by Dave Williams
There’s a story that I have told many times regarding my lifetime involvement in the game of bowling. But I’ve always left out one very important ingredient in that story… until now. The missing ingredient is Harry Smith, and until his death, it never dawned on me how important he was in shaping my entire life.
It all started when I was a youth bowler, as I recounted last week, and our ragtag group of junior keglers would gather together to indulge in a form of bowling at L & L Lanes called “shadow practice” for hours on end. The best part about shadow bowling was that it was free!
During those hours of practice, there was always time to imitate some of our favorite pro bowlers — usually when the owner wasn’t looking! Perhaps the most enjoyable of these pantomimes was Harry Smith, who was noted for his quirky approach, followed by a cranking release of the ball while hoping into the air, and then “running out the shot” as the ball careened toward its eventual target.
As time moved forward and our group of youth bowling misfits developed other friendships and hobbies, or advanced to the ranks of adult bowlers; I found myself to be the only remaining member of the group competing on Saturday mornings in the youth bowling program. It was also about this time that I had entered into college, and until I figured out the new routine associated with college life, league bowling was placed on hold.
One day while visiting and catching up with all the hubbub at L & L Lanes, I noticed an ad for a new plastic bowling ball called “The Big T.” It was a Harry Smith signature Titeline Bowling Ball from Columbia 300, complete with a tiger image on the ball. Because the lane surfaces had recently changed due to fire insurance regulations, and rubber bowling balls just wouldn’t hook anymore, I decided to give The Big T a try. Unfortunately the Harry Smith signature ball was sold out and the only ball available was a newer model with a “T/L” logo about the size of a quarter. I decided to give it a try.
After a few months, I did notice that the T/L bowling ball had a much better reaction than any of the harder rubber bowling balls that I owned. While I was practicing one day at L & L Lanes, there was a loud “ker-thunk” noise as my ball came up out of the ball return. A giant piece of the bowling ball was missing! Apparently the “T/L” logo had fallen out or snagged on some portion of the lane or machinery, and a large piece of the bowling ball, resembling a piece of obsidian, was found under the pinsetter.
When I showed the bowling ball to Primo Liberatore, owner of L & L Lanes, he told me not to worry because the ball was under warranty. He said that a representative from Western Columbia would be there later in the day and that I could most likely exchange the ball with him. It wasn’t long after that the representative arrived, but the only 16 pound ball that he had on the truck with a similar price for exchange was a caramel colored Columbia White Dot.
Since I remembered seeing professional kegler Don Johnson win with this bowling ball earlier in the year on television, my immediate reply was that the White Dot would be fine. Once we had punched some holes in the White Dot, my hook ball suddenly returned and I had a renewed interest in league bowling! In the fall of 1972, I joined my first adult league, and on November 3rd of that year I rolled my first 300 game in the Sonoma County Mixed Team Championships!
It’s funny how you get attached to bowling balls. I remember Keith Hernandez of the New York Mets once saying the same about a favorite bat. “It’s like the bat becomes a part of the family,” said Hernandez during a television broadcast. “You always believe there’s just one more home run in that favorite bat.” And it’s the same with bowling balls. I still remember the serial number of that Columbia 300 White Dot after 50 years — 2C28116!
Until the death of Harry Smith, I usually associated my early success and dedication to the game of bowling with Don Johnson. But I now realize that at least some of the credit must also go to Harry “Tiger” Smith.