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Dreaming of bowling a 300

And waking up to watch two from late 60s, mid 70s

December 27, 2011
By STEVE BROWNLEE - Journal Sports Writer ( , The Mining Journal

All right, all right, I have to admit I slept through bowling one Monday night about a month ago. In my defense, I have kind of crazy hours here at the Journal so I don't sleep at the same time all the time. Naps are my friends, and I didn't pick a good time for a late-afternoon siesta that day.

Yet on that particular night, I still got to see not one, but two bowlers roll perfect 300 games. Right from the comfort of my living room couch. (Yes, I did wake up later!)

They came on the ESPN Classic channel available on digital cable, channel 158 on Charter.

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And they were bowled in 1969 and 1974, of all things, and were the second- and third-ever 300s bowled on TV in the Professional Bowlers Association.

The listings on the program guide on my digital cable didn't mention anything about perfect games, but I started to get a sneaking suspicion as the strikes mounted and finally ran over to my computer to look it up in about the eighth frame of the historic '69 match.

I was surprised at the name of the bowler, John Guenther, who I had never heard of before. I thought I knew all the famous "oldtimers" like Dick Weber, Carmen Salvino, Don Carter and Don Johnson from the first decade of the PBA in the 1960s. Guenther, though, was a new one to me.

But there it was on the PBA website, a list of all the 300s they've had on TV, the first by a man with quite an unusual name, Jack Biondolillo, in 1967. I had at least heard of him, though I can't tell you a single thing about him other than his first-300 claim to fame.

Guenther was bowling Don Johnson in the San Jose, Calif., Open on Feb. 1, 1969, a match after he'd already beaten Buzz Fazio of the Kalamazoo area, another oldtimer I'd heard of.

Only getting to see bowling shows from that far back only once in a great while, it was quite entertaining to see Guenther hook the ball a total of about five or six boards (the one-inch wide wood strips on the lane), probably three boards from left to right and three more back to the left with a black rubber ball.

Johnson was probably hooking it about 15 boards and it was funny hearing the announcers say how he was throwing a huge hook.

Nowadays, I remember sitting down and figuring out that I've seen some guys hook the ball around 55 or 60 boards, if you count about five boards in the air over the left gutter by a huge cranker like "Maximum Bob" Robert Smith, then out to the three-board on the right side of the lane and back into the strike pocket.

Considering that a lane is only 39 boards wide, that means they're hooking it the full width of the lane and half again past that! My own record for a throw that I have a decent shot at hitting the strike pocket is probably about 40 boards when I've fooled around throwing a ball real slow out of desperation on a burned-up shot.

Trust me, for us average bowlers who don't rip the cover off the ball, it never works. Now when faced with this kind of situation, like when I bowl the Petersen Classic tournament in Chicago, I go as straight as I possibly can.

Back to Guenther, though. The TV show was taped in black and white, and after the 300, he had to win two more games to take the title, and he edged Billy Hardwick and thumped Wayne Zahn to do it. He won $9,100 for the championship and another $10,000 and a Mercury Cougar car for the 300.

The PBA list showed the next 300 came in 1974, and I was pretty sure it wasn't a coincidence that the companion show right after was from that year.

And I wasn't disappointed when I saw Jim Stefanich was on the next show, since he had the 300 in 1974. I realized early on that I had actually seen that show before, but I didn't remember all the breaks Stefanich got until watching it again.

Late in the game, he had an 8-pin fall straight forward, followed by a 4-pin fall the same way, then a hit so thin in the pocket that the 5-pin actually slid in front of the 7, but it fell anyway from another pin hitting it.

Then on the 12th and final shot, Stefanich probably should've left a wide-open split - he was so high on the head pin - but instead he just squashed the whole left side of the rack as another guy to win $10,000 and a Cougar.

Partway through, I realized the guy sitting next to Stefanich in the bowler's settee area looked really familiar, and looking on the web at the tournament list, there was John Guenther in sixth place as the alternate to be on TV. Wasn't that a weird coincidence?

Stefanich lost the next match and finished third, but he went down anyway in PBA immortality.

By the way, there wasn't another 300 bowled on a PBA telecast until 1987, when lightly regarded Pete McCordic pulled off the trick.

They're much more common now, probably about one every other year, but they're still a thrill to see when they happen.

I'm going to take a week off recognizing the Mining Journal Bowlers of the Week, but I'll recognize two weeks worth of bowlers next week, since a number of leagues are taking time off for the holidays.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.



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