Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas
In the final bowling major of the 2008-09 season, the 66th U.S. Open at Brunswick Zone Carolier Lanes in central New Jersey, Mike Scroggins upset the favorite, #1 seed (and defending U.S. Open champion) Norm Duke. In the stepladder finals (#5 plays #4, winner plays #3, winner plays #2, winner plays #1), there really isn’t much of an advantage to being the #1 seed (as opposed to the #2 seed). Indeed, Scroggins ability to eke out a 200-199 win over Chris Barnes in the 2-3 match at least gave him some familiarity with the very tough lane conditions
Everyone seemed to think that this would be another notch in the Majors belt for Norm Duke, a bowling superstar if there is one in today’s sports landscape. Duke gives all little guys (he’s about 140 lbs.) hope as he’s able to be more mentally tough and versatile than virtually every other bowler on tour. It’s kind of like watching Greg Maddux pitch: he’s just smarter than you are and he uses that intelligence and talent to beat you.
In the championship match, after Scroggins threw a strike and then missed the headpin while shooting a 1-3-6 spare, Duke, with a spare/strike in the first two frames, seemed destined for victory. Commentator Randy Pedersen, usually insightful, lost his mind when he said “I promise you that 200 [Scroggins winning score the match before] will not win this game. Won’t happen.” I say lost his mind, but it wasn’t because I thought neither of these guys would shoot 200. It was because the previous match was a struggle, with a final score of 200-199 and, frankly, you just didn’t know what was going to happen.
The U.S. Open pattern (how they oil the lanes), only used for this tournament, seems much tougher than the five patterns generally used on the PBA tour. It’s hard to explain how difficult the normal five PBA patterns are – suffice it to say that you can subtract 30 pins or more from your “house” (the way lanes are generally oiled for regular league bowlers) average and the U.S. Open pattern is even tougher. It’s one of the big problems that bowling faces: Many people think that they can beat a pro bowler when they see these relatively low scores (on lane conditions they don’t understand) – except in very rare circumstances, they can’t.
In any event, right after Pedersen made his suspect prediction, Duke threw the “Big Four” split (4-6-7-10) and the crowd was set for a difficult, possibly low-scoring game. Scroggins, maybe because of his familiarity with the lane conditions since he had bowled the previous game (Duke hadn’t), was able to throw a triple to take command through six frames. But then Scroggins left his own unmakeable split in frame seven, the 4-6-10.
With Randy Pedersen swinging back and forth over who would win (from “Scroggins has a huge advantage since he bowled the prior match” to “it’s a coin flip” to “if it comes down to the 10th frame, Duke will handle the pressure better.”), Duke went through the nose again in the ninth frame, leaving the impossible 4-6-7 split, all but handing a major championship to Mike Scroggins.
The final score was 191-173 and both bowlers struggled as much or more in the final as both bowlers had struggled in the semi-finals. Duke, still the best bowler on tour in this writer’s opinion (although Wes Malott is Bowler of the Year with Duke’s loss) is now 7-7 in final matches when he’s been the #1 seed.
Mike Scroggins wins his second major, gets $100,000 for the win and, according to him, the most important prize of all – a three-year exemption on the PBA tour.
SOME RANDOM THOUGHTS ON BOWLING:
I was able to go down to Carolier Lanes Saturday night where they have the top 24 bowlers whittled down to the final five for the U.S. Open TV show. It’s kind of like being at all the Elite Eight games in the NCAA tournament before the Final Four. It was very exciting and what you see is that the greatest bowlers in the world can and do struggle through an eight-game block on a very tough (and, eventually, very dry) lane condition. I would recommend this to any bowling fan or anybody trying to learn how to deal with these patterns. There’s guaranteed drama with good and bad results for the participants.
This past Saturday, the 5-6 game was between Brad Angelo and two-time Bowler of the Year (1989-90) Amleto Monacelli. Monacelli hasn’t bowled that much in the last few years and was trailing Angelo for the final TV spot. But he bowled out of his mind and shot 278 (11 strikes and one eight in the eighth frame, I believe) to make the show. He would lose in the first TV match to Richie Wolfe.
The announcers on the show: Randy Pedersen is generally pretty good but it’s a hard balance between educating the fan who knows little or nothing about bowling and educating the fan who takes bowling seriously (especially these dedicated high school bowlers, the fastest growing varsity sport in the country). Efforts should be made for both and fans should be told (if you’re talking about cover stock or where to put a pin or even ball changes, that’s for the advanced bowler). “Know the Wood” is great, but I’d like to know, on the various patterns, how much oil is where and what does that mean for an average good bowler v. a pro bowler. I’m not a Rob Stone “Hambone” guy, but he does bring enthusiasm. It would be nice if he took up bowling, was taught by Randy and then the new bowlers watching (or the people who haven’t tried it yet) could get a 90-second or so “lesson” each week. That might actually bring some new bowlers to the local lanes.
No more commercials during actual play. What a disaster that was this season. Inexplicably, the telecast would leave live play to show a commercial (once a bowler had five or so in a row to start the game and we missed his next shot – ridiculous). Never do this. In the “old days,” sometimes they would leave a telecast when a bowler was shut out before the tenth frame (or in the tenth) but, other than that, live play should never be left during a telecast. Just bizarre.
MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL – CAN POOR PEOPLE BOWL ANYMORE?
The answer, in the New York City-area that I live in, seems to be a resounding NO. Once upon a time, when we were all broke and living in a so-so neighborhood in upper Manhattan, even poor people could bowl. You didn’t need much money and, especially when it was raining, the lanes were packed. Everybody where I grew up could bowl a little. And, of course, some of us took it more seriously.
Today, it’s a different story. I certainly understand the “glitter” bowling or “disco” bowling or the many ways to appeal to kids who really don’t take bowling seriously. I get the glow-in-the-dark stuff and the music videos above lanes seven and eight and the inability to see your spot and bumpers, etc., etc., etc.
But the cost of these things is prohibitive. A family of four now in an area where one game can cost seven, eight or even nine dollars (seriously) per person is just absurd. Rental shoes can cost five bucks (plus, believe it or not, tax). If you bowl just two games plus shoes with a family of four, that can cost you north of $80. And please pay up front (you can’t pay after you bowl).
Realistically, how many new people are you going to get to take up the game seriously? How many poor people are going to bowl in this economy at these prices? Answer: very few.
Now, in some instances, like if you bowl in a league, you can bowl “practice” games for half-price or so. Or, you can get coupons from your local alley for one free game. Or, last year you could buy frozen Banquet dinners and get free games of bowling.
But understand that, if you price poor to lower middle-class people out of the bowling market, you’ve lost a huge segment of the population that made up the core of bowling participants in the post-World War II era. An effort has to be made to get them back with more (and better) giveaways, with cheaper prices on off-hours and maybe, once a year, with an incredible “buy one get two free” games of bowling. You need to bring people back into the lanes. And if you can tie it into the increase in high school bowling participation, you might be able to increase both types of bowler – the serious ones and the I-just-want-to-have-fun ones. And there’s nothing wrong with the latter.
In today’s economy and today’s world (1,000 options for kids), bowling has to go out of its way to develop a new and younger fan base. With the junior program at your local lanes and the high school program at your local high school (start one if there isn’t one), kids can and will become involved. Here’s hoping an improved sport continues because it’s one of the greatest things to do when you’re a kid. Even when it’s sunny outside.
© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.