Thursday, May 19, 2011

Candlepin Bowling Record Falls; Joe DiMaggio's Hit Streak Still Safe

This past Friday, May 13, Chris Sargent of Haverhill, MA tied the candlepin bowling scoring record. Sargent, a Groveland cop (no word on if he is Sargeant Sargent), rolled a 245 at the Metro Bowl Lanes in Peabody.

Now you may be asking yourself a few questions:
  • Why is X Mark talking about candlepin bowling?
  • What the hell is candlepin bowling (to my out of town readers)?
  • Isn’t 300 a perfect score and don’t lots of bowlers, even blind guys, roll that?
  • Is this record even all that impressive?
Let's take a look at each question...

Why is X Mark talking about candlepin bowling?

Sexy Boston Sports correspondent Joe Black pushed the above story across my desk this week. His reasoning was that a major (his words) sports record had been duplicated locally and this is exactly the type of story I should be covering. Normally I would smile nicely, pat him on the head and then punch him in his enlarged spleen for bringing me such a dumb idea. But with the Celtics season being over, the Bruins being completely irrelevant in my mind, football going through a lockout, me writing a lot of baseball lately and Joe being one of my best friends, I thought, “why not give the kid a chance.” After all, Joe Black is candlepin bowling royalty.

Joe is the grandson of Grandpa Leo (or “Pa” as he calls him), owner and founder of the Metro Bowl in Peabody where Officer Sargent tied the candlepin record. In addition to owning this house of record setters, in 1999, Grandpa Leo was inducted into the International Candlepin Bowling Association Hall of Fame! Not wanting his legacy to end with him, Grandpa Leo spawned Joe’s uncle, Uncle Mike. Grandpa Leo and Uncle Mike partnered up to open Northern Massachusetts’ famous Leo’s Super Bowl in Amesbury, MA. If the Leo clan know anything, it’s candlepin bowling. With my buddy’s family being the candlepin equivalent of the Ripken’s in baseball and candlepin being created in Massachusetts, this seemed like an appropriate post.

What the hell is candlepin bowling?

Well first a look at how candlepin bowling was invented, from the ICBA website:
In 1879 Justin White purchased a billiard and bowling establishment on Pearl Street in Worcester.  Shortly after his purchase he discovered some unconventional bowling pins included in the purchase, one inch wood cylinders ten inches high resembling broomsticks, three inch wide cylinders resembling candles and some balls ranging in size from three to five inches.  Because these pins made the game difficult and the scores low Justin knew he must make some changes or his future in the bowling business would be short lived.
It was in 1880 Justin would increase the size of his new pins to twelve inches high with the center being two inches tapering down to one inch on each end.  Almost immediately the new game took off, with inquires coming into Pearl Street about the new game.  Justin began manufacturing the new pins for other proprietors.  It wasn't  long before many establishments only had Candlepins and competition between members began to increase.  

This video, complete with dead accurate fake Australian accent, from the Leo’s Super Bowl website provides a good explanation of what candlepin bowling is and how it differs from typical, big ball bowling. Basically, the main differences in candlepin are a smaller ball without holes, smaller pins, three rolls instead of two, fallen pins (called "wood") stay in the field of play until the turn is over and players must play without pants. Ok the last one was a goof. The smaller balls and pins make it much more challenging to knock pins down and earn strikes and spares. So if you want to play a sport that most of us do only a couple times a year, usually while drinking or hanging out with children, but take all the fun of success out of it, then this is the sport for you!

Candlepin is still primarily played in New England and parts of Canada, though alleys across the country are springing up, probably being started by hipsters that find this quirky sport cool. Candlepin was actually so popular in these parts back in the 60s and 70s in Massachusetts, that weekly matches were televised (seriously). The stars of the day were so popular they could have any woman they wanted. Unfortunately, this popularity would not last as the sport crumbled under the weight of the "Candlepin Cocaine Trials" (no research turned up to back up this rumor but I'm pretty sure it's 100% factual).

Isn't 300 a perfect score and don't lots of bowlers, even blind guys, roll that?
When Joe sent me the report of the record being set, I felt like Roy Munson in King Pin when he finds out Ishmael can only bowl in the 170s at first despite telling him he averages in the 230s. Are candlepin bowlers like Amish bowlers bowling 15 frames instead of 10 and this was his score through 10 frames on the way to 300? 

Also, I thought that bowling a 300 was a pretty common occurrence. If anyone was ever too lazy to change the channel after Sunday NFL Countdown on ESPN over the last decade, they have seen some PBA events and know that the best in the game aren't exactly chiseled from the stone of the Gods and a lot of them have rolled 300. In fact, I remembered reading that a blind guy had rolled a 300 once. After researching further, I found Dale Davis (no not the basketball player), 78 year old (at the time) World War II veteran who was completely blind except for a tiny sliver in his left eye that he uses to line up his shot before rolling blind (he has also had half of his stomach removed). If this Titan of the Ten Pin could heroically roll a perfect game, how could the best candlepin score ever fall 55 pins short of perfection?

Is this record even all that impressive?
When Officer Sargent bowled his 245 last week, he tied the record set in 1984 by Ralph Semb, who is now the ICBA President (imagine if other sports had their record holders as commissioners? Barry Bonds running MLB, Brett Favre for the NFL, Dennis Rodman in charge of the NBA? It would be sublime). So if two guys have accomplished this feat and it is 55 pins short of perfection in its more popular sister sport, how impressive is this compared to other single game records in other sports?

We can already deem this more impressive than big ball bowling if even a blind guy can reach perfection. Sticking with individual sports, the record for Aces in a tennis match (the best single game record I could think of) is 113 set by John Isner in 2010, eclipsing the second place 103 Aces and obliterating the third place 78 Aces. The separation between 1st and 3rd makes this record mighty impressive, but the records only go back 20 years and the second most Aces belongs to Isner’s opponent, Nicolas Mahut as the two set the record for longest match ever.

In golf, a sport like bowling in which there are no opponents, the best official single round score is 58, accomplished by Shigeki Maruyama in 2000, Jason Bohn in 2001 and Ryo Ishikawa in 2010 as well as several 58s not officially recognized by the record books. Three people setting the record is already less impressive than two, but when you add in the fact that the game of golf has become significantly easier with technological advancements while bowling is still rolling a ball down a lane, there is really no comparison.

As for the real sports (baseball, basketball, football) there are plenty of single game records that impress, but all come with asterisks. In baseball, the two most impressive individual game achievements are a perfect game (accomplished by 20 pitchers) and four home runs in one game (accomplished by 15 hitters). In basketball, the single game scoring record (100 by Wilt Chamberlain) was kind of a mockery of the sport when you consider his size advantage and the fact that his teammates were actively playing poor basketball to get him more shot opportunities. Most single game NFL records are usually circumstantial and come at the hands of a weak defense or offense. There are certainly other records worth looking at (especially in track and field and other Olympic events), but it seems as though these records fall every 5 years or so. 

I have to admit that when I started researching the awesomeness of this record that I would find more competition. After looking, I think I have to tip my cap to Officer Sargent and Ralph Semb and call them my daddy. The sport may be quirky and not all that much fun, but I have much respect for these Captains of Candlepin. Next time people talk about the great single game efforts of Wilt, Don Larsen and Jerry Rice, don’t forget to throw Sargent and Semb into the conversation. Congraulations Chris Sargent on a magnificent accomplishment!

1 comment:

  1. This is the best article I have ever read by X Mark!