Back in 1998 I began writing a travel column for Money magazine, called “Lost in America,” and one of the first columns I wrote was about regional bowling subcultures scattered across the country.
I focused on candlepin bowling in New England, duckpin bowling in Baltimore (yes, I know it’s also played in a few other areas; we’ll get to that in a minute), and feather bowling in Detroit. If I’d had more room, I would have included mini-bowling in Milwaukee. And if the column’s concept hadn’t been restricted to American travel, I also would have included Canadian five-pin bowling.
Or to put it another way, I know a thing or two about regional bowling variations (look, I even have this little display in my living room). But I sure don’t know everything, a point that was driven home when reader Tom Konecny recently sent me an article from the May issue of Texas Co-op Power magazine, which featured an article on a variety of pin-bashing I hadn’t been aware of: kingpins, also known as Texas ninepins.
Ninepins is actually an older game than our more familiar tenpins. Aesthetically speaking, the game is distinguished by its diamond-shaped rack of pins with a red pin in the center, or sometimes just a red-necked pin. As you can see in that last shot, the pins don’t line up on the traditional tenpin spots; this, along with the necessity of having the red pin in the center, means that the pins always have to be racked by hand, not by machine.
According to the article Tom sent me, which you can read here (just click on each thumbnail and then click on “All Sizes” for a full-size version of each page; for additional info on the game’s background and rules, look here and here), the game is played at exactly 19 venues in the central Texas region that was settled by Germans two centuries ago. I knew we had these people to thank for the wonderful hot links featured at Texas barbecue joints, but I didn’t know one of their early forms of bowling was still being played today.
Anyone out there ever bowled at one of these establishments? Details, please.
Meanwhile, as long as we’re talking about regional bowling variations, here’s something interesting: Doug Keklak recently sent me a video link for some local TV coverage of a duckpins tournament near his hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Seemed routine enough, until I clicked on the link and found that this wasn’t regular duckpins — it was rubber band duckpins, a ducks variation I’d read about but never actually seen. The rubber bands are never used in Baltimore; are they standard-issue for ducks in western PA (and/or in Indiana, another ducks mini-scene)?
As you may have noticed in one of the earlier photos I linked to, rubber bands are also used in Canadian fivepins. In both cases, the idea is to make the pins bouncier and lead to higher scores, because both games are extremely difficult (fivepins because there are only five pins, duckpins because the ball and pins are so small). Candlepins is just as tricky, but to my knowledge there’s never any use of rubber bands or anything else to boost scoring.
All of which is to say: There’s a lot more to bowling than just drinking beer while you hurl a ball at a bunch of innocent little pins. Okay, maybe not a lot more, but probably more than most folks realize.
Uni Watch Road Trip Update, Hon: Hey, speaking of regional bowling scenes, Kirsten and I are gonna be swinging through Baltimore next month, so the long-promised Charm City Uni Watch party will finally take place. Mark it down for June 17th, 7pm. Haven’t settled on a venue yet; ideally, I’d like it to be at an old duckpins house (not one of those newfangled AMF facilities). This place dates back to 1927 and looks good from the outside, but I was disappointed to see how they’ve updated it with all sorts of nonsense on the inside. What I’m basically looking for is a place like the old Southway Lanes, which is now gone. Are there any places like that still left?
Fool’s Gold, continued: Reader Jonathan Eskridge recently visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame and took lots of photos — including, of course, a shot of Doak Walker’s 1953 uniform, complete with the controversial gold helmet. Two other people have weighed in with new thoughts on that one:
• From Helmet Hut historian Jim Parker: “After reviewing [Larry Bodnovich’s] screen grabs [which showed lots of gold helmets in a 1953 Lions game], it seems to me that many of the helmets in these photos do indeed appear silver, as I would have expected. If you look closely, you will find that the silver helmets are not Riddell model ‘RT’ helmets and as such are painted on the exterior or outside surface.” In other words, Jim believes — and I agree — that all the helmets were painted silver, but the Riddell RTs were painted on the inside and ended up appearing gold as the plastic helmet shells yellowed with age.
• From clear-helmet expert/DIYer Jeff Fedenko (who was profiled on the site a year ago): “I concur with your thoughts that the clear-shell helmets look gold regardless of what was intended, but I also agree with Jim Parker (a native of Detroit who saw the Lions helmets in person) that the helmets were actually silver. I know that more recent (1970s) clear shells provide a definite change of hue, which is evident in person and in photos or on TV. For example, if you compare a photo of Roger Staubach’s MaxPro clear shell helmet in Super Bowl XII with a painted helmet, there is a luminous effect with the clear shell. Another good example, discussed in the comments, was New Englad’s Pat Patriot-era MacGregor helmets, which also gave off a luminous or grayish hue compared to the painted and impregnated helmets. Also, I have heard that Riddell’s tenite plastic had an initial yellowish tint that only became stronger over time.”
