Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Three Guys Named Bo" by Dad

      Variations on the nickname Bo are universal in our family.  My two sons use their nicknames, Bojo and CBoh, as their bylines on this blog of ours.  And growing up, my nickname was Bo, as was my dad’s.
     So I thought it would be interesting, at least to the three of us, to look at a handful of jocks and sports figures who have gone by this nickname, Bo.
     A quick Google search turns up at least three current jocks sporting the nickname.
There’s a pro wrestler named Bo Dallas.  And there’s a pair of quarterbacks – Bo Wallace at Ole Miss, and Bo Levi Mitchell with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.
     But the three Bo’s I want to talk about, in their sort of ascending order of interest to me, would be the Bo’s Shembachler, Jackson (of course) and Belinsky (about whom much more later).

     Bo Schembechler was for many years the University of Michigan’s football coach.  A quick Wiki look shows that he coached there from 1969 to 1989, ran up a truly impressive 194-48-5 record and won or shared 13 Big Ten titles, but never won a national championship.  A huge career, but not an especially colorful guy.  He was just a sort of bowl game presence for guys my age when we were growing up. Back when the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton Bowls were the only bowl games anyone watched, Bo’s team always seemed to be in one of them.

     Now, Bo Jackson, the most natural and widely gifted athlete we may ever see. How good? How versatile? In 1985, playing baseball for Auburn, he batted .401 with 17 homers. And in that same 1985, he won the Heisman Trophy. Nike knew, and created “Bo Knows.” a shrewd marketing celebration of this guy’s amazing athleticism.  
     Only a chronic hip injury, one that taught most of us the word “necrosis,” cut short Jackson’s dazzling two-sport career. And for me, the most amazing thing about the two sports was that one of them was baseball and involved hitting curve balls, what many of us believe to be the single hardest thing in sports. Doubters need only consider the aborted baseball career of Michael Jordan, a pretty fair athlete whose baseball days were cut very short when he couldn’t hit even a low minor league curve ball. The only other athlete I can think of who made the majors in two sports with one being baseball would be Dave DeBusschere, and he was a pitcher. No one expected him to hit a curve ball, just to spin a few himself.

     And finally, the human train wreck worth waiting for… Bo Belinsky. He has become deservedly obscure, but in his early 60s hey day, he was one of the first great bad boys of big time sports. Imagine Joe Namath with absolutely no self control.
     A left handed pitcher, which somehow makes complete sense, Belinsky was a Jersey boy who had a huge beginning to his 1962 rookie season with the Angels. He won his first four starts, but it was the fourth win that represented the pinnacle of a short career, a no hitter against the Orioles in Chavez Ravine, the fabled Dodger stadium that the Angels were also using that year. On the strength of this game, and some real brashness and charisma, Belinsky catapulted to fame.
     He was never as good again as in that first month, finishing his rookie season just  10-11 with a 3.56 ERA, and winning just 18 more games in his whole career. But on the strength of that start, he started dating a list of Hollywood starlets (what a dated word) that included Ann Margret, Connie Stevens, Mamie van Doren, and Gilligan’s own Tina Louise.
     For me as a very young baseball fan, the greatest evidence of his great, if fleeting, fame would be his mention in a song on an Allen Sherman record. For the unfamiliar, Allen Sherman was the Weird Al of his day, except that he looked like your dentist and sang like you imagined your dentist would.
   Sherman was, however, wickedly clever. If he’s remembered at all today, it’s probably for “Camp Granada (Hello muddah, hello fadduh).”  But in a song I still remember called “Oh Boy,” there are these lines:

Oh boy
Igor Stravinsky
Oh boy
Bo Bo Belinsky
Oh boy
David Dubninsky
And Minsky
And Werner Von Braun
Oh boy
     Impressive company for a guy with a pretty unimpressive career. But the last words about Bo Belinsky should probably come from his obituary in the New York Times. Announcing his death in 2001, the Times’s headline read: “Bo Belinsky, 64, the Playboy Pitcher, Dies.”

     And there you have it – three guys named Bo.