Column: Weber left many a bowler in his wake, but he never gloated over his wins

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Dick Weber died this year.

He was a bowler.

While I was growing up, my sports heroes were guys like Mickey Mantle, Jerry West and Johnny Unitas.

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I didn’t think much about bowlers.

I didn’t know how to bowl. I still don’t.

Oh, I like wearing a bowling shirt, a cool piece of clothing that gives the wearer a certain look of laid-back hipness.

I used to hang around a bowling alley waiting for my parents to pick me up after a school event, but to me, bowling was nothing more than heavy lifting while wearing bad shoes.

I do think bowling would be preferable to golf because it would be easier to find lost balls.

I am not a bowling enthusiast, but someone once talked me into bowling.

He talked me into bowling against Dick Weber.

Dick Weber is a member of the Pro Bowling Hall of Fame, who won 29 tournaments and was named Bowler of the Year three times.

He is arguably the greatest bowler of all time.

I bowled against Dick Weber because I couldn’t think of enough reasons not to.

All I knew about bowling was that the fewest number of balls I

could roll in a regulation game would be 11. That would be the case if I rolled strikes in frames one through nine and followed that with two gutter balls in the 10th frame.

In 1944, a Boston Braves pitcher named Red Barrett needed only 58 pitches to throw a two-hitter while defeating the Cincinnati Reds. He didn’t walk or strike out a single hitter in nine innings. The game took only one hour and 15 minutes, the record for the quickest night game ever played. I would have needed at least that many balls to beat Dick Weber.

I shook hands with my opponent and said, “Please spare me, Mr. Weber, you don’t strike me as someone who takes advantage of the bowling-impaired.&uot;

There are millions of bowlers who couldn’t beat Dick Weber. I’m one of them.

I bowled a 140 and was amazed that I reached triple figures.

Dick Weber bowled a perfect game. During his 300 game, every ball he rolled looked the same as the previous ball.

I was more excited about his accomplishment than he was.

When I saw the list of his sanctioned 300 games, I understood why he wasn’t running around the bowling alley shouting &uot;Whoo-hoo! Whoo-hoo!&uot;

I found Dick Weber to be a kind and gracious man, who took pity upon a tyro and offered some bowling tips.

He told me that I should put my fingers and thumb into the holes of the bowling ball. I didn’t know where those holes had been.

He suggested that I wear bowling shoes instead of sandals.

I thought of the sandals as relaxed-fit bowling shoes.

Besides, the shoes smelled like other people’s feet.

The biggest moneymaker in the bowling alley has to be the shoes. The alley must get a volume discount by buying so many inexpensive shoes at a time. The alley rents them to bowlers repeatedly. Why, it’s a better racket than pork belly futures.

Dick advised that I might have better luck if I allowed the ball to bounce twice instead of just once before it hit the pins. What did he know? His ball didn’t even bounce once.

There are scented bowling balls that come in such aromas as: green apple, peppermint, black cherry, chocolate, lemonade, plum, wintergreen, blueberry, grape, banana, cinnamon, orange, amaretto and cherry. Every ball I rolled had a certain odor &045; bad. My game smelled.

Dick pretended to appreciate my buffoonery. Maybe he did understand me? He once threw bowling balls down Broadway in New York City during a guest appearance on &uot;The Late Show With

David Letterman.&uot;

Dick Weber went bowling the day before he died.

I still don’t know how to bowl and likely never will, but I have added Dick Weber to my list of heroes.

Dick Weber was a true gentleman. He lived in the same small house in St. Louis since the sixties, was married to the same woman for more than 55 years and was involved in no scandals.

He always took the time to talk to fans, especially kids, and to sign autographs.

He was a classy individual who was the best goodwill ambassador bowling could have had.

A competitor of Dick Weber’s, Carmen Salvino, said, &uot;Even the guys who finished second to Dick Weber were happy for him.&uot;

I don’t collect autographs, but I wish I would have gotten Dick Weber’s.

(Hartland resident Al Batt writes a column for the Tribune each Wednesday and Sunday.)