So I think we’ve settled this one: The Lions never intended to wear gold helmets, but many of their players in the early 1950s nonetheless wore gold (or gold-seeming) helmets anyway, because they were painted from the inside on clear shells that yellowed with age. Okay? Okay.
Hey, remember these?: Things have been slow-ish over at the Uni Watch Membership Program lately, and that’s been fine with me, because I was mildly berserk with the Candela project. Now that that’s settled, this is a good time to remind you that you too can have your card proudly displayed in the membership card gallery if you sign up now. Or later, actually.
Also, don’t forget that the Uni Watch Classifieds page remains open for business. Okay (again)? Okay (again).
Uni Watch News Ticker: We begin today with several Japanese baseball items from Jeremy Brahm. First, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters have just released their “We Love Hokkaido” uniform, which will be worn in nine games, six of which are in cities outside Sapporo in Hokkaido (it’s normal for teams to play home games in nearby cities to promote the game). … Next, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows are celebrating the 40th anniversary of Yakult buying the team in 1969 by wearing Kokutetsu Swallows throwbacks (the team’s original name) for six home interleague games. Here’s the cap and rear view. … Third, the Yomiuri Giants are running an interesting promotion on June 7th. The first 5,000 fans who wear the team’s uniform to the game will receive this sticker sheet. … And finally, Jeremy has found more photos of early Japanese baseball teams in Seattle, dating back to 1920, 1919, 1917, 1912 (here’s another from that same year), 1911, 1910, and even 1907. Also, note the amazing sweaters worn by this squad. … Oh, and in that same photo archive, Jeremy found a cool shot of this 1908 women’s baseball team. … Do the NY Giants know that another team is wearing their socks? (As spotted by Brendon Yarian). … Now that’s a doozy (with thanks to James Crossman). … If you liked these, you love these (with thanks to John Muir). … New uni set for the Janaese national volleyball team (Jeremy Brahm again, as if you didn’t know). … FNOB alert (with thanks to Eric Stangel). … Always interesting to see softball faceguards. That’s Glen Oak High in North Canton, Ohio (with thanks to Brandon Yarian). … Not positive, but I think I linked to this page of “creative” softball pants a month or two ago. I didn’t realize, however, that the site also includes some much more outlandish concepts (with thanks to Brian Flynn-Kocourek). … Brett Klopp was in DC last weekend and caught a few of the Phils/Nats games. “Before Sunday’s game I noticed that the tarp covering the mound was emblazoned with a Miller Lite ad — first time I’ve seen something like that,” he says. “Also, the Nats have large banners above their CF pavlion area with the team logos for each league. At first glance they appear to be in alphabetical order by city name, but both signs have alphabetizing errors. On the NL side, Cincinnati should be before Colorado and San Diego should be before San Francisco. And for the AL, Chicago should be before Cleveland and Tampa Bay should be before Toronto. Can’t the Nats get anything right?” … Did anyone wonder what the Steelers would look like if they wore a white helmet like the one Ryan Connelly DIY’d? Ronnie Poore did. … Awesome 1917 military baseball uni, with detachable sleeves, here. … You’ve heard of media whores? How about media-savvy whores? (Big thanks to my Page 2 colleague DJ Gallo.) … Hey look, MLB equipment managers have their own association (with thanks to Jason Van Noord). … Hmmm, subtle. … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: Check out the awesome Zack Greinke T-shirt the Royals will be giving away on June 16th. … A while back I wrote about how Milwaukee Braves fans were allowed to bring beer into the ballpark. Here’s a Pirates fan doing the same at Forbes Field (with thanks to Lance Smith). … Uniform historian Marc Okkonen has just released his latest book (not uni-related but still fascinating): 2,000 Cups of Coffee 1900-1949: Players Who Appeared in 10 Games or Less in the Major Leagues in the First Half of the 20th Century. At present it’s only available as a PDF download for SABR members. Not sure if/when it’ll get wider distribution. … More Japanese baseball news from Jeremy: The Rakuten Golden Eagles will wear this design for interleague games. … Tyler Kepner noticed a small paint adjustment at Yankee Stadium (although he later e-mailed me to say, “Techinically, it’s vinyl, not paint”). … A new swimming record may not count, because the swimmer’s suit may be against the rules (that’s it, I’m just turning over the whole Ticker to Jeremy). … Brad Wasserman spotted my namesake on a movie poster. … Daniel Murphy had to borrow a first baseman’s mitt last night. … Two items of note here: (1) Apotrophe catastrophe-o-rama. Seriously, are these people illiterate or what? And (2) Look at the lining of that jacket.