Monday, November 30, 2009

Payback time

Tonight marks the eight week anniversary of our epic slide. It began with a pathetic attempt at post-bowling against Lesser Fat. We missed league night to suffer through two very cold and demoralizing playoff Rockies games. We went 0-4 against the Fatties. This was followed by two more sweeps, one by Overrated and then the Mighty Hucks. For the next three weeks, we repeat against these teams. We need to return the favor. Tonight, we face the Lesser Fat-Tailed Gerboas. It's payback time.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Attn: Professional Bowlers Association

I have been watching the PBA on ESPN lately. I must admit that it has become a lot more interesting now that I relate much better to the trials and tribulations of professional bowlers. This ability to relate has come with experience, a better understanding of pin action, lane conditions, technology, etc. In light of bowling's incessant search for legitimacy in the world of sport, clearly the ability to personally relate to something is key to success. Most people simply can't relate at this level because these are subtleties. Everybody can relate to a linebacker plowing over a receiver or a baseball flying over the center field wall, even though they have never done these things themselves. It's much more difficult to understand why a ball one inch from the pocket doesn't result in a strike if you are not a regular bowler.

A couple of nights ago, I was reading my US Bowler mag and read a quote by Norm Duke. The story was about his Best Bowler ESPY, and he said, "The ESPY's is a chance for bowling to reside alongside all the other sports. Whether you believe baseball, basketball, and football are the top tier sports, for a week we're all the same." This sentiment seems to be expressed over and over again by bowlers and bowling organizations. You are looking for an audience. You are looking for acceptance in the world of sport. You are looking to grow the sport.

Well, this morning, I had an interesting idea. I was watching Shannon Pluhowsky bowl. Damn, can she roll a sphere. I realized that bowling has an opportunity that is not available to most other sports. Women can compete with men. There may not perfect parity, and certainly men throw a lot harder than women, but if you took the best 20 women in the world and had them compete with the top 20 men, I would guess that a woman would come out on top from time to time. I have no idea how often this would happen. I couldn't even find women's stats on the PBA website.

That said, I think that having separate tours for women and men is a good thing. The best reason is that it doubles the number of professional bowlers, but here's what I would suggest. You should have one event annually where gender is irrelevant. You want people to care? People still may not be able to relate to the subtleties of bowling, but they could easily relate to this. How many women in the world have been subject to sexism? How many women feel like they are trying to succeed in a world or career dominated by men? These issues are exacerbated in sport where basic biological and physical characteristics of the sexes give men a distinct advantage. But in bowling as in life, women can compete with men, and they can compete well.

I am not talking about a token appearance of Michelle Wie in a golf tournament, which by the way always draws a lot of interest. I am not talking about the circus like atmosphere of Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs. I am talking straight up head to head competition between athletes on a level playing field. Why not? There is no better sport in which this could be done. And why shouldn't it be done?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bowling Alley Mural Reviews: Ju Hoansi

Inspired by the bowling pictographs on the sandstone outcrops of the Okavango Delta, the bowling alley mural Ju Hoansi by Anonymous combines both soft cartoonish classic forms with the ancient rock art genre of the Later Stone Age and Mesolithic periods. Purple and green bowling balls set on a mossy tropical forest green assault an obliquely oriented pin top. Lane arrows, not to be mistaken for Star Trek insignia, are randomly oriented providing a confusing setting in which to bowl. They tempt the kegler to release the ball to the left, right, or even upward. In panel centers bowl tropically proportioned dynamic stick men in full back swing. While not as tasteful nor inspiring as space and dolphin themed bowling artwork, the muralist who produced this masking unit cannot be characterized as one who is afraid to take risks. For this trait, he must be commended, though I am left with much doubt that this piece will ever be featured in a coffee table volume of symbolic bowling expression.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Split Personality Disorder

Lately, I have been plagued by splits, and so have two of my compadres (JD and JL). This week our team put up 18 of those pesky buggers. We have had more than 10 for seven of the last eight weeks and have maxed out at 20. Splits are huge nuisance, especially pocket splits. They are keeping our pickup percentage down. For instance, this week, I picked up 9 of 17 spares or 52.9%. Of the eight that I did not collect, 6 were splits. So, of the "normal" leaves, I had, I actually got nearly 82%. If I could largely eliminate splits, then, I could probably add at least 10 pins to my average. This goes for most bowlers.

Well, in this post, I would like to make the argument that splits are a sign of improvement in bowling; I'd actually like to turn this rise in splits into a good thing. It's rare in sports that a gain in skill comes with an unfortunate side effect, but I'm pretty sure that's exactly what's going on here.

I'd like to start with a simple conceptualization of skill in shooting a basketball. The same idea could be applied to darts or any activity where something is propelled toward a target. In basketball, the target is the center of the rim. If a shooter shoots 1,000 free throws, they will make some and they will miss some, but if we were to look at the average location at which the ball would have passed through the plane of the rim, it will usually be the center of the rim. Parenthetically, did you know that the diameter of the rim is twice the diameter of the ball?

