Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why Did Track Not Re-Sign Walter Ray, and What Does This Say About Them, the Bowling Industry, and Bowling Fans?

I just read an article--Fairytale will continue for Walter Ray, no matter what--online that has me fuming. Now maybe I'm jumping the gun on writing this. Maybe I should take a few deep breaths, recite my mantram, and give my raging emotions a chance to settle and myself more time to check my facts before I fly off half-cocked.

Nah. "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore." Well, I will restrain myself from saying all that I want to say, but I won't hold back from saying anything at all about this travesty.

The article I read said Walter Ray Williams Jr.--yes, the guy who has won more national PBA titles, earned more PBA prize money, garnered more PBA Tour Player of the Year awards, bowled more times on television, and on and on and on than any other bowler alive or dead, and who recently bowled great for Team USA in the PABCON Championships, just won a national PBA Senior title after placing high in the other senior tournaments this season, and whose game seems to be coming back into its own after stumbling for a mere few months in the wake of hernia surgery and a major grip change to his bowling equipment--was dropped from the staff of Track bowling equipment when his contract came up for renewal, and no other company has picked him up.

I've been saying here for a long time that Walter Ray Williams Jr. has NEVER gotten the respect he fully deserves. Not from the fans and not from the bowling industry. He is arguably the greatest bowler in the history of the PBA. He is arguably the greatest bowler who ever lived. At age 50, he won PBA Player of the Year and led every major PBA statistical category in the 2009-2010 season. Then he went out and won his first PBA Senior tournament. And then, because he struggled during the few brief months of an abbreviated PBA season in 2010-2011, he was discarded like a bag of garbage?

Maybe I don't know all the facts. Maybe there's more to Track not re-signing him than I realize. But if it's simply a matter of them dropping this superstar of the bowling firmament because of one sub-par bowling season, then shame on them, shame on the other companies for not a one of them grabbing him up, and shame on the bowling industry in general for not giving this incredible athlete his due.

I posted about this on Track's Facebook wall. As of now, my comments are still up there, and a couple of people have replied to my outrage. One guy wrote: "Yes he is a legend but it is a business and in an economy where exposure means sales sometimes there has to be cuts made."

He's right. Bowling IS a business where "exposure" DOES "mean sales." But I believe that if bowling is the kind of business that caters to fans so fickle that the great Walter Ray Williams' endorsement of a line of bowling balls means nothing to them because he had one off season, and bowling is the kind of business where its powers-that-be are ready to "cut" their greatest star from endorsing their products after one comparatively bad season, despite the reasons for that sub-par performance and signs that he would rebound from it, then I have ample reason to be all the more dubious of bowling's integrity and its future.


  1. Steve, just wanted to reply to your post and possibly continue the conversation from Facebook. I too believe that the bowling "business" is one that continually struggles, especially without any key public figure. I just hope that the next bowling ball company that signs him to a contract allows him to continue to show his dominance in the sport with their bowling balls and his skill. I think WRW can keep up the bowling with today's young guns.

  2. Louie, thanks for your comment. Judging from the way Walter's bowling now and the confidence he seems to be feeling after suffering a loss of confidence during his struggles last season, I think you're right. Barring any unanticipated setbacks, I think he'll do quite well on the regular tour starting in November. The sad thing about the regular tour now is that there are so few events. With fewer events, great bowlers like Walter Ray have less of a chance to catch their stride.

  3. I've always wondered about this, I mean WRW Jr. has had a bunch of ball sponsors over the years. I personally feel that he's G.O.A.T., but I suspect it's his winning style that may have cost him a bit in this area. Bear with me...

    If a bowler is winning, and dominant, it doesn't much matter *how* they get it done, they're going to get offers from sponsors. In business though, it's not so much what you've done, but "what you've done lately".

    Now, I've seen WRW hook the lane, but his general approach is "straighter is greater" and he tends to play down and in without a lot of hook. Watching him bowl, it looks like he could win with any manufacturer's ball, and he probably could.

