Grave Story: Dean Chance (1941-2015)

Here lies Dean Chance, who was a two-time All-Star and a Cy Young Award winner. That’s when he wasn’t making headlines for… other reasons. Chance pitched for the Los Angeles/California Angels (1961-66), Minnesota Twins (1967-69), Cleveland Indians (1970), New York Mets (1970) and Detroit Tigers (1971).

Wilmer Dean Chance was born on June 1, 1941 in Wooster, Ohio. Chance, who would reach a height of 6’3”, was an all-Ohio basketball player at Northwestern High School in Wayne. He averaged 25 points a game in his high school career. But he was pretty good in baseball, too. He led Northwestern to the Class-A baseball title in Ohio. He threw a no-hitter in the semi-final and came back the next day to win the title with a 2-hitter. Chance won 51 games in his four years with the Huskies and lost 1, with 17 no-hitters, allegedly.

The Baltimore Orioles signed Chance in June of 1959, with a bonus said to exceed $30,000. He was recommended to the Orioles by another Ohioan, Gene Woodling, who was the O’s starting left fielder at the time. The Orioles assigned him to the Class-D Bluefield Orioles of the Appalachian League, and he won 10 games against 3 defeats, with a 2.94 ERA in 16 games.

Chance worked out with the Orioles in the spring of 1960 and saw some action against big-league ballclubs. He ultimately was sent to the Fox City Foxes of the Three-I League, where he won 12 games with a 3.13 ERA. He said of his assignment, “I can get by on my fastball in this league, but I am going to develop my curve.” The News-Record of Neenah, Wis., said that Chance seemed cocky at the first impression. “After you get to know him a little better you’ll find that it isn’t cockiness, it’s confidence… Confidence is a big asset in the game of baseball and we’ll take a chance on Dean Chance.”

Chance was left available in the December 1960 draft that brought the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators (version 2.0) into the American League. Chance ended up with the Angels, and there was some thought he would be a part of the team’s starting rotation immediately. It didn’t quite work out that way. Chance spent most of the 1961 season with the team’s AAA affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth. But before the year was up, Chance had joined the inaugural Angels team.

The 20-year-old made his first MLB appearance on September 11, 1961 against the Minnesota Twins. He started off by allowing base hits to the first batters he faced – Lenny Green and Billy Martin. But he got Harmon Killebrew to pop to first and Bob Allison to line into a double play, and he settled down. Chance pitched into the eighth inning before running into trouble. He departed with two runners on base with one out, and reliever Tom Morgan entered the game and promptly gave up a 3-run homer to Joe Altobelli. Chance made a total of 5 appearances in 1961, four of which were starts. He ended up with 2 losses and a 6.87 ERA, but he settled into the Angels starting rotation the following year and never saw another day in the minor leagues for the rest of his career.

Chance had a fastball that topped 90 mph, and he had a windup that involved turning his back on the batter and firing his pitch toward home plate without looking at the catcher. His first full season in 1962 is a bit of an aberration, as manager Bill Rigney kept moving him in and out of the bullpen throughout the season. He didn’t truly settle into the starting rotation until August, but once he did, he was pretty much ensconced there for the remainder of his career. He threw an 11-inning shutout against the Twins on August 11, striking out 7 along the way. Almost a year to the day that he made his MLB debut – September 10, 1962 – Chance took a no-hitter into the eighth inning before giving up a hit to the Twins’ Zoilo Versalles managed an infield single. He settled for a 1-hit, 5-0 shutout.

Chance appeared in 50 games, and 24 of them were starts. Chance had a 14-10 record and 2.96 ERA, and he completed 6 games, threw 2 shutouts and saved 6 others. Though he kept changing roles from a reliever to starter and back again, he ended up leading the Angels’ pitching staff with 206.2 innings pitched. For his work, Chance finished tied for third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, behind Tom Tresh of the Yankees and his Angels batterymate, catcher Buck Rodgers.

