September 7, 2009
Recently PBA Hall of Famer Bo Burton sat down with BOWL.com for an exclusive interview in which he sounds off on the present state of the sport, recalls many legendary moments to which he had a front row seat as a broadcaster with ABC for decades, explains why he should have won the 1966 U.S. Open, and much more. In this first part of our interview series with Burton, he uses his long experience as a bowler and broadcaster to explore the implications of the high-scoring environment that currently pervades the sport, why players whose telecasts he called years ago are still successful on tour today, and recalls the day the great Patty Costello lost $10,000 after refusing to accept 8 pins of handicap in a "Battle of the Sexes" match against him as well as many other great bowling memories.
From the perspective of a broadcaster, Bo, what might be the most significant changes in the way bowling is covered on TV now versus back when you started broadcasting next to Chris Schenkel on ABC?
BB: Tough question. Right off the top of my head I think the expectation of high scores is the biggest difference. Some of the highest-rated shows back in the '70s were low-scoring events. 180-170 and all that. And before scores got so high across bowling people just looked at it as the world's top competitors bowling on a tough lane condition. But a lot of people have just started to presume that you score like that all the time and the scores are just phenomenal. You know, they talk about "tough" tournaments now and say they put down tough lane conditions but then you see guys averaging 228. In my career I don't think I ever averaged 220 or better and lost a tournament in my entire life.
It's the expectation of scores and today it's a strike-a-thon. I don't know that the general public even understands that if a guy shoots 170 on TV, they don't understand what's happening. They did back when we did it.
What can be done to correct the misperception an amateur bowler might have when he sees a star like Chris Barnes for example shoot 180 on TV and thinks that means that he is better than Chris Barnes?
BB: I don't know if you can turn it back because people today are going to bowl on high-scoring shots and somebody is going to average 230 or better and maybe more. In one of these little senior tournaments they have down here in Florida the Pt. St. Lucie area, a guy averaged 246 recently. It's gone, you can't go anywhere and have competitive e scores. And you have to remember that if bowlers have high scores they will go where the highs cores are.
But you know I could average 225 in a local house or 230 when everybody's got two boards. Now if you make it one board I'll still average 225 and half the other guys won't. Make it half a board and I'll still average 225 and the other guys will start complaining because they can't average 200. So if you take good players and put them all in the same category nobody can tell the difference anymore. The scoring is something they need to work on but it's hard to turn the proprietors back. I bowl a league here with my two boys and people just get used to scoring and all of a sudden if you have just a couple of 700s a month and guys are averaging 170 again they're going to go somewhere else where they can have these inflated averages.
I don't know what you can do. I watched Tiger Woods miss a 3-foot putt on TV last week. Now I can make a 3-foot putt. If I make a 3-foot putt and Tiger doesn't am I better than Tiger Woods? Even if you litigate it and have some kind of rule about it nobody would follow it. It's just a difficult situation. The only thing I could think of is if you could have some real heavy pins and put those heavy pins in the local houses. If you had some heavy pins in bowling that the pros could barely knock down, you throw a bad ball and leave a pocket split. The pocket becomes much smaller when the pins get heavier. And I'm not talking 4-pounders. 4 pounds is not enough to stand up to today's bowling balls. You put enough weight in those pins and lower the center of gravity and you're going to bring the scores down.
You experienced the high-scoring problem yourself when you bowled this year's Tournament of Champions and Dave Husted average nearly 250 for the first block but was still just in second place!
BB: I hadn't bowled in a tournament in years and especially on their new animal patterns and I didn't have the right equipment, but the point is today with the lighter pins as soon as a guy starts hitting the pocket with today's balls they strike. Today the pocket is so big, you know, these roll-around light hits where pins come shooting across and knock out the ten-pin. You don't see guys leaving 5-7s or 8-10s. Let me put it this way, until somebody does an experiment and proves me wrong, I'm sticking with my heavier pins theory.
Does it surprise you at all that guys you used to cover with ABC are still grinding it out on tour - people like Norm Duke, Walter Ray or Steve Jaros?
BB: They're not "grinding it out." They're stealing money from young guys that don't know how to bowl. They learned to bowl on wood lanes with rubber balls. In my day, nobody in his 40s could stay with the young guys coming on tour-not Dick Weber, none of them. Look at their records. Back then, you had to learn how to bowl and be strong, work out, bowl with a rubber ball, stuff like that. Today, guys who learned to bowl on wood lanes with rubber balls - Parker Bohn, Walter Ray, Norm Duke - they're almost 50-years-old. They could never exist back in my day. These guys learned to bowl on wood lanes with a rubber ball and equal oil, and all their experience, even when they're older, these young guys can't compete with them. As soon as they quit striking the Dukes and the Walter Rays or Brian Voss or Amleto - the only reason they stay on tour is that they basically can win a tournament here or there.
