by Dave Williams
In August of 2017, I shared a story about Elvin Mesger, the greatest bowler that no one ever heard about, perhaps because of his quiet, unassuming nature, while living his life in a small community near St. Louis, Missouri, known as Sullivan (California Bowling News, “Visions of St. Louis, and Elvin Mesger – The Bowling Machine,” August 24, 2017, page 2).
At the end of the article I suggested that perhaps the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) should asterisk Mesger’s records, since all of his honor awards occurred before the introduction of the Limited Distance Dressing Rule in 1988.
A couple of conversations in the past few weeks have prompted me to once again ask if the USBC should asterisk all records prior to 1988, just like baseball did for records set during the 154 game season, as opposed to the current 162 game schedule.
One of those conversations was with J.R. Schmidt, historian columnist for Bowlers Journal International. He contacted me to say thanks for the mention about him in my article recounting another virtual unknown bowler, Connie Schwoegler, the first to make the finger tip grip a popular alternative to the conventional grip.
In his note Schmidt asked me if I could help him find any information about USBC Hall of Fame member Hank Lauman, who moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles in 1949. Schmidt notes that “I’ve never been able to find much about him. For somebody who made the Hall of Fame, there’s very little on his background, other than the basic stuff – grew up in St. Louis, bowled with the Hermann Undertakers, etc.”
My calls to the California Bowling News and others brought little new information. A couple of the most interesting topics were an advertisement in the California Bowling News, circa 1951, in which Lauman challenged anyone to a home-and-home match for any amount of money. I opined to Schmidt that Hank must have found a bowling center in Los Angeles to his liking, to make such a bold offer.
Another issue featured a picture of Hollywood actress Jayne Mansfield receiving a bowling lesson by Lauman prior to the 1957 March of Dimes Bowling Tournament. Lauman was a member of the AMF Advisory Staff of Champions at that time. He won the Southern California Masters in 1957, and was the Southern California Match Game Champion five times.
Lauman joined the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) as one of the original 33 charter members. His best finish was 5th in 1963 at the Tennessee PBA Open. He rolled 4 sanctioned 300’s and four 800’s, with his highest total an 820.
However, little else could be found about Mr. Lauman. When I went to the USBC website, I was amazed that I could not find any of the Hermann Undertakers records, or Elvin Mesger, or even the Hook Grip Five, a famous team that held the individual team game record for many years. Only the top 5 scores in each category are listed, which prompted my initial concern earlier this year about the 300 game records before and after 1988 (California Bowling News, “I’m Not Sure Whether to Say I’m Sorry, Or You’re Welcome,” January 25, 2018, page 4).
I reached out to Matt Cannizzaro at bowl.com regarding my concerns about the history of bowling records, and he responded by stating that “records, scores and titles go into the books based on the rules, playing conditions and technology at the time. This is true not just for bowling, but for all sports, and these factors always are evolving.”
What’s unfortunate about Matt’s comment is that it does not address the true history of bowling. While I’m impressed with Andrew Neuer’s total of over 200 perfect games, it would be nice if the USBC could recognize that in the first 90+ years of sanctioned bowling, the record for 300 games by an individual was 27.
I remember as a youngster going to the local pharmacy to purchase The World Almanac and Book of Facts each year. It was one of the only places to update the records of the top players before the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) came into prominence.
As a 10 year old, Elvin Mesger and his plethora of 300 games represented to me the equivalent of Babe Ruth and his 714 home runs in baseball. And just like the Bambino, Mesger had an almost insurmountable lead of 10 perfect games over the remainder of all bowlers.
Each year I would continue to buy the latest World Almanac and dream of being among the leaders on the 300 game list. After fifteen years of purchases, I finally began to see my totals (and those of fellow Californian Butch Soper) begin to appear among the lifetime 300 game leaders.
A recent article in Bowlers Journal International by Bob Johnson, former editor of the California Bowling News, started out by asserting that “sports records are made to be broken, so the cliche goes, and virtually all such records are based on numbers.” The synopsis of Bob’s article was that bowling scores have become irrelevant.
Bowling has a tremendous example to follow via the game of baseball, by providing a yearly reference to 300’s, 800’s, team games and series, followed by the updated lifetime bests. This would provide a better reference for traditionalists like me, and names such as Hank Lauman, Connie Schwoegler and Elvin Mesger would not be lost in a numbers game of scoring irrelevance.