Bring up Dean Chance, and it’s inevitable that you’ll get around to discussing Bo Belinsky, and vice versa. The two were Angels teammates, roommates and best friends, and their late-night antics frequently overshadowed their on-field play. It started early in 1962, when Belinsky, Chance and two women were pulled over in Belinsky’s red convertible Cadillac at 5:15 in the morning. The group was returning from an Eddie Fisher concert at the Coconut Grove nightclub, and police had to break up an argument between Belinsky and his companion. She had a cut over one eye and alleged that the pitcher had beat her up. Belinsky said she hit her head on the car door as he tried to pull her out of it. No charges were ever filed; however, each pitcher was fined $250 for breaking curfew. Rigney later told Chance, “You don’t know how close you’ve come to pitching for Dallas.”

Chance was married at the time, and he went out and pitched a shaky but effective game that night. The marriage didn’t last, but the association with Belinsky kept up for the three seasons that they were Angels teammates. They were part of the Hollywood nightclub scene, hanging out with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and Mamie Van Doren (Belinsky’s fiancée, briefly). The two were late to an exhibition game in the spring of 1963 and didn’t appear at an awards banquet at all a few days later. They were handed a $500 fine for their antics. There was always an excuse – The hotel operator didn’t give them a wake-up call, Chance’s car broke down, etc. And publicly, the Angels tended to laugh their escapades off. When the duo didn’t make the awards banquet, manager Rigney said straight-faced, “We’re really taking the city series (Angels vs. Dodgers) seriously. Our starting pitchers are getting some rest.”

Dean Chance, Mamie Van Doren and Bo Belinsky on a night out. Source: SABR.

Belinsky, though he had a solid rookie season that included a no-hitter, couldn’t keep it together and eventually flamed out with the Angels and elsewhere. Chance, though he would have numerous late nights with Belinsky and array of starlets and socialites, became one of the Angels’ mainstays in the starting rotation.

Chance went 13-18 for Los Angeles in 1963, but he had a 3.19 ERA and was more the victim of bad offense than bad pitching, as the team lost 91 games and fell to 9th place. The Angels scored a total of 21 runs in those 18 losses. Along with his fastball and his unusual delivery, he also got some accolades (or accusations) for a spitball he was said to throw. Chance wouldn’t comment on the charges, but White Sox manager Al Lopez said it was one of the best he’d ever seen – and he’d seen plenty in his long career. “It reminded me of Burleigh Grimes and caught Nellie Fox flat-footed,” he said of one pitch.

Chance was an outspoken person and would criticize his teammates at times. When he talked about his 18 losses to reporters, he slammed the defensive abilities of his outfielders. When that story ran, he went to a different reporter and asked if the story included his criticisms. It did, the reporter said.

“That’s wonderful,” Chance replied. “I was afraid he wouldn’t have guts enough to write it.” After a game in 1963 in which he struck out 12, Chance said, “I had to strike ‘em out. I didn’t dare let ‘em hit the ball to anyone.”

He also brought up his contract frequently in interviews. If he wasn’t being properly paid, and he usually felt he wasn’t, he let it be known how cheap general manager Fred Haney was. His brashness might have been grating if he didn’t pitch as well as he did. In that way, he was also compared to another Dean – the legendary Dizzy. He could talk big, but he could back it up on the mound.

Chance’s 1964 season was a season for the ages. He led all of baseball with a 1.65 ERA and 11 shutouts, and his 20 wins, 15 complete games and 278-1/3 innings pitched led the American League. He added 207 strikeouts, which was 3rd-best in the AL. He had an ERA+ of 200, and if I understand that stat correctly, it means he was literally twice as good as the average pitcher that year. Five of those wins were 1-0 decisions, which tied him with Walter Johnson and Carl Hubbell for most in a season. He won the Cy Young Award easily over the Cubs’ Larry Jackson and Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax (this being the time when one Cy Young Awarded in MLB). He also started the All-Star Game in ’64 and threw 3 shutout innings. He allowed just two hits and started the game by striking out Roberto Clemente and Dick Groat. That performance game after he went to bed at 4:15am, by his own admission.

“Dean Chance is the best right-handed in our league and there isn’t a better one in baseball,” said Rigney.

Chance enjoyed his lifestyle, though he maintained he didn’t drink or smoke. He was an excellent pool player and did offseason tours as a trick show specialist. He filmed a TV show pilot and guest-starred with Belinsky in a production of Damn Yankees in Anaheim. Then he would go back to Wooster and organize a charity dinner or tend to his agriculture operations.

A Cy Young season is tough to repeat, but Chance had a pretty good season in 1965 as well, winning 15 games. When he slipped to a 12-17 record in ’66, the Angels traded him and Jackie Hernandez to Minnesota for Pete Cimino, Jimmie Hall and Don Mincher. The team loved his arm and tolerated his occasional outbursts, but in the end, they considered him too inconsistent. Chance was still a workhorse pitcher, throwing 259-2/3 innings, but the only category in which he led the league was in walks (114).

Naturally, Chance won 20 games with the Twins in 1967, was named to his second All-Star team and threw a no-hitter. The man that Rigney hoped would take Chance’s spot in the rotation, Jorge Rubio, pitched in 3 games for the Angels before returning to the Mexican League.

Chance lost his first game with the Twins in ’67, but then he rattled off wins in his next 7 decisions and was on his way to another great season. He got another All-Star start and threw 3 innings, with the only damage being a Dick Allen solo homer. Once he got into August, he made history be being the only other pitcher besides Johnny Vander Meer to throw two hitless games in the same month. But only one made the record books.

On August 6, Chance tossed a perfect game against the Red Sox, striking out 4 in a 2-0 win. Why have you never heard of it? The game was called after five innings on account of rain, so it is not included in the list of MLB perfect games. He went the full 9 innings on August 25, though, when he no-hit Cleveland. They were playing in Ohio, and Chance’s parents and high school baseball coach came in from Wooster to watch the game. Chance wasn’t quite perfect, as he walked 5 batters in the 2-1 win. He fanned 8, though, and he settled down after allowing a run on a couple of walks, an error and a wild pitch.

“He was wild with both his fastball and his curve the first inning or two,” said catcher Jerry Zimmerman. “But his stuff was about like it was in the perfect game… The ball was really moving.”

Chance had a rare poor outing at the worst possible time. The Twins and the Red Sox were tied going into the final day of the season and faced each other. Chance took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning before he imploded, giving up 5 runs. The big blow was a 2-run single by Carl Yastrzemski. It was a bad ending to an otherwise remarkable season. Chance had a 20-14 record, a 2.73 ERA and led the AL in games started (39), complete games (18) and innings pitched (283-2/3). He also struck out 220 batters and got his walks back down to a low 68.

Chance had a 16-16 season in 1968 and made career highs with 292 innings pitched and 234 strikeouts. But it seemed like his good fortune left him. He fractured his jaw in May after being hit in the face with a thrown ball during a pre-game warmup. He lost a no-hitter, and a ballgame, on his 27th birthday after allowing three scratch hits to the White Sox in the ninth inning. He lost another game to the Angels after getting into a beanball war with California starter Sammy Ellis, and one of the batters he hit came around to score the winning run.

Chance held out in the spring of 1969 for a better contract, rushed too much when he did report to camp and hurt his shoulder. It bothered him the whole season and limited him to 20 appearances and a 5-4 record. He failed to pitch 90 innings. The Twins, despite missing their ace, made it to the AL Championship Series and were swept by the Orioles. Chance appeared in one game, allowing 3 runs in 2 innings, including a 2-run homer to Paul Blair.

After a rough year, Chance was ecstatic to be traded to the Cleveland Indians in December, along with Bob Miller, Graig Nettles and Ted Uhlaender for Luis Tiant and Stan Williams. Yes, the Indians were in last place, but they were his hometown team; he could drive 50 minutes from his home in Wooster to get to the park. He had a decent homecoming, though the Indians used him more as a reliever. He went 9-8 with a 4.24 ERA in 45 games, including 19 starts. The Indians gave their hometown hero a Dean Chance Night on May 22, presenting he and his family with several prizes. Then his teammates committed 5 errors in the game against the Yankees, and Chance was knocked out of the game by the third inning, having allowed 6 runs (3 earned). The Mets claimed him near the end of the season, as they were making a push for a second-straight postseason. Chance appeared in 3 games, losing one, and allowing 3 runs in 2 innings of work.

Dean Chance spent part of his post-baseball life running a successful carnival booth business. Source: News-Pilot, July 20, 1982.

The Mets traded Chance to Detroit at the end of spring training in 1971. Again, he wasn’t bad, with a 4-6 record and 3.51 ERA in 14 starts and 17 relief appearances. His arm was in poor shape, as he later recalled. He called it quits at the end of the season.

