the only Angels to ever win a Cy Young Award. Along with Nolan Ryan, Chance is considered the greatest pitcher in Angels’ history. 

* * *

Chance was only 30 years old when he retired, but today he considers himself lucky to have lasted as long as he did. “I guess we should all have taken better care of ourselves,” says Chance. “But when I look back, I feel I’m just luckier then the devil to get my required 10 years in the big leagues and get the maximum on the pension.”

Following his baseball career, Chance ran carnivals and state fairs until embarking on a career as a boxing manager. He managed anvil-fisted heavyweight contender Earnie Shavers before he lost him to a slick-talking newcomer in the boxing world named Don King. A couple decades later, Chance became president of a boxing sanctioning body called the International Boxing Association (IBA), a position he holds today.

As IBA president, Chance has worked closely with and against some of the biggest names in boxing, including King and Bob Arum. “They’re very shrewd businessmen,” Chance says of the two promotional icons. “If you’d play them in cards, they’d want you to play with their deck and their rules. So that’s why I hardly do anything with either of them. As long as you don’t deal with ’em, you get along great with ’em.” 

Chance enjoys the fight game and has been involved with several notable promotions, including what Chance considers his crowning achievement: the 2001 Oscar De La Hoya vs. Shane Mosley championship bout. When he isn’t busy promoting fights across the globe, Chance operates the family farm in Ohio. Chance still lives on the family farm in Wooster. Somehow, he also makes time for his true passion, professional poker. On the card circuit, he is considered a world-class player. 
But for all his post-baseball accomplishments, Chance will forever be linked to the Angels and his former sidekick, Bo Belinsky.

Noted former Angels clubhouse man, Bob Case, “Throughout Bo’s trials and tribulations, Chance always stood by him. They talked to each other daily and would have died for each other. … After baseball, Dean negotiated all of Bo’s deals, and when Bo got sick it was Dean who took care of Bo until his death.”

Chance valued his friendship with Belinsky and treasures the memories of their time together far more than his pitching accomplishments. “The last time I saw Bo we had a big party at our place out in L.A. for him. God, he looked terrible. I don’t know if it was the cancer or them unfiltered cigarettes. … But Bo really did have some good friends who really cared for him, and they all showed up in Las Vegas. The whole town adopted Bo. … He’s buried in Vegas in a beautiful cemetery. And he went out on the high side. He turned to religion.”

And now, as he enters his sixth decade on earth, Chance has opened himself up to God as well. “Everybody, by the time they’re 50, they’re selfish as hell,” states Chance. “Everybody thinks only of himself or herself. Then, when they hit 60, they want to turn to religion and want to forgive everybody. They want to go to heaven, and that’s the stage I’m in.” 

Chance looks back on his baseball days with genuine pride. He has been offered thousands for his Cy Young trophy but claims he doesn’t need the money. A shrewd investor, Chance has done all right for himself.

“The smartest thing I ever did was buy real estate,” says Chance. “Hell, I lost my ass in boxing in the beginning, then I had a friend of mine who had a big poster company where I worked for a while. I was in carnival amusements for a while and had trucks and units playing all over Canada and the United States. I did that for 17 years, and that is really work. But I always kept all my land. 

“I’ve got great memories from baseball and from my carnival days. From the boxing I made a lot of friends. Hell, you never know who you’re going to run into. A few years ago I was at Vegas at a fight and this old guy come up to me. ‘Dean, you remember me?’ Christ, it was [former L.A. Times sportswriter] Jim Murray, the greatest writer ever, more talent then anyone. But I’m at the stage now where I’m too old to make new friends. I just do the best to keep the ones I have.”

When Belinsky died, it was Chance who arranged the memorial service at Dodger Stadium. He also handled arrangements for his burial in Las Vegas. For the last three decades of Belinsky’s life, Chance continuously watched out for his friend and made sure Bo never fell too hard. Every time Chance got an offer to appear at an autograph show, his acceptance came with one condition: “I don’t do a card show unless Bo Belinsky comes, too.” Chance never told anyone, but he always passed his portion of the take on to Bo.

He figures that Bo would have done the same for him. Chance recalls the night they were heading home from the Coconut Grove when Belinsky and his date got into a fight and she ended up screaming loud enough for somebody to call the cops. Chance was married at the time, and before the Beverly Hills men in blue arrived on the scene, Bo insisted that he take off so that he wouldn’t share the headline in newspapers or the wrath of the Angels management.

“Just before the cops showed up, I ran off and hid in the bushes and my name never showed up in the police reports,” Chance said. “We had a couple broads with us in the car; my wife never found out because Bo covered my ass. 

“Now that’s a true friend!”

More than anything, it’s the friendships—the unique characters fused together to make a team—that best characterize the early Angels teams. They weren’t the best performers in Angels history, but some four-plus decades later, it’s certain that they were among the most memorable.

Chapter is from Once They Were Angels, A History of the Team by Rob Goldman © 2006, 2015 

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