FROM A PHONE TIPSTER: PRO BOWLER EARL ANTHONY WAS IN TOWN

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, Wimbledon and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

It was a mid-afternoon call. Mid-summer. Very little was taking place around Redlands.

Hardly anyone was in the newspaper office. In those days, the telephone was the lifeblood at any newspaper. Most of the time, when callers weren’t complaining or spouting off, good calls often proved exotic and helpful. One afternoon in early 1982, a very quiet voice who was at Empire Bowl, the local bowling alley, had an alert.

“Earl Anthony,” she said, “is here right now … bowling.”

Anthony was a legendary figure on the Professional Bowling Association tour.

Though I doubted the caller’s accuracy – what would a guy like Earl Anthony be doing in Redlands, of all places, right? – it wouldn’t take a whole lot of effort to drive a few miles from the office to verify this report.

Earl Anthony? In Redlands? No way!

Earl_Anthony
Earl Anthony, who missed the cut at a PBA tournament in Torrance, was on his way to another tournament in Tucson, Ariz. when he stopped off, at all places, Empire Bowl in Redlands (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Empire Bowl, located right next to a portion of Interstate 10, was in a fairly prominent spot along Colton Ave. It bordered along the North Side neighborhoods. A couple blocks west sat Bob’s Big Boy, a popular little restaurant. A little east was historic downtown Redlands.

I parked, got out, walked into the House. A crowd of people had converged to the far right portion.

Empire Bowl
This was the view from the corner of Redlands’ Empire Bowl, where PBA star Earl Anthony stopped by for practice (photo by Empire Bowl).

Sure enough, there he was, rolling a ball. Alone. A lefty, to be sure. Smooth. Effortless. Confident. He knocked down pins the way Jack Nicklaus or Lee Trevino landed golf shots on the green.

That phone tip turned out to be true. Suddenly, I became a bowling writer. I hadn’t written much on bowling. Our newspaper relied on people turning in results.

“Earl, do you have a minute?”

The bespectacled gentleman motioned me over. We chatted for awhile.

First question: What in the heck was he doing here?

Earl Anthony laughed.

Just passing through, he said. Thought he’d stop and roll a few just to get some exercise. We became quick friends. He ordered us a couple Cokes.

It was small talk, mostly. Lots of PBA titles. Some major championships. Anthony shared the news that he, at one time, had been a left-handed pitching hopeful with the Baltimore Orioles, along with a few other insights about his life.

“My pitching helped my bowling, though. It helped my rhythm and concentration.”

PRO BOWLING IS ROUGH

We chatted a little about those local showboats. They have them in every city. They’re the dominant bowlers at their “House.” Pro bowling stars roll into town and have to take them on. You know, kind of like gunslingers taking on the city’s fastest gun.

Anthony, who was 43 at the time, laughed. “Yeah. Yeah. Sure, I’ve faced those kind of guys. A lot of times. Didn’t always win.”

He’d just missed the cut at a tournament in Torrance, “so I figured I’d better get out here and practice a little.”

Each week, the PBA’s top bowlers were in contention.

“Mark Roth, Mal Acosta and guys like that,” he said. “I don’t mean to put down any town’s best bowlers, but usually the difference between them and us is the same difference as a high school player coming up to the big leagues.”

Referring to the rabbit squad, a rabid group of bowlers trying to qualify for one of those 144 tournaments spots, he noted there were 200 to 300 guys trying to qualify for 60 or 70 spots.

“When they qualify, they’ve made no money – just the right to play in the tournament.”

Pro bowling is tough, he said.

At that time, he told me, “pro bowling was at an all-time high in popularity. There is more television coverage than ever.”

In the early 1980s, ABC was televising 16 straight weeks of events.

At that very moment we were talking, the Pennzoil Open in Torrance – the tournament at which he’d failed to qualify – was set to televise on ESPN.

His home “House” was in the Northern California city of Dublin, bordering the Bay Area. Acosta and Rich Carrubba, current PBA members, were connected.

He spoke of a new PBA rule which required its members to take on a 2 ½ -day course – things like how to handle money, talk to the press and public, plus learning PBA history.

“I’m insulted by it,” he said. “I think it’s a great idea for guys coming out. But they want me and everybody else to go back and I think it’s ridiculous.”

Sarcastically, he added, “I’ve only been on the tour for about 13 years.”

In other words, he was history.

I’d reminded him that professional golfers, upon inception in the 1960s, did not require its current membership to qualify.

Said Anthony: “I used that same analogy with the PBA. They’re not listening to any of that. They still want us to attend.”

We sipped our Cokes. In between questions and answers, he’d effortlessly roll his ball down the lane. Here was a guy that made his living by rolling a ball better than most.

ANTHONY CLOSING IN ON HIS GOALS

Anthony’s goal, he told me, was “to win 40 tournaments and a million dollars before I quit.”

At that moment, Anthony had compiled 36 pro titles to his credit, plus over $900,000 in total purse winnings.

Before leaving, I said, “You know, I’ve never taken a photo before. Would you mind?”

“Not at all,” he said. “Tell me what you need.”

The photo came out a little dark. It was publishable. I think I was more excited about the photo than I was the article I’d written. Redlands’ bowling public would discover that a PBA star had stopped briefly in their community, en route to Tucson, his next tournament stop.

Two years earlier, Anthony suffered a heart attack.

“I’m fine now. I just want to start winning.”

I was done.

On my way out, I stopped at the front desk. Spotted an older woman.

“Are you the one who called me?”

She nodded.

“I owe you dinner for that. Appreciate what you did.”

“I get off at 6.”

“Bob’s?”

“Should I meet you there?”

It was, it turned out, the first and last time I’d ever see her.

Because of her, though, I’d met – and interviewed – Earl Anthony.