Spare Me All These Strikes

May 21, 2000

Oh, for crying out loud! This has got to stop. The numbers are
soaring out of control. The big moment is now cheaper than Tonya
Harding. All these tricked-up houses are making a mockery of
this great old game.

Not baseball, you seamhead! Bowling! Do you realize that during
the 1998-99 bowling season 34,470 perfect games were rolled?
Thirty-four thousand. Thirty years earlier there were 905.
That's an increase of, well, that's just a
very-hard-to-figure-out increase.

Will the one bowler left who hasn't thrown a perfect game please
turn in your clown shoes! Josie LaRocco, a 10 1/2-year-old boy
from Louisville, has bowled one. Last year 87-year-old Joe Dean
of Columbus, Ohio, rolled a 300. (How'd he even lift the ball?)
I expect to read next week about a 300 rolled by a dead man.

Used to be, you rolled a perfect game and the American Bowling
Congress sent you a gold diamond ring. The owner of the alley
roped off the lane. Your name appeared on a plaque: on this
site, george whomperman....Your picture was in the newspaper.
For the rest of your life Dolores brought your cheeseburger first.

Now you roll a 300, and the guy behind the counter barely looks
up. Your buddies shrug and ask what time next week. The ABC
still sends you a ring, but it's made of Siladium, a kind of
stainless steel. Your name goes up on a chalkboard, but it's
gone by morning. Hell, you're lucky to get a picture of the
scoreboard before they clear it.

"In the old days," says 92-year-old Joe Norris of San Diego, who
threw a 300 at age 86, "if somebody threw a 300, we'd all sit
around the lounge and he'd buy everybody drinks. Now there're
too many. We'd all be alcoholics!"

Perfection sure isn't what it used to be. Do you realize that
one of the greatest bowlers who ever lived, Dick Weber, only had
14 perfect games in his pro career? There's a guy in Saginaw,
Mich., Joe Jimenez, who has 59! There's a guy in North Hills,
Calif., Bryan Alpert, who has a 300 right-handed and
left-handed! And a 299 right and left! And an 800 series right
and left! (Bryan, buddy, you need a new hobby.)

It's money that's the cause of all this. The owners of the
houses want their bowlers to go home happy and keep coming back,
so they lay down three units (one unit is seven millionths of an
inch) of oil on the far outside boards and 75 or more on the
inside boards. That's basically a glob of oil you could skid a
Peterbilt on. What it means is this: If you pull your throw a
little, the ball's probably still going to stay in the pocket
lane. If you start it out with too much hook, it'll hit the oil
slick and stay in the pocket lane. Voila! It's like putting in a
bathtub or hitting Willard Scott with a peashooter from the next
barstool. Urkel, flat drunk in heels, could bowl a 300 under
those conditions.

It's not just the oil. The balls come straight from NASA now.
They've got cores that could flatten Paris and shells that grab,
hook and smash like Sonny Liston. Meanwhile, the pins are still
dandelions. Pin weight hasn't changed in years. What chance does
a skinny little Don Knotts pin have against these new Charles
Atlas balls? What chance does a training bra have against Dolly
Parton?

"We've had letters from people who say they've quit the sport,"
says ABC official Jack Mordini. "They say it's become too easy."

It's damn un-American is what it is. But it's not just bowling.
Home runs are hit in the major leagues now every six seconds,
many of them by bat boys. A blind geisha could make a college
three-pointer, the line is so close. In pole vaulting the new
poles practically throw you over the bar. Last week an innocent
bystander unwittingly cleared 19'5".

Hell, why stop there? Let's make sports easier than Drew
Barrymore! Let's pitch underhand! Let's take the tennis net
down! Let's outfit NHL goalies in Cole Haans, Speedos and salad
tongs and set them in front of goals the size of Zambonis!

Luckily, the ABC has an idea: It's asking houses to set off a
few lanes for so-called sport bowling. On these lanes the Alaska
pipeline won't be running down the middle. It's how bowling was
meant to be. It's like playing from the blue tees. It's for
those bowlers who don't need to brag about their inflated 255s.

Naturally, as a sportsman, I'm going to stay as far from those
lanes as humanly possible. I average 140.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA

Will the one bowler left who hasn't thrown a perfect game please
turn in your clown shoes!

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)