For a really poor shooter, Shaq for instance, that scatter of dots representing each shot will be wide. Some will be air balls. Some will be swishes. Some will clank off the rim to the right or left. Some will brick off the back of the rim or backboard. For a really good shooter, like Steve Nash, that scatter of points will be much tighter. Most will be near the center of the rim, and the misses will be near misses. The scatter of points made by both shooters should be centered on the center of the rim. For a good shooter, though, the dispersion, or the width of that scatter, will be much tighter.

Now let's apply the same concept to bowling. On the first ball, we all aim for the pocket, the 1-3 if you are a righty. Some of us are better at consistently finding it than others. For a really low skill bowler, if we could average all of the locations of contact of the pins (say the board of entry), it would be the pocket. In fact, this would be the most likely shot, but a large number of shots would miss, and many would miss badly, with some even finding the gutters. Below is a graphical representation of the system as I envision it. (Click on it to make it larger).
The beige curves above the pins represent the frequency distribution of 1st shot locations for low, intermediate, and high skill players. If I had actual data for this, I would expect the distribution to be normal, bell-shaped, or Gaussian, named after Karl Friedrich Gauss (the old guy in the pic up there). Incidentally, if you are interested in tracking board (or location) statistics, check out Bowl SK, a bowling stats package maintained by our friends at the 10th Board. In brief, the height of the curve represents how commonly a shot reaches the pins at a particular location. The most common location is the pocket for bowlers of any skill, but as we improve, those shots on the edges of the pins become increasingly rare until they largely disappear. Professional bowlers are almost always very close to the pocket.

Here is the interesting part. As your skill increases from low to intermediate, you should find the pocket and its surroundings more frequently. Because most splits derive from striking the 1 pin straight on (very close to the pocket) , splits should actually increase in frequency as you improve. If you can get beyond this stage to the high skill level, they should drop off again.

I don't have board statistics for our team to demonstrate this phenomenon. As quantitatively anal as I am, I just can't bring myself to record this information while bowling, but I do have one way of looking at the problem: 1st ball average. If you have a high 1st ball average, it means that you are regularly near the pocket on your 1st toss. If it is low, you are all over the place. It should be a good proxy for skill. So, we can ask whether the number of splits increases as first ball average increases?

Above is a graph of 1st ball average vs. the number of splits for 93 individual series of bowling for bowlers of low to intermediate skill.Notice that above a 1st ball average of 7.5, the average number of splits per series increases by one for every 0.5 pins gained in 1st ball average.

What does this mean? It means that if you are getting more splits and you are improving from low to intermediate skill, this is exactly what should be happening, as annoying as it may be. It is a sign of improvement. So, try not to think of it as a bad thing, as I have been. It is my contention, although I do not have the data to back it up, that as you improve even further, the number of splits you get will decline again. Here's one little bit of evidence to support that idea. Two weeks ago, JD put up a first ball average of 9.03. It was the first time any of us had broken the 9.0 mark. How many splits did he have that night? Only one.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Hard Fought Battle

It was a battle of the Laramie's bowling elite on Monday night at the Lanes of Laramie. Or perhaps more accurately, it was Laramie's bowling elite vs. Laramie's bowling losers, the Movements. We gave it our all, but the Lazers took three of four. We had a solid night, putting up nearly 1,900 pins. We had two 900 games but only managed to win one of them. With every game, one could hear the swords of gorgons clashing on the battlefield, whatever that means.

I'll just hit the highlights. Game 2 was a spectacle to behold. Despite a team handicapped 902, we lost. The real battle was among the Lazers. It was the Briefcase vs. the Kid Wonder in a death match to 300. The Kid started with seven straight, but The Briefcase later countered with his own seven-bagger. They both ended with matching 268's, so nobody had to die this night. Even though The Bruin was having a hard time finding the pocket and that they had an absent bowler (Baker, Jr, who still bowls like 228 when he isn't even there), we could not compete with the raw talent of the Lazers.

In Game 3, we were already down two games and about a Roman C of pins, but we fought to the end to win the game. I will demonstrate the fortitude of the BM's with a new tool on the BM Report, the Victory Probability Tracker®. The VPT was inspired by similar graphics used to describe a team's chances of winning a baseball game as the game progresses. Here's an example. Unlike the much more sophisticated baseball model, our model does not take into account what the other team is doing because we lack those data. It is instead based on team frame by frame scores and past outcomes. Here's the VPT for Game 3 last night:

We started off strongly early on. Johnebob went X, X, 6/, X for his first four. I struck the first followed by a split. The Rook went strike-spare. JD went 9, man spare in the first two. After the scoring for Frame 1 was complete, we already had a 63% chance of victory, but over the next five frames, we slipped back to 50-50. The game was looking lost, but for the last four, we bowled toe to toe with the Lazers. Daniele, who had struggled to get X's all night landed a four-bagger. Johnebob put a double on top of that. I got an X and a couple of slashes, and the Rook added one of each. By the end of the game, we had pushed our chance of victory to near 70%, which was good enough to get one on the night.

