Bo Burton: The Interview, Pt. 2

We conclude our two-part interview with PBA Hall of Famer Bo Burton today as Burton shares more great stories from his life in bowling, including memories of former PBA Tour stars such as Joe Berardi or Dave Ferraro, the time he returned to bowling in 2003 to avenge the loss his son endured in local action matches in his hometown of Stuart, Fla., the night he won $17,000 in a single night of action bowling in St. Louis, and many more great memories. Bo, you yourself made history during your days as an ABC broadcaster when you won the US Open in 1978. What do you remember about winning that major championship?

BB: I remember that I was lucky to win it and to even make the show. I think something weird happened in the final position round game where I beat Marshall Holman after he missed a spare or something and then I am on TV and I said "I just have to go to my number one shot and just go with that" and I started striking and found the line. Back then when lanes were tough on TV or anywhere, when you found a line it was an advantage because the lanes didn't change much.

But I deserved to win. In 1966 I led the U.S. Open by a zillion pins. They broke it into two divisions, the American League and the National League, and I led my division by about 900 pins or something. Strampe was behind me but Dick Weber led the other division although he was behind Strampe. All of a sudden they decide to come up with a TV show and they pick Weber who won his division even though it should have been Strampe, and now we're in Lansing, Mich. and it's 11 degrees below zero outside and we didn't get any practice balls because they were running late on TV. Weber jumped out to a lead but I almost caught him, I lost 688 to 685. I deserved to win that by so much it was unbelievable. My Dad used to say "You know, you just keep going there and sooner or later there's a reciprocity in every sport and in life." And you know I should have won that one and I backed into the one in 1978, so it was just due for 1966. And of course Bo you replaced the great Billy Welu when you came on board with ABC. What is Billy Welu's legacy in the sport?

BB: Well Welu was just a terrific guy. He had the voice, the brains, he molded Schenkel in a way. He kind of molded the tour and the professionalism of it. Whether people liked it or not, I thought it was great. His close association with the late Bill Taylor, and using a lot of his philosophy to say how difficult the tour was, and it was at that time. I mean even for the announcers. Billy had a terrific advantage compared to these announcers today, having to explain things like how to make the 2-4-5. There were no 250s. The scores were not low all the time, but there was a lot more to talk about. Billy had the charisma and he had the brains, and everybody liked Billy. I knew Billy very well. It was ironic that I got Billy's job because Billy and I were always friends from the get-go. Billy would loan me his car. He had a new Cadillac every year, and he would loan it to me to drive on tour. He would fly from tournament to tournament and I would drive between them. I knew Billy very well, I bowled a lot with Billy and had a lot of respect for Billy. Just a world-class guy. I saw some names on the roster of the TOC that hadn't been involved with the tour in quite some time, which brings to mind the names of great bowlers from the past that seem to have dropped off the face of the bowling world. I would just like to get your thoughts on some of those forgotten names. How about Joe Berardi - what are your memories of covering his brief but amazing career on tour?

BB: Well, you know, Joe had some of the most fortuitous titles in history. I mean the guy throws a Brooklyn to win his first championship. Berardi was a tough cookie too, he was a little like Limongello. He had those "tough teeth" as Salvino would call it. He took advantage of his breaks, and you know he was a solid bowler. Berardi could have been as good as he wanted to be, but I don't know he lived some surreptitious private life that has always been rumored about and just kind of fell off the map but he was definitely a solid player when he was on tour. Another great bowler whose time in the PBA spotlight seemed even shorter was Bob Vespi. What do you remember about Vespi's career and his ABC telecast appearances?

BB: Well, Vespi, you know, I liked him. He was great for television, he would go on television and be all you know 'I'm the man! I'm the guy to beat!' He was a good player and through a terrific bowling ball, but he just lacked versatility. He needed oil and once they start making the lanes a little drier or you had to throw it harder or a straight shot. You know you could say the same for a guy like Steve Hoskins. You give him his meat and he was tough. But versatility, I can't give him high marks for that. But Vespi was a fun guy. You hear a lot of amazing action bowling stories about matches between Vespi and Rudy Kasimakis to this day.

