It was no secret that the rulers of U.S. bowling generally viewed the late, great Joe Falcaro with apprehension. In character and temperament, he was like an accident looking for a place to happen, and in his blustering, profane career he trod on many toes. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that three years after his death Falcaro is still judged more as a man than as a bowler and has yet to find his niche in bowling's Hall of Fame.
In 1930, for example, when he was National Match Game champion, he was introduced to the new president of a bowling manufacturing firm. "I'm like you, Joe," beamed the manufacturer, thinking to put the champ at ease. "I'm a self-made man."
Joe gave him a long, contemptuous stare. "Come around when you're finished," he replied, and turned his back.
CHAMP WITH A SNEER
September 12, 1954
Falcaro had no respect for anyone except himself. When the Bowling Proprietors Association of America was formed in 1932, one of its first moves was to inform Joe that 1) it recognized him as U.S. champion, and 2) that it was arranging for him to defend his title against the winner of a national elimination tournament. Falcaro's answer was brief and blunt: "Who the hell are you bums? Falcaro the Great arranges his own matches!"
Falcaro's championship was self-proclaimed, but he made it stick. A slight man with a huge nose and full lips which curved naturally into a sneer, he has been pictured as part villain, part clown. Actually he was a great showman who took himself and bowling very seriously.
One day he exploded wrathfully when a radio announcer introduced him as "the great Falcaro." "No, no," Joe shouted into the microphone. "You got it wrong. It's Falcaro the Great!" Two days later he returned to apologize. "I been thinking," he told the announcer. "You were right. 'The great Falcaro.' It's got more class."
Rough though he was, Joe did a lot for bowling. He was among the first to explain and teach the game to women. His excellent movie shorts and his personal tours from coast to coast were a major factor in bowling's rise from the poolroom and saloon to America's most popular sport.
His personal principles were less creditable. Though he was one of the first to police the sport and lecture on the practices of sharks, he profited richly from his own incognito forays into bowling's hinterlands. He did little to enhance bowling's prestige. He was often mixed up in all-night drinking bouts. His foghorn voice spouted profanity in a rich Italian accent. Above all Falcaro considered himself Mr. Bowling and set his own rules for defense of the title which he won from Joe Scribner of Detroit in 1929.
Andy Varipapa followed him from alley to alley vainly trying to challenge him. "Go get a reputation first!" was Falcaro's taunting answer. When a match was finally agreed on—under Falcaro's rules—Varipapa bowled an incredible 252 average for the 30 games. But Joe's score was even more incredible: he beat Andy by 90 pins. "If it hadn't of been me," said Joe, "I wouldn't believe it."
On March 30, 1933 Falcaro was felled by three bullets pumped into him by an irate husband. While he was in the hospital, the BPAA declared the title vacant and called for national eliminations. Falcaro never "recognized" the champions who followed him. "Let them bowl their heads off," he said. "I'll still be champ." And champ he was, in his own mind, until he died on September 8, 1951.
$10,000,000 AND A CITATION
In those later years, Joe Falcaro was far more popular, and more a credit to the game, than when he wore the crown. In World War II, he raised $10,000,000 in war bonds and was cited by the U.S. Army. But memories still rankle with the American Bowling Congress, and last February his name was passed over again when the elections for the Hall of Fame were held.
"I'm the world's best," Falcaro used to say. "I done more for bowling than anybody. Some day they will put me into the Hall of Fame."
Maybe he was. Maybe he did. Maybe, at long last, they should.
SUDDEN LEAP TO FAME
Using his spectacular jump finish, Charley Paddock bolstered his reputation as "the world's fastest human" by winning-two American sprint titles 30 years ago this week. In both the 100-yard and 220-yard dashes at the National A.A.U. outdoor track and field championships, the Los Angeles sprinter tied the world records of 9.6 seconds and 20.8 seconds, respectively, which he already held. To win, the 24-year-old Paddock had to defeat Loren Murchison, the defending champion and his foremost American rival in both events. A fast starter, the Newark A.C. dash star led the 100-yard dash until the last 10 yards. At that point Paddock drove his powerful legs hard, climaxing the effort with a tremendous jump toward the finish line. In the 220, Paddock beat his rival by a good four yards.