“Considering my motion, the stress it put on my arm, I was tickled to death to get 10 years in,” Chance later said. “I had nothing the last three, but I’d turn my back and the hitters didn’t know if that one pitch was coming again. When it finally got to a point where I couldn’t do physically what I could still do mentally, it was bye-bye. No one had to tell me. I won my last four games, but it wasn’t any fun.”

In 11 MLB seasons, Chance had a 128-115 record, a 2.92 ERA and 1,534 strikeouts. He appeared in 406 games, made 294 starts and threw 83 complete games and 33 shutouts. He also picked up 23 saves. Sixteen of his wins were 1-0 shutouts, including 13 complete games. It must also be noted that Chance was one of the worst batters of all time, with a .066 batting average (44-for-662), 2 extra-base hits and 420 strikeouts. His pitching WAR is 34.9, but once his hitting and defense get factored in, it drops to 29.9.

During baseball, Chance did a little bit of everything, from farming to boxing promoting to working as a salesman for Smuckers. After baseball, Chance owned a couple of farms in the Wooster area, which he leased. He also raised beef cattle on his 350-acre family farm. Chance later got into, of all things, games of chance. He operated game booths at carnivals and fairs across the country. He was one of the biggest players at the Ohio State Fair, according to a 1985 Los Angeles Times profile. He employed 250 people to run about 40 games at the Fair, which he called his World Series.

“Any idiot can build games and run them,” Chance said. “The trick is to make money with them. I’ve done OK. I’m like retired. I go to four or five fairs a year and a few old-timers’ games to see the guys.”

Chance stayed active in the boxing world as a fight promoter, and he also founded and served at the president of the International Boxing Association. He was a regular at sports memorabilia shows, often insisting that the shows include his old friend Belinsky as well.

Belinsky, who by 1985 was living in semi-seclusion in Hawaii, defended his old friend, who was occasionally accused of being the stupid Ohio farmboy led astray by the more streetwise Belinsky.

“I was my worst enemy and Dean was his,” Belinsky said. “For a guy to be led astray, he either doesn’t have foresight or is stupid. Dean wasn’t either. He’s dumb as a fox. You can’t be stupid and have the success he’s had in the carny business, where you deal with some of the scum bags of the world.”

Dean Chance was inducted into the Angels Hall of Fame in August of 15, just months before his death. Source: News Journal, (Mansfield, Ohio), October 15, 2015.

Chance was inducted into the Wayne County and the Ohio Basketball Halls of Fame, and he was a charter member of the Ohio Baseball Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Angels Hall of Fame in August of 2015, along with Mike Witt and Tim Salmon.

Dean Chance died on October 11, 2015, at his home in Wooster, Ohio, at the age of 74 from a heart attack. He was found unresponsive by police after a family member became concerned for his health and asked for a well-being check. He is buried in Wooster Cemetery.

For all the headlines Chance made during his life, there were plenty of things about him that didn’t gain as much notice until after his death. Like the time he agreed to give a banquet speech at his hometown of Wooster, as long as all proceeds be donated to his high school. Northwestern used that money to launch a football program. Or the fact that he ran a scholarship program created by his old baseball coach. Or the time, a week before his death, when Chance’s car broke down with a car full of groceries. When a friend came to help and asked about the groceries, Chance explained he was helping the family of a Northwestern football player who had suffered a stroke after an on-field collision. Or the way he helped his fellow ballplayers in need, like Belinsky or close friend Denny McClain.

“I loved the man,” McClain told the News Journal of Mansfield, Ohio. “He did me some monster favors, helped me in some difficult situations. He loved the game of baseball. He wanted to pitch for the rest of his life. So did all of us. One way or another, he pitched every day of his life, he really did.”

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9 thoughts on “Grave Story: Dean Chance (1941-2015)

  1. Thanks for this wonderful work and research of Dean Chance story!!! I was high school team mate of Dean and was true personal friend!! You are to be praised to high heaven!!! From Jim Martin member of Northwestern State baseball !959!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I knew Dean Chance during the Spring and Summer and Fall of 1971 when he played for Detroit. I got to know him fairly well – enough to see both sides (or rather ALL of the sides) to this complicated man…loud-talking, earthy, a real showman – most in Detroit never knew that some evenings he would hurt so badly that his shirt needed to be cut off his pitching arm. He loved the game, and he loved life. I will always remember…

    Liked by 1 person

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