Bobby Jacks (1966)

April 15, 2021

(1947-  )

3 PBA titles

Major League Lanes—Winston-Salem (1970)

April 13, 2021

137 S. Stratford Rd. 

“Jackpot Bowling” (1960)

April 11, 2021

Jimmy Smith for Champion Bowling Shoes (1931)

April 8, 2021

I Remember Billy Welu

April 6, 2021

I met Billy Welu twice.  In my memory, he will always be linked with sudden, unexpected death.

The first time was a Sunday morning in November 1963.  President Kennedy was lying in state at the Capitol, killed by a sniper named Lee Harvey Oswald.  But in Chicago the bowling gods had come to town for the World’s Invitational.  I was a teenager and had gone down to McCormick Place to see them.  I had just entered the building when the Great Welu appeared in my path, all 6-foot-5 of him.

“Did you hear?” he asked me in a vacant voice.  “They just shot Oswald.”  Like old friends we chatted about the president’s assassin for a few moments.  Then Welu wandered off.

He finished down the list in that tournament, something that didn’t happen often in those days.  Welu was one of the best, at the top of his game.  ABC Doubles champ . . . winner of the All-Star Tournament . . . charter member of the Budweisers . . .  captain of the Falstaffs . . . PBA champion . . . many-time All American . . .

His was a Hall of Fame resume—and he was barely thirty.  But it was the way Welu bowled that was most impressive.  A big man was supposed to charge the line and overpower the pins with brute force.  Welu seemed to glide down the approach like a man on skis, the ball flowing noiselessly onto the lane.  How could he get so much power out of so little effort?  It made the rest of us want to give up bowling and go play croquet.

By 1963 Welu was already launched on his second career as color analyst for thePro Bowlers Tour” telecasts.  The teaming of the “aw-shucks” Texan with the polished Chris Schenkel was inspired.  A few years later, Roone Arledge would give us “Monday Night Football” with the unlikely trio of Gifford, Cosell, and Dandy Don.  I’ll always believe that Arledge got that idea from his Saturday afternoon bowling show.

Welu could play the part of the cornpone philosopher perfectly.  It didn’t matter that Billy was a college graduate who’d worked on a Master’s degree.  He was Jed Clampett in a bowling shirt.  We came to treasure all the little Welu-isms, like “Hit ‘em thin and watch ‘em spin,” or if that wasn’t appropriate, “Hit ‘em high and watch ‘em fly.”  And the ultimate compliment—“Good speed!”

Still, among all the clichés, the Welu wit was ready.  It might peak out at any moment, particularly when the conversation strayed from bowling:

Schenkel:  “Billy, if I had your money, I’d retire.”

Welu:  “And if I had your money, I’d throw mine away.”

As it happened, Welu the Broadcaster was not quite through as a player.  When the 1964 TV season wrapped up, he went off and won the Masters.  That felt good, so the next year he did the same thing.

His credentials re-established, he could relax.  He settled into the color role, describing the talents and triumphs of lesser bowlers.  The only place we could now enjoy the wonderful Welu style was on reruns of “Championship Bowling.”

The years passed.  From time to time Welu came to Chicago for a sportsmen’s show.  I went to a few of these, and would see him there, but I never approached him.  The crowd was always too thick.

Then, one day in 1974, I was walking through O’Hare Airport when I saw him coming toward me.  I had aged from a crewcut teen to a long-haired-and-bearded grad student.  But when I started to tell Welu that we had met once before, he immediately said: “When Ruby killed Oswald, right?”  We reminisced for about thirty seconds, then each of us walked off into our separate lives.

A month later, one bright spring morning, I opened the Sun-Times sports section and read the headline: “Billy Welu Dead at 41.”

First published in BOWLERS JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL in April 2004.

For this story and 89 more, buy a copy of my book THE BOWLING CHRONICLES.  Available on Amazon.

Olivette Lanes—St. Louis

April 4, 2021

9520 Olive Street Rd.

Ned Day’s Individual Sweepstakes (1952)

April 1, 2021

Oakdale Lanes—Oakdale, NY (1966)

March 30, 2021

855 Montauk Hwy.

Bill Hill Stop-Action (1979)

March 28, 2021

Legion Lanes

March 25, 2021

7550 S. Cottage Grove Ave.