Thursday, November 19, 2015

Stange paced bowling ballplayers in '63 tourney

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

As major league baseball expanded in the early 1960s, there was a scramble among spring training sites in Arizona and Florida to attract the teams. This was above and beyond the regular jockeying between cities to try to steal a club away from its current spring home.

With a lot of tourist dollars as the prize, as well as the considerable spending by the teams themselves to house and feed several hundred ballplayers, prospective sites were often creative in their presentations to attract or keep teams. 

High-visibility events that showcased a town's attractions were popular in that era. Golf, bowling and fishing tournaments for the players were often part of the spring scene.

In Tampa, Florida, beginning in 1962, city fathers organized an annual Major League BaseBowl Championship tournament. This was right up the alley of a lot of ballplayers, as for a time in the 1950s, investing in bowling centers had become particularly popular among them. Players such as Gil Hodges, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra and Nellie Fox owned and sometimes operated bowling alleys in the off-season.

The second annual major league bowling tournament was held in Tampa March 18, 1963, at East Gate Lanes, and covered in-depth by The Sporting News.

The tournament was sponsored by the city of Tampa, AMF pinspotters and Major League Bowling  and Recreation, Inc., owners of the bowling center where the meet was held.

There were three divisions in the competition: 1) Active major league players, 2) “officials,” which included managers, coaches, umpires and other baseball men, and, 3) press.
AMF provided first-, second- and third-place trophies in each division. The Florida State Development Commission awarded a trophy to the ballclub with the three highest scoring players. The Sporting News Trophy went to the player with the highest single game.

A cash prize pool of $2,000 were offered in the current-players division with first-place money of $500 and paying down 10 places to $50. An additional $25 was paid to the player on each team with the highest score. The officials and press division competitors rolled for a $200 first prize, with five places paying down to $25.

The format of the competition had the bowlers in each division roll two games. The two high scorers in each division then had a one-game match to determine first and second places.

There was no public admission to the tournament. It was felt that open doors would create a problem with crowd control in the confines of the bowling center. Tampa newspaperman Bob Smith said, “the players enjoyed the free and easy camaraderie of their privacy.”

One of the early favorites to win the $500 players’ top money was Minnesota Twins pitcher Jack Kralick, who had rolled a 300 game that winter to go along with his 1962 no-hitter.

Kralick lost out, however, to moundmate Lee Stange. Stange threw a 227 game to win the top-game prize. Stange’s other game was 224. His 451 two-game series put him into the tournament finals with Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect Marv Fodor, who had scored a 410. In the roll-off, Stange defeated Fodor 170-156.

Second-place money for Fodor was $350. Third place was won by Bob Johnson of the Orioles, who pocketed $225 with a first-round total of 405 for the two games. Phillies outfielder Billy Klaus came in fourth with a 396 to win $175.

The “B” division was won by Whitey Wietelmann, then coaching in the Reds’ farm system with San Diego. His 213 game bested Tigers coach Phil Cavarretta’s 167.

The press division was won by Stan Hochman of the Philadelphia Daily News over Ed Haver of the Clearwater Sun, 178 to 164 in the deciding roll-off.

In an article in the March 30 Sporting News, Stange described himself as “strictly a fill-in bowler” during the baseball season, managing to get in a few games in a Friday night league when the Twins were in town. His average in that league was 196.

Tampa writer Bob Smith analyzed the final roll-off, “The Twins’ pitcher used a smooth swing with a big follow-through to stroke his ball into the pocket.”

Smith wrote of the runner-up, “Fodor threw a hard ball that swept the pins back fast, but left him with two frustrating splits that put him behind early in the game. The Reds’ rookie put on a great finish, getting two strikes in the ninth and tenth frames and appeared in the running until Stange posted a strike at the start of the tenth frame and finished with a spare.”

Barney Kremenko, baseball writer for the New York Journal-American, was in charge of recruiting bowlers for the tourney. He rounded up 153 entrants, who each bowled two games in the preliminary round, with the two highest scores in each division going into a roll-off in front of the television cameras.

The Cincinnati Reds were the best-represented team in the “A” division for current major league players, with 25 bowlers. The Mets had 14 bowlers, the Phillies 13.  There were nine each of Tigers and Cardinals, six White Sox, five Twins and four Orioles.

The Minnesota Twins won the Florida State Development Commission trophy as the team with the three highest-scoring players. Besides Stange’s 451, Don Mincher rolled a 370 and Joe Bonikowski a 347, for 1,168. They narrowly edged the Reds’ trio of Fodor (410), Marty Keough (374) and Harry Bright (366), whose total was 1,150.

Commentary for the local television broadcast of the finals was furnished by national championship bowler Dick Weber, who had bowled an exhibition during the tournament, and New York Yankees television broadcaster Jerry Coleman.

Stange was able to convert his Tampa tournament win into an off-season contract with the Brunswick bowling company to do a promotional tour of Minnesota, Iowa and the Dakotas.

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