You hear about older guys being in good shape on tour and all, but you know there were older guys in good shape on tour before. You take guys like Carmen Salvino, he stayed in shape, or Harry Smith, Dick Weber, they couldn't stay competitive as they got older. Today guys like Pete Weber, Mike Scroggins or Duke are taking advantage of the other players' lack of training, lack of ability, lack of experience-I don't know what it is. Look at Dave Soutar, he's still going at it at 70 years old throwing a 13-pound bowling ball, and he is smart enough to read the lanes and the tougher they get the more the game suits him.
In addition to the 50 Greatest Players segments you have also been doing broadcasts for women's events. What interests you in working women's bowling telecasts?
BB: Well, two things. One, I did the US Open for them a couple of years ago and now I do the Clash and the Queens and hopefully I'll do them again next year. But I have dealt with the women for fifty years, I've had them at my charities and all that. Today these women can really bowl. This Title 9 and college scholarships and the new bowling balls have allowed them to carry and shoot scores. And they're in top shape. Take Shannon O'Keefe, here is a young woman who was trying out for the Olympic softball team, Diandra Asbaty, I mean you go on. These young ladies can really bowl and they are so well-educated. When I give them a microphone they're phenomenal. And they had nothing to bowl in, so I just did my best to promote them as far as exhibitions and stuff like that. Today's women bowlers are much better. You have to remember I bowled my first U.S. Open in 1958, so I have seen them all over the years and there were some good bowlers back then but not compared to the crop of ladies we have now. They really can bowl.
Speaking of great women bowlers of the past we lost a great one this year, Patty Costello. What thoughts do you have on her great career?
BB: Well, I bowled with Patty some and she was always kind of quiet. She had a great career. I have one story about her from back in 1977 when CBS had a "Challenge of the Sexes" in all different sports. And this year she was the top woman and I was the top man. We were bowling for $10,000, one game. They had this computer that figured that I was 8 pins better than Patty, so she was going to get 8 pins handicap, and she says "I don't need any handicap, I'll bowl him scratch." Well, I beat her by 5 pins, and she lost $10,000." That is my one true Patty Costello story.
Bo, over your long career as an ABC broadcaster you had a front seat to some of the greatest moments in PBA history, and I would just like to mention some of them here and ask you to share what you remember about your experience covering each event. Let's start with Johnny Petraglia's televised 300 game against Walter Ray in 1994.
BB: Well that was just phenomenal. First of all John is a really close friend of mine, used to stay at my home in St. Louis. He had the key to it and sometimes he would be staying there and I didn't even know it. We are very close, obviously he was in the army and I was in the army. There are a lot of similarities that John and I share. And I knew at the time John was really worried about not so much his career but his mother and father were having health problems and he had children getting ready to go to college. And John, when he sees the chance to win he can take it. Johnny Petraglia is a proven winner. He is not one of these guys that you want to get down to the last couple of balls with. And John just put all that emotion, all that try in there, all that experience and toughness, and he did it. I was proud of him and so was everyone else. It was a great moment, a very touching moment, because I knew down deep what was going on more than the people just watching the telecast.
Speaking of 300 games, how about Pete McCordic's 300 game in 1988?
BB: Well, Pete was such a nice guy knocking on the door so many times and nothing really happened. In that era he was probably the best good bowler that wasn't winning, if there is such a thing. And Pete was such a well-liked guy. Part of his trouble was that he just really seemed to get nervous in those situations, and Pete literally was shaking so much on that last shot I don't know how he threw the ball. It was one of the great shots and greatest performances of actually going through something that I have ever seen. It hit him harder than anybody. We ran it at the opening of the telecast many times, you can't see him shaking on camera but let me tell you, through all the bad breaks and choking or whatever he went through, he summoned it all to do it in that moment and it was a victory for himself. That was just terrific.
Let's go a bit further back to Mark Roth's 7-10 split conversion?
BB: You know, to me that really wasn't a fabulous moment. He just got up there and threw it at the 7-10 like anybody else would and he was fortunate enough that the ten came back out and got the 7. There was no nervousness to that. I don't remember if he needed it to win the game or not, but that 7-10 is like a hole-in-one. Anytime I have had a hole-in-one I wasn't a bit nervous. There is a huge difference between what McCordic did and Mark Roth.
And going even further back Bo what do you remember about the first time Ernie Schlegel appeared on TV as the Bicentennial kid in 1976 in Baltimore - he beat Hardwick and Bobby Jacks before losing to Curt Schmidt on that show.
BB: Yeah I remember him coming up with that stuff but he had had those outfits on before. His wife had been making that stuff for him. She was a pretty sharp gal, and so is Ernie, but Catherine was really the brains behind all that and making him a star. You could find guys with as good or better a record than Ernie that nobody has ever heard of.
He called himself the Bicentennial Kid. Hey, that's just good promotion. You go to wrestling and the wrestlers do it, somebody's got a weird hairdo or something kooky. Now some people didn't like what Ernie did, I think that's tough luck. I praise Ernie for taking the initiative to step out there. He's out there making a living and that's how he did it and it served a point. Look at today's shirts they have today. They weren't the first, Ernie was.