Dean Was Baseball’s Best Chance

DeanChanceFreeBy Glen Sparks

Dean Chance had a secret to share. It was his 1964 season with the Los Angeles Angels.

The big (6-feet-3 inches, 200 pounds) right-hander from Wooster, Ohio, enjoyed one of the most overlooked great campaigns of modern times in ‘64. He finished with a 20-9 won-loss mark (.690 winning percentage) for a Los Angeles team that went 82-80 (.506). And, that barely begins to tell this story.

Over 278.1 innings, Chance put up a 1.65 ERA (200 ERA+) and only gave up 194 hits. He completed 15 of his 35 starts and hurled 11 shutouts. He boasted a WAR of 9.1.

The powerful New York Yankees, the eventual A.L. pennant winner in 1964, shuddered at the very idea of facing Chance. In his 50 innings against the Yankees, Chance gave up just 14 hits and one run. That translates to an ERA of 0.18. He went 4-0 in his five starts, tossed four complete games and three shutouts.

Mickey Mantle said: “Every time I see his name on a line-up card, I want to throw up.”

Just a few years before, Chance was making high school hitters in north-central Ohio feel queasy. Chance attended Northwestern High School in Salem. He went 52-1 and fired 17 no-hitters during his prep career with the Huskies. The Baltimore Orioles signed Chance as an amateur free agent in 1959 ($30,000 and a $12 Greyhound bus ticket). The Washington Senators picked him in the 1960 expansion draft and promptly traded him to the Angeles for outfielder Joe Hicks.

Los Angeles called up a 20-year-old Chance in late 1961. He went 0-2 with a 6.87 ERA (66 ERA+) over 18.1 innings. The next year, he was ready. He threw 206.2 innings and finished 14-10. Chance posted a 2.96 ERA (130 ERA+). Although the young hurler’s won-loss record dipped to 13-18 in 1963, his ERA rose only to 3.19 (107 ERA+).

Chance’s great 1964 season began modestly and with a blister on his right hand. By May 15, he had started only three games. (He actually pitched 11 games in relief during the season.) Then, things began to pick up. By mid-season, his ERA stood at 2.18. In the second half, he shrank it to 1.29. Chance threw a sinking fastball, an excellent curveball and a screwball. He delivered the ball from three-quarters and turned his back to the batter. Dean Chance was nasty.

Baseball writers voted Chance the Cy Young Award winner in 1964. (Baseball only gave out one Cy Young Award until 1967.) He finished fifth in the A.L. MVP voting.

Now, let’s introduce Bo Belinsky. He was another pitcher, a left-hander. Born in New York City, Belinsky grew up in Trenton, N.J. The Angels picked him up in 1962. Belinsky already had earned a reputation for staying out late.

Chance and Belinsky went Hollywood. They toured the town in a red Cadillac, starlets (Mamie Van Doren, Ann Margret, Tina Louise, etc.) in tow. Frank Sinatra occasionally palled around with the pitchers.

The Angels traded Belinsky following the 1964 season. His partying, plus his brawl with a Los Angeles Times reporter, prompted the team to say bye-bye to Bo.

The trade’s effect on Chance remains unclear. Was he ever going pitch better than he did in 1964? He really didn’t come close in 1965. Chance’s ERA nearly doubled, to 3.15 (107 ERA+), with a 15-10 won-loss mark. The next year, he went 12-17 with a 3.08 ERA (108 ERA+).

Los Angeles traded Chance to the Minnesota Twins on Dec. 2, 1966. Moving to the quiet Midwest, Chance put together a 20-14 mark with a 2.73 ERA (128 ERA+). He led the A.L. in starts (39) and complete game (18) and was named the A.L. Comeback Player of the Year. On Aug. 6, Chance threw a five-inning, rain-shortened no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox. A few weeks later, on Aug. 25, he no-hit the Cleveland Indians.

Following a 16-16 season in 1968, with a 2.53 ERA (124 ERA+), Chance’s time as a big-time pitcher ended. He pitched three more seasons and went a combined 18-18 for the Twins, Cleveland Indians, New York Mets and Detroit Tigers. He took the mound for the last time on Aug. 9, 1971. He was just 30 years old.

Chance retired with a career won-loss record of 128-115 and a 2.92 ERA (119 ERA+). He tossed 83 complete games, 33 shutouts and had three seasons with more than 200 strikeouts. In retirement, Chance worked in real estate and managed pro boxer Ernie Shaver. He even served for a time as president of the International Boxing Association.

Belinsky—“the playboy pitcher”–and Chance remained friends until Belinsky’s death in 2001 at the age of 64. Chance organized a memorial service for Belinsky at Dodger Stadium—their former home ballpark–and handed Bo’s burial arrangements in Las Vegas.

Chance retired to his hometown of Wooster, on the farm once again. He died Oct. 11, 2015, at the age of 74. Just a few months before, he went to California for his induction into the Angels Hall of Fame. His 1964 season is not forgotten.

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