That news of Loes' death didn't surface until nearly two weeks after the fact came as no surprise to his friends, who regarded him as a delightful eccentric, self-estranged from society.
"I was about the only guy who had a phone number for him," said Tom Villante, the former BBDO advertizing executive who handled the Dodgers' Schaefer Beer account back in the '50s and has since served as an unofficial Dodger alumni director. "But Billy was constantly on the move. The last time I talked to him, about a year ago, he'd been in that same hospice but supposedly wasn't answering any calls there. He told me: 'That wasn't true. I wasn't there. I escaped!'"
In four seasons with the Dodgers, in which he went 13-8 in 1952, 14-8 in '53, 13-5 in '54 and 10-4 in '55, Loes proved to be as talented as he was exasperating. He once said: "Never win 20 because they'll expect you to do it every year." That was in response to an incentive-filled $12,000 contract Dodger GM Buzzie Bavasi gave him in 1954, for which Bavasi said he'd get $1,000 a victory. But after winning his 13th game and being told by Bavasi that he couldn't give him any more than the $12,000, Loes walked out on the team. He was replaced in the rotation by rookie Karl Spooner, who, on Sept. 22, set a record by striking out 15batters in his major league debut.
That was never more evident than in Game 2 of the 1955 World Series against the Yankees when Loes hurled three innings of shutout ball, striking out five and inducing three double play balls - only to suddenly get kayoed on five hits and four runs in the fourth. Said Campy: "He started thinking. He had 'em going on fastballs and curves for three innings when he suddenly decided to throw changeups."
Before the 1952 Series, Loes reportedly predicted the Yankees would beat the Dodgers in six games. Years later, however, he said he was misquoted. "I never said that," he insisted. "What I said was they'd beat us in seven games." Which they did.
But perhaps the most infamous Loes episode occurred in Game 6 of the '52 Series at Ebbets Field when he claimed to have lost a ground ball in the sun. What happened was Yankee starting pitcher Vic Raschi hit a ball off Loes' leg that caromed into right field, scoring Gene Woodling from second and sending the Yanks to a 3-2 victory that tied the Series 3-3. They won it the next day. Everyone laughed when Loes insisted he'd lost Raschi's grounder in the sun, but as Dodger pitcher Carl Erskine later explained: "That's exactly what happened. At that time of the afternoon in Ebbets Field, the sun came through a space in the grandstand behind the plate and could blind you."
Though seemingly indifferent about his career - he once said he'd give up his $16,000 big league salary for a 9-to-5 job paying $75 a week - Loes nevertheless compiled an 80-63 record and 3.89 ERA over 10 seasons in the big leagues. Bavasi finally ran out of patience with him and sold him to the Baltimore Orioles for $20,000 on May 14, 1956. Loes lasted 3-1/2 years with the Orioles before finishing his career as a reliever for the Giants in '60 and '61. According to Villante, Loes, a native of Astoria, Queens, could've come full circle in his career as a member of the original '62 Mets, who selected him from the Giants in the expansion draft.
"But when (Mets GM) George Weiss called him at home, he woke him up and Billy said to him: 'There's no way I'm gonna play for your garbage can team' and hung up," Villante recalled with a laugh.
According to Villante, Loes hosted weekly card games at his home in Jackson Heights that became notorious for the amount of money that exchanged hands - so notorious that one time the game got canceled but Loes was visited by a couple of mob guys who were toting sawed-off shotguns and looking for an easy heist.
As one of the two toughs held Loes down on the sofa with a shotgun to his head, the other one ransacked the house looking for money. They wound up making off with Loes' 1955 World Series ring among other valuables, but before departing, Loes asked them: "Do me a favor? Would you mind setting fire to the place on your way out so I can collect the insurance money?"