Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Copyright ©2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVEN INSKEEP, host:

Well, while we're on the subject, here's a modest proposal, the next cultural exchange with North Korea could involve bowling. If nothing else, that might make up for a historic injustice that's on the mind of our sports commentator Frank Deford.

FRANK DEFORD: OK, I've learned to accept that the Dodgers left Brooklyn and the Colts left Baltimore and NASCAR left Rockingham, and I even finally bore up to the reality that Brad actually left Jennifer.

But, I'm sorry, I simply can't take it if bowling leaves Milwaukee. Well, not all bowling, of course, but the national headquarters of the sport, the heart and soul, ye, the shirt and shoes of bowling, located in Milwaukee for more than a century, is threatening to pick up and move to Texas.

That benighted decision by the United States Bowling Congress is scheduled to be made by March 14th.

Say it ain't so. As an erstwhile pin boy, I plead with the USBC to keep their sport in the city bowling made famous. After all, as Cracker Jack goes with baseball, as tailgating with football, so have bowling and beer and Milwaukee always gone together.

In fact, do you know how the old German-Americans used to play the game? Three teams would compete against each other. Have you ever heard of any sport where it's three teams? Everywhere else, it's two. But here's the way it worked with bowling. Two of the three teams would bowl against each other, while the third team went to the bar and drank beer. Then they'd rotate. Golf may have its 19th hole at the end of a round, but bowling had a moveable 19th hole.

No wonder bowling prospered long into the last century. Why, in wintertime, its big heroes, like Don Carter and Dick Weber, were as famous as basketball and hockey stars. As recently as 30 years ago, there were nine million sanctioned bowlers in this country.

But then the bubble burst. Now it's barely 2.5 million. Especially as tennis and golf moved out of the country clubs, poor bowling appeared to be de classe. Bowling shirts were the epitome of tacky and, oh, those multi-colored shoes that looked like something elves would wear.

It's funny, isn't it? The finest compliment you can pay an athlete is to call him a blue-collar kinda guy. But the whole sport of bowling took it on the chin because it was considered too blue collar.

Bowling tried to upgrade its image. Suddenly, you were supposed to call alleys lanes and gutters channels. Please. You are what you are. You might as well try to have baseball start calling dugouts patios.

And wouldn't you know it: What president put alleys in the White House? Right — Richard Nixon. I interviewed President Nixon once. His big gripe against sports journalists? They didn't pay enough attention to bowling. Just bowling's luck — Nixon.

Then Robert Putnam came out with his famous treatise, Bowling Alone, which featured the decline in numbers of weekly bowling leagues to illustrate how Americans had stopped doing things together.

And now they might move bowling central from Milwaukee to Texas. Hey, you might as well make Oshkosh the rodeo capital of America and transport the Alamo to Sheboygan. Bowlers of the world, unite. Have another brewski, and keep bowling where God meant it to be.

INSKEEP: Another strike by Frank Deford, who also has this travel tip if you happen to find yourself in St. Louis. Check out the Bowling Hall of Fame, and don't miss the bowling shirt display.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford