Friday, January 6, 2012

Don Carter, RIP

"I believe he was the greatest bowler that ever lived. He was a master of any condition, great in the clutch and great coming from behind. He had all the attributes of a great athlete. He was there to bowl and to win. I often thought that if I could build a robot of the perfect bowler, I would take most of the parts from Don Carter." ~ Churck Pezzano, PBA charter member and historian

"It's hard to explain what makes Don so great. All I know is that he's the greatest thing that ever happened to bowling. He's fabulous, above and beyond everybody in the game." ~ Dick Weber, 1962 Bowlers Journal story

"Don was one of the greatest bowlers who ever lived, but he had some other things that made him great. He was a great athlete. He won two 100-game tournaments in one year and I don't know how many other bowlers could take that kind of punishment. And he had the ability to focus better than anyone I've ever seen. On the lanes, he was in his own world, but off the lanes, he was a true gentleman. I had a lot of respect for him, as a bowler and as a man." ~ Carmen Salvino

Don Carter died last night at the age of 85.

If you're reading this blog, you've surely heard of Don Carter even though he retired from professional bowling in 1972 and was at his peak from the 1950's through the early 60's. But if you're my age or older and have been a bowling fan most of your life, the name Don Carter is almost synonymous with godhood. He was that revered by bowlers and bowling fans all over the world.

His bowling accomplishments are the stuff of legend. Between 1953 and 1961, he was six-time national Bowler of the Year. He won the BPAA All-Star Tournament (now known as the U.S. Open) four times. He won seven PBA titles of which five were "majors," five World Invitational titles, the ABC Masters, and four other ABC tournament titles. He was lead off for the awesome five-man Budweiser team of St. Louis that shot an incredible 3,858 series in 1958 that stood as an untouchable national team record for 36 years. He was the first president of the PBA. He became a charter member of the PBA Hall of Fame in 1975. Bowling Magazine ranked him as the Greatest Bowler of All-time in 1970 and the second greatest bowler of the 20th century in a 2000 poll. Bowlers Journal awarded him the title of Bowler of the Century in 2000, and in 2009 he was voted the 11th greatest player in PBA history. He also bowled the first 800 series on TV when he shot 809 on "National Bowling Champions." The list of firsts and other great accomplishments could go on and on.

Yet, there was more to Don Carter's glittering success story than his performances on the lanes and the accolades he received for them. He appeared regularly in TV commercials and, believe it or not, in 1964 he became the first athlete in any sport to sign an endorsement contract for $1 million. The ten-year contract was with bowling equipment manufacturer Ebonite. And prior to his focusing his efforts on bowling, he was a high school All-Star football and baseball player and signed as an infielder and pitcher with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1946 but quit because of all the traveling, which he hated, to pursue bowling full time. Chuck Pezzano also remembers this of Carter: "One thing that many people didn't know is that he was very compassionate and helped a lot of people who might have fallen on hard times during his career."

If one peruses the PBA message board, where irreverence toward bowling and even bowling's biggest stars seems to be the rule rather than the exception, one sees nothing but respect for Don Carter and sadness over his passing. But as commenter Fred Lowenhaupt puts it: "It's always a sad time when one of our bowling heroes passes away. But with Don we should be celebrating his long productive life rather than the sadness of his passing at age 85."

I agree in principle, but my heart is filled with sadness. For as another commenter in the forum says, "Bowling is running out of legends," and, I may add, at a time when it can least afford it.

RIP Don Carter, bowling's original superstar.

You can read Bill Vint's excellent article on Don Carter's life here, Terry Bigham's obituary here, and below you can watch videos of the great Don Carter's stellar career on and off the lanes.

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