BB: Well, I know Rudy pretty well but he's, you know, he's just an average bowler. When you bowl a game and you shot 220 and you win and 130 and you lose you're exactly even. It's not different in golf or anything else. You have match play in golf where you get a triple bogie and it's just one hole you lost. But Kasimakis obviously never made it. Lastly Bo I know that Dave Ferraro was on the TOC roster and actually finished in the top 30 with something like a 223 average for the event--what are your most vivid memories of Ferraro's career and many telecast appearances over the years?

BB: Well Ferraro is a really good bowler. I spent a lot of time with Dave. In fact, I am the one who got Dave working out in gyms. At the Tournament of Champions his wife came up to me and she is in really nice shape as she closes in on 50, and she thanked me for introducing him to physical fitness. Now Ferraro's a sharp guy. He came into a bowling business with his family, they owned bowling centers. Just like Dave Husted. When you go from a PBA tour to where you're making maybe $150,00 a year and the tour is not getting any better especially in the mid 1990s when it started struggling, and you can walk into a family bowling center and become a multimillionaire, there's just no choice. But Dave Husted still bowls good and so does Ferraro.

You know, there was a choice of business. Believe it or not I was quitting too and I said that in 1978 when I bought out my Dad in the bowling business. If it weren't for the television money I was making I would have quit the tour too. That was the only thing keeping me out there. You know, when you're in your mid-30s and there is no pension plan and no health plan, you know, you say 'Enough is enough' and you have to go for what's best for your family. The same can be said of Dave Husted or Wayne Zahn, I could go down a long list of players who made the same choice. Mike Aulby is the same way. Well, Bo, legend has it that in addition to your tour success you were one heck of an action bowler and actually put yourself through school as a kid with money you made in bowling matches. How much truth is there to that?

BB: Well, yeah. I bowled anybody, anyplace, anytime. And there was action on tour when I started on tour. Limongello and I used to bowl action when he was around. The action on the PBA tour quit when they started doing lane conditions and tricks. Once you started getting unequal oil and trick balls it ruined the action.

When I was in the Army I bowled in every state. When I was stationed in Denver I won a ton of money bowling action there. I bowled a ton of home and home matches, I bowled a lot of games for a lot of money – more than these guys today, trust me. And I put up my own money. How come none of these guys showed up for that big-money sweeper the PBA was trying to put on? You know, all these big blowhards. I guarantee you Bo Burton would have showed up. But I don't think they would have been bowling with their own money. If they had to come up with $20,000 out of their checkbook, not from anyone else, that's a different story, and that's how I bowled. I bowled for my own money. So what's the most amount of money you every won bowling a night of action?

BB: In 1962 I won $17,000 one night and that was in between going to St. Louis University and whatnot, but I won $17,000 one night. Basically by 1962 they had barred me from every place in St. Louis, then I started bowling on tour. I used to go to Chicago to a Place called Marzano's. I got on the microphone and I said 'Anybody who wants to bowl action I'll bowl you.' And the guys who were going to bowl action from New York were all sitting around watching me bowl. I bowled everybody all the time, you just couldn't get anymore action on tour.

That's how I got back into bowling at Stuart Lanes here in Florida. My oldest son was bowling league and he came home one night saying he just lost all his money. So I went down there and it was some regional guys that were just better than him. So I started practicing and then one night sometime back in 2003 I was in pretty good shape and they said 'Hey Nelson you gonna bowl?' and I said 'Yeah, Nelson's gonna bowl, but this one is." So I bowled and just whacked them all that night. They figure old guys like me they can wear me out but I just kept getting better. Nobody could last the length with me. If you're going to bowl me 30 games you're going to lose. I was the best conditioned athlete on tour, everyone knows that. Nobody was close. I was closing in on under a five-minute mile running. Look at my record in the All-Stars. I bowled endurance tournaments, 100 games. I bowled another guy in a 100-game match and won, that's 100 games in a row. It takes 24 hours. So, I did my fair share of bowling but the only reason I stayed in the bowling business full time was the telecasts. I enjoyed doing it and it was my profession. Lastly, Bo, what is Bo Burton up to these days, with bowling and with your pursuits in life?

BB: Well I bowl league with my kids, and there's a match play league they have with mostly senior players that I bowl every week. I bowl that and then whatever senior tournaments around here. The last one I won, I beat some young kid I don't know who he was, some regional players. I don't know who he was but I guess he remembers my name.

But, bowling has been good to me and good to my family. Bowling will survive, I like the tour and the way they do it these days with Randy and the guys.