Dick Weber died on February 13, 2005–ten years ago today. The following story appeared in the April 2005 issue of Bowlers Journal.
They told me that Dick Weber has died. But I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.
Too soon, too soon. He was only 75. He should have gone on for another 15 or 20 years, celebrated like Joe Norris as a Grand Old Man, until all of us could get used to the idea that there would one day be a world without Dick Weber.
He had been such a monumental part of our sport for so long that we tend to forget Weber first came to big-time bowling as an outsider, little known beyond the Indianapolis borders. In 1955 he moved to St. Louis and the Budweisers. He had already been scouted and rejected by Buddy Bomar, who said that Weber “didn’t have a big enough ass for the ball he throws.” Not signing Weber, Bomar later admitted, was the stupidest thing he’d ever done.
On the Buds, Weber was immediately installed in the anchor spot. Topflight bowlers liked to track the lanes by watching each other’s shot, and the rest of the team couldn’t learn much from following Weber’s wide looping curve, so why not put him on the bottom? Anyway, the Buds were so far above the rest of the competition, it didn’t matter that they had a rookie rolling in the position of honor.
But funny things happen. A few weeks into the season, Weber teamed with Ray Bluth to set a new ABC record in a doubles league. By the end of that first year, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to have the little man with the big bender anchoring bowling’s super-team.
The irony is that Weber soon had to overhaul his game and develop a straighter shot. Lane conditions were changing, and he made the adjustment best of anyone. A whole generation of bowlers who came of age then–my generation–remember the Dick Weber Strike. This was not the vicious ripper, slashing the 5-pin into the 7, the characteristic of a Junie McMahon. Now we had the “wall shot,” with the headpin going to the left sideboard, then rebounding to take of the 2-4-5, with the 5-pin falling to the right, or even forward. It looked messy, but it worked.
Big-time team bowling was on the way out, and Weber made that transition, too. He didn’t win the first PBA tournament, but he did take the next two, and that was symbolic of what was to come. The statistics are there: the four All-Star championships, the many PBA titles, the Bowler of the Year awards, and all the rest. By 1970 he had ascended into legend.
For its 75th anniversary that year, ABC polled writers to name the greatest bowler in history. The only unanimous selections were Don Carter–and Dick Weber. From that time on, any list of all-time greats has Weber among the top three or four. Often he is ranked the best ever.
I once referred to Don Carter as bowling’s Joe DiMaggio. Sticking to the baseball analogy, the player Weber calls to mind is Stan Musial. Both arrived at St. Louis from the hinterlands, made it big there, and came to symbolize the city in their given sport. Both were known for their friendliness and cheerful manner. Baseball’s Perfect Knight and Bowling’s Greatest Ambassador.
And yet . . . look into the eyes of the two men at their respective peaks in the old black-and-white photos. You can glimpse the fire that makes a champion. You don’t accomplish as much as these two competitors did without kicking some butt.
Over the years I had occasion to contact Weber perhaps a half-dozen times. He always returned my phone calls promptly, and answered my questions in detail, as if he had all the time in the world, and talking to me was the most important thing in his life. He was everything that I had hoped Dick Weber would be.
The one time I met him in person was in 1999, at Mort Luby’s home. As everyone had told me, Weber had a mischievous, irreverent sense of humor. After about an hour, I remarked to him with a laugh, “You’re not totally like your public image, are you?” And he chuckled and said, “You don’t know the half of it.”
Dick Weber dead? I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.