Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Say good night, Dick

When I was growing up, televised bowling was a Saturday afternoon ritual. Often it followed Saturday morning bowling in person, because I bowled in Saturday morning youth leagues for years. I was never good enough that anyone ever thought I might turn pro, but it was fun to pretend.

Those ABC broadcasts were like comfort food for the eyes. Chris Schenkel, the play-by-play man, would speak in measured tones like a golf announcer and say pleasant things about all the bowlers. The color commentator — originally Billy Welu, then after Welu died, it was Nelson "Bo" Burton Jr. — was always a knowledgeable pro with a good sense of humor, though Burton was more urbane and earnest than the colorful Welu. Then there were the bowlers: Earl Anthony, with his crew cut and machine-like accuracy; Johnny Petraglia, he of the shaggy locks and Fu Manchu moustache; Ernie Schlegel, who owned enough ugly polyester shirts to clothe the patrons of every sleazy discotheque in America; burly and powerful Mark Roth; burly and comical Steve Cook; scrappy little Marshall Holman; and dozens of other memorable names.

Then there was Dick Weber. Weber was like the gentleman uncle of pro bowling. A slightly built and unassuming man with a polite manner and perfectly coiffured hair, he was the one the others all looked up to. Weber wasn't a flamethrower like Roth or scarily mechanical like Anthony or goofy like Petraglia. He just picked up his ball, took the approach, and made pins fall down with his deceptively graceful technique. There's an athlete in every sport who makes the game look far too easy, and in bowling, Dick Weber was that athlete.

Years later, when Dick's son Pete started on the tour, it was nearly unfathomable to believe the two were related, much less pere and fils. Where Dick was easygoing and well-mannered, Pete was brash and boisterous. Where Dick's style was smooth as butter, Pete flailed at the pins. And where Dick was the paragon of virtue and the inassailable idol of millions of bowling fans, Pete was the wild child who got into trouble with booze and drugs, forcing the PBA to suspend him from the tour more than once while he got his act together. (After a long period of struggle, he finally did, and became an even greater bowler than his father had been.)

When I read today that Dick Weber had died at age 75, I felt a piece of my childhood pass away with him. I haven't picked up a bowling ball in years — mine is somewhere in the garage, accumulating cobwebs — but I still recall those Saturday afternoons in front of the television, and the nice little man who rolled all those strikes without ever breaking a sweat.

1 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Janet offered these pearls of wisdom...

It's interesting you should write about this bc when I think of Saturday afternoons as a child spent at my grandmother's Saturday bowling is one of my fondest memories. We didn't even really watch it, it was just there, on in the background. Saturday prime time tv was an event of a different beast. Oh how I miss it so sometimes.:(

3:28 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home