Bob Willis ran the Orlando Twins in the Class AA Southern League for years. When the big leaguers arrived for spring training, Willis would have to move out of the largest office in the small headquarters at Tinker Field to make room for the boss, Calvin Griffith.
There weren’t many days when I was covering spring training and the Twins were playing at Tinker that I failed to stop in to see Willy in his spring-time cubbyhole. He was one of the all-time irreverent characters that I have met in sports.
One morning, Willy started telling me stories about his friend Dean Chance, a pitcher for the Twins from 1967-69. There were so many laughs that I asked Willis for Chance’s phone number.
“He’s hard to get ahold of now,’’ Willis said. “He’s been spending time in Miami Beach, playing high-stakes gin rummy with old rich guys. I got the number for the card room where he usually plays, but the games aren’t exactly legal, so they are a bit cautious answering the phone.’’
I called the number a few times and final someone answered, with caution in his voice.
I identified myself and explained that I was trying to get ahold of Dean Chance to “talk baseball’’ (not gin rummy).
“How did you get this number?’’ the gent asked.
“From a friend of Dean Chance’s,’’ I said.
“He’s not here,’’ the gent said.
“Could I ask that you take my number and give it to Dean if you see him?’’ I said.
The gent didn’t say yes or no. He simply hung up.
You’re right. I never heard from Dean that time. I did get a chance to talk with him three or four times, including at breakfast when he was in Minneapolis in January 2004 in his role as president (and founder) of the International Boxing Association.
“I’m the IBA, not the IBF,’’ Chance said. “People ask me what’s the difference? I say, ‘I’m the one who hasn’t been convicted of taking bribes.’ ‘’
Chance died on Sunday of an apparent heart attack at age 74 in his home area of Wooster, Ohio. He lived on a 300-acre farm there. He ran the IBA out of an office in the basement of the house.
Chance was a 6-foot-3 right-hander who threw extra-hard and often from the side. Righties would hang very loose in the batter’s box when facing him.
He had 17 no-hitters in high school. He also was an outstanding basketball player. There was no baseball draft in 1959, and he signed with Baltimore for $30,000.
The Orioles didn’t protect him in the expansion draft and Chance was taken by the Los Angeles Angels. Chance was 20 when he made his debut at the end of the Angels’ first season in 1961.
A lefthander named Bo Belinsky debuted for the Angels the next year. He gained notoriety for dating starlets such as Mamie Van Doren and for being a world-class carouser.
Often, Bo’s running-mate was Chance. The legend became that the Angels felt Belinsky was a bad influence on Chance and that’s why they got rid of Bo after the 1964 season. I got to know a couple of Angels from that era later and they said it might have been the other way around – that the kid from Wooster knew more about partying than Belinsky.
Chance was the Cy Young Award winner in 1964 – when there was only one awarded for both leagues. He was 20-9 with a 1.65 ERA and interrupted what would have been a four-year streak of Cy Youngs for the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax (1963, 1965-66).
The Twins traded for Chance after the 1966 season, sending power hitters Don Mincher and Jimmie Hall to the Angels as the main pieces in the deal.
Chance was phenomenal for the Twins in 1967. He had two no-hitters that season: a 5-inning perfect game (that’s no longer an official no-hitter) and then a 2-1 no-hitter over Cleveland on Aug. 25.
He was not quite as good in 1968, and then ran into arm trouble and flamed out in 1969.
The Twins traded Chance to Cleveland in December 1969. The trade was lousy for the Twins, not because they gave up Chance but because a young Graig Nettles was in the deal. He would become a terrific third baseman and power hitter for Cleveland and the Yankees.
Chance was finished with baseball after the 1971 season. He wasn’t a 9-to-5 guy, unless it was 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
For years, he was in the carnival business, owning more than 100 of those “win-a-Teddy bear’’ games that were trucked all across the country.
Chance had gotten in boxing while still playing baseball – as a promoter for heavyweight Earnie Shavers in 1969. He also promoted a Jerry Quarry fight in St. Paul in August of that year. That fight got a lot of pub from Don Riley, the St. Paul columnist, as they tried to play up the Irish angle with Quarry for the local audience.
“I was a boxing promoter until I ran out of money,’’ Chance said when he was here in 2004.
Chance started the IBA as a sanctioning body in 1994. It still was going when he died this weekend. The top story on the IBA’s Website concerned the induction of Chance, Mike Witt and Tim Salmon into the Angels’ Hall of Fame on Sept. 24.
Boxing. Carnivals. Gin Rummy. A high school legend and a Cy Young winner.
Best I can tell, Dean Chance never was involved in writing a book. I’d say that’s unfortunate.
“He was a one-of-a-kind character,’’ was the message from his Twins’ teammate, Jim Kaat, on Sunday.