by Dave Williams
The Oxford Language Dictionary defines fate as follows: “The development of events beyond a person’s control, regarded as determined by a supernatural power.” There’s just no other way to explain my comparison last week of this year’s winner in the New Mexico Open, Dylan Taylor, with the legendary Harry Smith, who passed away in August at the age of 91.
After I had completed the editorial on Thursday, comparing the unorthodox styles of Taylor and Smith, I sent a copy to Steve Mackie, the tournament host at Tenpins & More in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, for his review. I was almost apologetic in my presentation, and yet felt so strongly that the consideration between their styles be emphasized.
Once I heard back from Steve and we made a couple of numerical changes, I returned to the internet on Saturday to make sure that my sources were correct before submitting the article. That’s when I noticed the article on the PBA website that had been posted earlier that day, announcing the death of Harry Smith.
As I reviewed the article from Johnny Campos at PBA.com, it was good to see all of the comments from current and former PBA employees, where Harry served as the assistant tournament director from 1977 to 1988. Unfortunately, his employment with the PBA curtailed his tournament participation during those years.
“Harry’s death hasn’t sunk in yet,” said long time PBA Player Services Director Larry Lichstein. “But my feelings are very simple: From 1957 and into the early 1960’s, it was Carter, Weber and Smith. That was it. They were the three best bowlers in the world.” That statement was backed up by an article that I found on line from a 1963 Sports Illustrated issue: “A Guy Named Smith Is Striking It Rich.”
The Sports Illustrated article goes on to say, “Professional bowler Harry Smith stands to bank as much money this year as Sandy Koufax and Y.A. Tittle, combined.” Koufax was the MVP and Cy Young Award winner in professional baseball that year, and made $35,000. Tittle, who had been discarded by the San Francisco 49ers, returned as a New York Giant, and in 1963, at the age of 37, set a touchdown passing record that stood until 1984. His salary was even less than Koufax that year.
Harry Smith earned $36,962 on the PBA tour alone in 1963, but according to the S.I. article, he had several sources of income, including a $20,000 per year salary as the local pro at Johnny Unitas’ Colt Lanes in Baltimore. With prizes, salaries, endorsements and television bowling show appearances, Mr. Smith’s estimated income was projected to be in excess of $75,000 (adjusted for inflation, that would be more than $645,000 in 2021).
“He had an emotional, high energy game,” said his friend and bowling coach Fred Borden, in an article penned by Mark Price in the Akron Beacon Journal. “He was the first real power player in bowling. He’d hit the pocket light and the pins would explode.”
As a youth bowler growing up in California, I remember copying the styles of all the top pros with my friends during our free shadow bowling sessions at L & L Lanes. Ray Bluth and Harry Smith were our favorites… Bluth for his unusual corkscrew stance, peering over the top of the ball; and Smith for his crank shot, followed by “running out” every delivery across the approach area of the lanes.
When I watched Dylan Taylor’s delivery from the New Mexico Open tournament, the first bowler that I thought of that walked left and turned his body sideways was Harry Smith. Although Smith didn’t begin his approach in a perpendicular fashion like Taylor, he did have an unusual circular motion that he would make with the ball while rocking back and forth on one foot and then the other… like he was starting up a lawnmower!
Harry Smith will certainly not be forgotten any time soon. We will have the likes of Dylan Taylor and Jason Belmonte (who also walks left and turns his body sideways) to remind us of the very first power player that came upon the scene more than 70 years ago — Harry “Tiger” Smith.
Finally, I have provided a link to a video from Bowlers Gazette that contains interviews from five professional bowlers in 1983, the 25th Anniversary of the PBA. In addition to Harry Smith, there are interviews from Mark Roth, Jay Robinson, Mike Durbin and Sam Zurich. It’s fascinating to view their dedication, and also their frustration, primarily from all of the travel that was a part of the PBA Tour in those years. You can find the video at: