Taken number one overall by the Twins in the 1983 free-agent draft, Belcher was the center of controversy before he ever pitched in pro ball. He did not sign with Minnesota and was selected by the Yankees in the January 1984 supplemental phase, then drafted by Oakland from the compensation pool after Baltimore signed Type A free agent Tom Underwood. The Yankees had not had a chance to protect him. The incident pointed out the inadequacy of the compensation system, which was abandoned soon thereafter.
In the first of many uniform changes, Belcher was dealt by Oakland to Los Angeles as the player to be named later for Rick Honeycutt on September 3rd, 1987. Just three days later he made his major-league debut, picking up a win in relief against the Mets. Belcher began his rookie season in 1988 pitching out of the Dodgers’ bullpen, but soon moved into the starting rotation and finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting on the strength of his 12-6 record and 2.91 ERA. After helping the Dodgers to an NL West title, Belcher won two games in the League Championship Series and once more in the Fall Classic as Los Angeles won the World Series by upsetting the heavily favored A’s in five games. The right-hander followed up his impressive rookie campaign by leading the NL with eight shutouts in 1989 while finishing the season 15-12 with a 2.82 ERA. When not pitching a shutout, though, his ERA was 4.10.
After racking up another 19 wins over the next two seasons with the Dodgers, Belcher was traded to Cincinnati along with reliever John Wetteland for outfielder Eric Davis and pitcher Kip Gross in November 1991. He tied his career high with 15 wins in his first year with the Reds, but was on the move again when Cincinnati sent him to the White Sox in a trade-deadline deal in July 1993. Belcher posted a 3-5 record in 11 starts for Chicago, and also picked up a relief win in Game Four of the ChiSox’ six-game LCS loss to Toronto.
Opting to stay in the AL, Belcher signed with Detroit where he suffered one of the worst seasons of his career. Pitching to a 5.89 ERA in the strike-shortened season, he led the AL with 15 losses. He signed a minor-league contract with Cincinnati the following May but was traded a second time by the Reds, this time to Seattle. Although he finished the year just 10-12 in 28 starts, Belcher helped stabilize a young Mariners’ staff as the club won the first division title in franchise history. In the course of three starts in the Division Series and ALCS, Belcher suffered the first two post-season losses of his career.
Opting for free agency at the end of 1995, Belcher signed with the Kansas City Royals and stayed with them for three years. He led KC in victories each season, compiling a 42-37 record while twice topping 230 innings pitched. Again filing as a free agent, Belcher found himself with the Anaheim Angels at the end of 1998. Injuries and ineffectiveness would limit the aging pitcher to 33 starts in two subsequent years. After giving up 20 earned runs in five spring training games in March 2001, Belcher retired, stating “I have not lost my desire to compete, only the ability to keep up.”