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Don Carter was one of bowling’s greatest

January 10, 2012
By STEVE BROWNLEE - Journal Sports Staff (sbrownlee@miningjournal.net) , The Mining Journal

I was saddened over the weekend to read about one of the greatest bowlers of all time, Don Carter, had died on Thursday at age 85.

But I feel fortunate that I'm writing this column at the time of his passing. It gives me a chance to not only talk about the greats, but do some comparisons of the eras of bowling.

I never got to see Carter bowl live on TV during his heyday, though I seem to remember having seen him bowl on TV at sometime in the 1970s, maybe as an exhibition or some sort of thing.

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STEVE BROWNLEE

And they used to show video all the time of his heyday in the '50s and '60s, and even do so today.

By today's standards, he had a rather unique approach, stooped over with a cocked elbow and a big knee bend at release. And this was in the days of the classic styles, since accuracy was the all-encompassing trait you needed on the lanes.

An Associated Press story reminded me of some of his feats, with a little of my own research thrown in.

The AP mentioned that he won not one, but two 100-game World Invitational and All Star tournaments in the same year. It's been a few years since I read about them, but I seem to remember that the field would be pared down to two guys, THEN they would start bowling one hundred games.

Not just to bowl them, but to bowl as high a score as possible. Crazy, eh?!

His honor score total was modest by today's standards, but think of what would happen if you made bowlers throw away their reactive resin balls of today, their urethane balls of the 1980s, even their plastic-polyester balls of the 1970s.

Use nothing but a black rubber ball, don't expect to come anywhere close to the strike pocket if you don't hit the exact one-inch wide board on the lane that you're aiming at.

Trust me, my honor score total would be a big fat ZERO under those circumstances.

Carter had 13 300s, five 800s and a half-dozen 299s. He also bowled with the Budweiser team in St. Louis that in 1958 set the team series record of 3,858 that stood for nearly 36 years.

Again, Carter along with Dick Weber and three other future Hall of Famers used their black rubber balls to average 771 per man, or 257 per game. They had 138 strikes in 150 frames, with the actual number of first balls thrown probably about 170 or 175.

Today's changes to the game, particularly in the material balls are made of, the composition of pins and the way lanes are oiled, has forced the standards of greatness to be recalibrated several times over.

Nowadays, it isn't if you've thrown a 300, but how many, when talking about greatness. And really, the most accurate measure is to compete against the best bowlers under trying conditions, even if the scores end up humbling you.

At a time when it was unheard of for baseball and football players to make even $100,000 a year, Carter was the first athlete anywhere to sign a $1 million endorsement deal, with bowling ball maker Ebonite in 1964.

He was a great one, along with the late Dick Weber and another name that kept coming up when I did Internet searches about the World Invitational - Marion Ladewig of Grand Rapids, who passed away in 2010.

Now on to the Mining Journal Bowlers of the Week.

Steve Swentik was top dog this week when he shot 142 pins over his 184 average with 694 (and a 257 game) in the Wednesday Trio League at Country Lanes.

Next in line was Nathan Larsh of the Wednesday Industrial League at Superior Lanes. He rolled 125 over his 170 average with 635.

Right behind him was 84-year-old Gil Perry of the Tuesday Miller Genuine Draft Major League at Country at plus-124. With a 165 average, Perry rolled 619 on games of 214, 233 and 182.

What was also interesting was that last week's MGD Major nominee was 17-year-old Michael Gustafson.

For the women, Maria Virch shot 98 over her 173 mean in the Tuesday Night Mixed at Superior with 617, including a 247 game, while runner-up was leaguemate Shannon Clemo at plus-79 over her 136 average with 487.

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

 
 

 

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