    I think the ball companies are more likely to want to sponsor bowlers with more ball motion. People at home see Sean Rash, Wes Malott, Jason Belmonte, Pete Weber, Tommy Jones, Jason Couch, Chris Barnes, Bill O'Neal, Michael Fagan and a bunch of the other guys roll various equipment and think "if I get that same ball I can make it roll like he does!" Meanwhile, Walter Ray's rev rate is probably a lot closer to a typical house bowler (about identical to mine, I think!)

    I don't know, I could be way off-base but I think this is one reason WRW Jr goes from sponsor to sponsor. One below-par (for HIM!) season and he's just not the marketing draw some of the other guys are, despite the fact that his style, while not as flashy as a high-rev player, helped him become the greatest-of-all-time (or among the top three, at the very least!)

    Me, I'm hoping he wins multiple titles next year, all with different brands of bowling balls, whichever is working the best that week... that would be great.

  4. "Festus," I love your moniker! I think ole Festus was one of the most endearing (and underappreciated, kind of like Walter Ray in bowling) characters in the history of series television.

    By golly, I think you may well be right about why Walter has led such a peripatetic existence so far as ball company sponsors are concerned. He, or, rather, his "ball motion" just isn't "flashy" enough to cast their products in the kind of light in which they want to cast them. They want to showcase players with monster revs and hooks to a market inordinately fascinated by such things.

    But if that's true, I wonder about Norm Duke. Does he also have trouble keeping sponsors? I suspect that he doesn't, despite the fact that he doesn't throw any more "ball" than Walter and hasn't won as many titles. I think there's just something about Walter Ray's personality that, unfortunately, makes him less marketable too.

    What a sad world we live in.

  5. Yeah I think Norm has been signed with Storm for about 7 years, and never seemed to have trouble getting sponsors before that.

    You're right in that Norm has a similar rev rate to Walter and a very different personality. Norm is almost always the smallest guy on the TV show, which gives him an underdog aspect people seem to gravitate to (plus he has the heart of a warrior!). He's certainly more animated and expressive. His reaction to Mika's 10-pin miss at this year's Open was both classic and classy.

    I think there's also something about Norm's finesse game, he'll have a lot of "just enough" strikes with late taps on the 10, and yet somehow comes up with a lot of messengers and swishing/mixing strikes. It makes for exciting TV. You see these marginal hits carry for him, and think "If I get a Hy-road or Prodigy or what have you, maybe I can get some of that mojo."

    It's a little different from WRW who seems like he can just take the strongest ball from any manufacturer, whip it down 5, and hit the pocket solid, over and over. He doesn't rely on finesse, he relies on pinpoint accuracy, repeatability, and deceptive power. He may not cover the boards of a Tommy Jones, but his ball is almost always hooking TOWARDS the pocket. I think this contributes to his pin carry being as good and sometimes better than "grip it and rip it" players (note, I'm not knocking TJ AT ALL, he's amazing and about unbeatable when he's on).

    There's also a saying, "The only common denominator in all your unsatisfying relationships is you." I'm only guessing, but is WRW more demanding than other pros at his level? Come on, if Ryan Shafer can be with Storm for TEN YEARS, somebody out there can use WRW's services (no offense to Ryan either, a successful player and a heck of a good guy.)

  6. "Is WRW more demanding than other pros at his level?" ARE there any other pros at his level?

    If he asked Track for a raise after his unremarkable performance last season, I'd say he was being too "demanding." But if he refused to accept a cut in his salary, I think he was being reasonable given his lifetime accomplishments and indications that his struggles last season may well have been the TEMPORARY result of a hernia repair and grip change.

  7. "ARE there any other pros at his level?"

    Good question and it goes back to my previous statement about "what you've done" vs. "what you've done lately". Lifetime? Who is even close, PDW (who Walter Ray has OWNED on TV for the most part)?

    I mean, if Walter gets on TV once or twice and better yet wins with a 916AT, Track maybe sells a bunch of them. Instead some of those impressionable buyers may have gone with Taboos, Nanos, Mission 250k...

    I don't know what all goes into a sponsorship besides factory support... salary? Health benefits? Entry fees? Times are tough out there, if a company doesn't feel they are getting return on investment they have little choice but to renegotiate or cut and run. It will be interesting to see if that was a good business decision or a mistake, my money is on Deadeye though.