by Dave Williams
Just a few short weeks ago, I penned an article about Mookie Betts, the all star right fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who also doubles as a card carrying member of the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA). He’s continuing a tradition of baseball/bowling athletes that come along about every thirty years.
First it was Don Carter in the 1960’s, a promising pitcher/infielder for the Philadelphia Athletics, who was “encouraged” to make his future in the game of bowling by signing the first $1 million dollar contract by any professional athlete, when he signed a long term agreement with the Ebonite Corporation.
Next came John Burkett in the 1990’s, a lifelong bowler from Pennsylvania that was “enticed” by the yearly guaranteed contracts of five professional baseball teams over the course of many years. Since retiring from baseball, John is currently enjoying his first passion as a member of the PBA50 bowling tour for senior citizens.
And now we have Mookie Betts, another gifted athlete in the 2020’s that excels at both baseball and bowling. But there’s another part to this story… the number of professional baseball players (and bowlers) that have become bowling proprietors during their famous careers.
“You Can Observe A Lot By Watching”
There are exceptions (Cap Anson, John McGraw and Robbie Robinson from the early part of the 20th century), but for the most part professional baseball players took advantage of the bowling boom that was precipitated by the creation of automatic pin setting devices by both AMF and Brunswick. Among those that jumped on the bandwagon and joined the craze by opening their own bowling center in the late 1950’s to early 1960’s were:
- Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto — Berra and Rizzuto Lanes
- Nellie Fox — Nellie Fox Bowl
- Gil Hodges — Gil Hodges Lanes
- Mickey Mantle — Mickey Mantle Bowling Center
- Stan Musial and Joe Garagiola — Red Bird Lanes
- Duke Snider – Duke Snider Lanes
There must be at least as many professional bowlers that tried their hand at operating a center(s) in this timeframe. Some of the names that immediately come to mind include:
- Don Carter — Don Carter Bowling Centers (multiple locations)
- Dick Weber — Dick Weber Lanes
- Bill Lillard — Palace Lanes (and others)
- Don Ellis — Emerald Lanes (and others)
- Dick Hoover — Dick Hoover Lanes
- Ray Bluth — Crestwood Bowl
- Billy Hardwick — Billy Hardwick’s All Star Lanes
- Wayne Zahn — Tempe Bowl
As I was reviewing the scores from all of the baseball playoff games and trying to remember who was still in the playoffs (can it be any more confusing with all the wild card games, division series and the championship series?), I noticed yet another article at mlb.com that featured bowling… “These Yankee Legends Went From Pinstripes to Pins.”
The article, written by Dan Cichalski, focused on the shuttered Berra-Rizzuto Bowling Lanes that was constructed along the highly traveled Route 3 in Clifton, New Jersey, in 1958. It was part of the Styertowne Shopping Center. Today, the former bowling center houses three stores: the anchor Michaels Stores, flanked by a Lucille Roberts and a Sherwin-Williams Paint Store, according to Cichalski.
Berra and Rizzuto were both residents of New Jersey — Yogi in nearby Montclair, and Phil a little farther south in Hillside. They scheduled the grand opening of Berra-Rizzuto Bowling Lanes for a Yankees off-day, according to Cichalski. The event drew an estimated crowd of 5,000 and was covered by wire reports in newspapers throughout the United States.
“This is greater than I had anticipated,” said a surprised Rizzuto in the Herald-News from Passaic, New Jersey. Many of the 1958 Yankees were on hand for the grand opening: Mickey Mantle (who would open his own bowling center the next year in Dallas, Texas), Don Larsen, Moose Skowron, Hank Bauer, Gil McDougald, Elston Howard and manager Casey Stengel.
Although I never met Phil Rizzuto, I was fortunate to rub elbows with Yogi Berra on a few occasions during my years at both AMF and Nationwide Bowling Centers. He was a savvy marketer. When you were with him, his “yogi-isms” made sense. John Mazey, the famous advertising manager for AMF Bowling Products, gave Yogi the credit for many of the slogans used in AMF advertisements.
During the filming of a commercial to promote AMF MagicScore, Mazey said that it was Yogi that came up with the headline banner in all of the advertising and television commercials — “You knock ‘em down, MagicScore adds ‘em up.” Another line that Mazey attributed to Berra was, “Little kids can bowl by themselves, even if they can’t add.”
Many years later while working for Nationwide Bowling Centers, I was asked to bring a carpet bowling lane to the grand opening of Yogi Berra Stadium in Little Falls, New Jersey. We set up the lane in a secluded area of the lobby, between the stadium and the Yogi Berra Museum. The thought was that the carpet bowling lane would keep the children occupied while the festivities were taking place at both the stadium and the museum.
It worked, and after the ceremony at the museum, Berra came over to the carpet bowling lane to see what it was all about. He just had a curiosity about life, and everything in it. My guess is that’s why he excelled at being a catcher, because they are the most involved player on the field. He also had that down home St. Louis charm so reminiscent of Dick Weber (Berra was originally from St. Louis).
“Nobody Goes There Anymore. It’s Too Crowded”
Berra and Rizzuto eventually sold the bowling center to their brothers, according to the Cichalski article. Yogi continued to bowl in the off season and formed a Monday night bowling team that included Rizzuto, Howard, Skowron, McDougald and Ralph Houk, among others. The parking lot was a commuter lot for Berra and his teammates, according to Cichalski. They would all meet there and take turns driving to the stadium.
-Yogi Berra died in 2015, at the age of 90
-Photo courtesy of the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center
-Berra and Rizzuto Bowling Lanes art by m00nshot.com
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