Visions of St. Louis, and Elvin Mesger – “The Bowling Machine”

CaliforniaBowlingNews.com
by Dave Williams

Before the introduction of Limited Distance Dressing (LDD), or “short oil,” in 1988, rolling a perfect 300 game in bowling was quite rare. In fact, the all-time leader prior to the lane conditioning procedure change was Elvin Mesger of Sullivan, Missouri, with 27 perfectos. The author of the article below was often looked upon as the heir apparent to Mesger’s records. At the tender age of 33, Dave Williams had racked up an astonishing 18 sanctioned 300’s and 10 three game series of 800 or more. But as Chuck Pezzano wrote in an article entitled Rookie Has Dazzling Credentials (The Sporting News Magazine, June 5, 1976), “If he doesn’t make it big on the PBA Tour, few will recall him, and fewer will remember his 300 and 800 sprees that deserve a spot in bowling history.” Here now is a thoughtful tale written by Williams in 1978, when he journeyed to St. Louis for the annual American Bowling Congress tournament and attempted to track down the illusive Mesger. Dan McDonough – Sports Reporter

Photo of Elvin Mesger provided by Matt Cannizzaro of USBC

It’s difficult to admit never having bowled in the greatest of all tournaments, the American Bowling Congress (ABC) National Championships. But what better way to begin a relation with this great event than in St. Louis, the bowling capitol of the world.

Flying into St. Louis, one thinks about life in this splendid city – the Gateway Arch, the Mississippi steamboats, the famous breweries. And yet, after an “enlightening” drive up Grand Avenue, one decides that it would be better to stay right where I am in delightful San Diego, thank you.

But what about the real St. Louis – the famed Floriss Lanes, Crossroads Bowl and Arcade Lanes. And Elvin Mesger… would I finally get to meet the greatest bowler of all time?

What? You never heard of Elvin? Well, what he has done in his career overshadows the feats of every professional bowler – even Dick Weber and Earl Anthony. Mesger, of Sulli-van, Missouri, has recorded more sanctioned 300’s (27), more 299’s (11), more 298’s (4), and more 800’s (21) than any bowler in the history of the game.

But who is he? Sure, most serious bowlers recognize the name. The fine print of any tenpin magazine lists him as the premier 300 shooter. But because Mesger is not seen on Saturday afternoon television shows, many tenpin followers envision him as a one house artist.

Essentially, he is just that. Mesger has rolled his amazing total of perfect games on only ten different pairs of lanes in five different establishments. And his 800’s have been recorded in only two centers. But as a famous bowling writer once said, “even on a no-tilt pinball machine, this record would be hard to match.”

After settling in my hotel room, the task of meeting Elvin Mesger began. My first stop was one of the fabled establishments that Elvin has been known to frequent.

Upon entering the doors of this unique looking complex, my wish was that the lanes could speak to me and relate some of the great moments recorded by such bowling masters as Don Carter, Dick Weber, and of course, “The Machine.”

As I approached the control desk, I noticed a rather portly man with years of bowling lines etched upon his face. Having worked in a bowling center most of my life, I felt somewhat concerned about interrupting his endless chore of recording (cash receipts, inventories, etc.).

But my immediate question was one that had been pressing upon me since this trip began some 2,000 miles ago in California.

“Say, have you seen Elvin Mesger bowl here?” I asked.

“Who?” came the inquisitive reply.

“Elvin Mesger,” I said.

“Never heard of him,” responded the veteran of the recording game, as he continued his daily assignments.

“He’s had a few 300’s here. Isn’t this the famed “House of 300’s?”

“Yeh, we’ve had a few 300’s here. I think there was one a couple of nights ago, down on 23 & 24, or 25 & 26.”

Well now, being from a small town in Northern California, where 300’s are supposedly a dime a dozen – this was an amazingly brash statement.

“Hey, ask the desk man down the way. Maybe he can help you find that guy,” said my friend of the recording wars.

Yes, maybe he might know of the timid tenpin ace who is the peaches of summer in the snow of winter. Elvin Mesger… one of those people who always seems to be passing by on days when the shade is green under tunnels of oaks, and his face shifting with bright shadows until he is all things to all people.

“Elvin who?” asked a little old man.

There before me stood a typical all-American desk person – a man of late 50’s who had lost most of his hair, and what remained was a threadbare grey, black and white. There was a certain knowledge of illness written upon his face, for a desk person travels in a sunless land.

“I’ve only been working here since September and I’m not a bowler. But I think that fella you’re lookin’ for might bowl on Thursdays, in the Blue-Chip Stamp League.”

Could this be St. Louis, home of the most famous keglers of all time? Was this really the famed “House of 300’s?” Maybe this was all just a dream, and I would awaken to discover the real St. Louis, and “The Machine.”

But then, for Elvin Mesger, the idea of being renowned must be an unknown commodity. Elvin could never be called a boastful man, and yet one seems to realize that his timidity is a pretentious element of his overall nature.

Proving his ability is not a big concern for Mesger. Sure, every bowler dreams of having his picture on the cover of Bowlers Journal, the standard of the bowling world. We all dream these things. But for Elvin, the distortion must be close to insurmountable.

The question of what one must do to attain greatness in the hearts of Americans must truly have entered Mesger’s thoughts at certain moments in his illustrious career – like one memorable day in June of 1967, when he rolled three perfect games (in three different 3 game blocks).

Surely “The Machine” has cast aside the beliefs of an estranged group of indolent fanatics whose all-American teams have become all-PBA teams, primarily due to television.

If you’re a bowler, you spend a good deal of your life gripping a bowling ball, and in the end, it turns out that it was the other way around all the time. For Elvin Mesger, proof of his ability is not of concern, for people do not want to hear about labor pains, they just want to see the baby.

Bowling is a welcome distraction for this unknown “Hall of Famer,” in an otherwise tedious life.

(Elvin Mesger died in 2001. What an incredible change has taken place in the sport of bowling since 1988, and the introduction of Limited Distance Dressing. Perhaps USBC should asterisk Mesger’s records, but that’s a subject for another day).

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