Since I love the numbers, I'd like to point out one more interesting happening. Johnebob absolutely dominated the first frame. In Game 1, he started with a turkish delight. In Games 2 and 3, he started with two-baggers. In all, he averaged a hefty 28.0 pins in the first frame. One should keep in mind that the maximum that can be attained for any frame is 30, so an average of 28 is very beefy. In fact, nobody has ever come close. The graph below shows the frequency distribution of average frame scores for the Movements for all series on record.

This is a lot of data. In fact, it includes 1,152 average frame scores. That's 10 frames per bowler for four bowlers for 38 nights of bowling. In short Johnebob's 28 pin average for the 1st frame was sick. It is a major outlier. Nobody has gotten even close. The next closest was a 25.3 pin average for the 2nd frame from February 2, 2009. Who did that? Johnebob of course, the master of choosing a frame to dominate for the night. Lest he get a big head, I will note that for Frame 10 last night, he averaged 8.3. That's bowling for you.

The truth is hard to admit

It's so hard to admit what we know to be true that only two of us can admit it (left: Urban Magic Johnson, right: Movement2). The Battle for Bad Bowling Supremacy has been played, and HCLC, The A Team, has triumphed.

Congrats, guys and gals!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Seeing the Forest

Bowling is a noisy system. From week to week, our scores fluctuate wildly and for no apparent reason. This frustrates some people to no end (I'm talking to you, E.B.). We all want to get better, and we do with time, but it generally takes a long time to notice that improvement. We seem to be going nowhere fast. Week to week performance distracts us from that long term trend. If I think back to four years ago, when we joined the Bernaski League, our improvement is obvious. We have all added around 30 pins to our averages. If I think of the last few weeks, it seems like nothing is changing. Weekly bowling scores are simply trees that distract us from seeing the forest. But the forest still there, and it can be teased out of all of those stupid trees.

Our team time series down there on the right is an excellent example of this. It seems to go up and down wildly with no apparent trend. There are many factors to account for this. For example, our team membership has not been constant. Last year, we had the Canadian in the three spot. Now, we have Ging. There are weeks when we have subs, like K-Terk and Becker. These changing factors will affect our week to week pin totals. There are underlying constants, myself, John, and Joe. We have been there from the beginning, and its not difficult to tease out our improvement over this time frame.

Here's how I did it. I looked at averages from week to week for the three of us. There were weeks when one of us was missing, but I ignored this small factor. But to smooth out the wiggles caused by those weekly trees, I used a 10 week running average. I simply looked at our average game score for the last ten weeks of bowling, and when I did, the pattern became very obvious. Here it is:
The dots in gray are our weekly averages. The red dots are the running average, our average over the last ten weeks. Last season, John, Joe, and I peaked early, around the middle of February, and we limped into the end of the season. This season has been a different story. Our average has increased steadily with a couple of bumps. The good news is that ten weeks into this season, we are bowling better than we have ever bowled. We have averaged just under 156 pins per game. It may seem odd. We went through a horrific slump when we could not win a game. We have all had good days and bad days. But when you look at three bowlers over a ten week period, you are averaging a total of 90 games of bowling, and all of those distracting trees give way to a forest that is easy to see. In this case, I like the look of the forest. I'd sure like to see it look like 160 trees, and eventually it will. I'm not sure when exactly, but we'll get there.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Battle for Bad Bowling Supremacy

In less than 30 minutes, the battle for bad bowling supremacy will begin. This competition of bowling not-so-greats will be played not on the hardwood but on the gridiron. Game time: High Noon. Location: Laramie, Wyoming. The wager has been proffered and accepted. Frogs vs. Cowboys. Movements vs. HCLC. The world will have their eyes fixed on this game, the most important game ever played in the history of bowling.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Will a new bowling ball improve your game?

Last Monday, I wrote about bowling balls, specifically that the USBC is changing one of its regulations on ball specifications to take a little bit of action out highly engineered balls. Apparently, the USBC feels that advances in ball technology are inflating scores. I equated this problem to the use of steroids in baseball , which made one commenter, who apparently sells bowling balls, a bit irked. All of this got me thinking about the age old question of how much equipment really matters. A friend of mine once said, "Golf is men's excuse to go shopping." Dudes like new toys, and sports marketers have done a good job training us to believe that we could definitely do better at any sporting endeavor with some new gear. Is this true?

At the end of last season, three of us retooled our bowling bags. We all made the change from what were basically house balls to bowling spheres with a lot more break. It was my hope that we would start getting a lot more strikes. Well, the time has arrived to see if in fact that has happened. Since we reequipped, each of us have more than 24 games and 240 frames to our name.

I decided to look at strikes and spares individually, the two major currencies of success in the art of rolling. Let's begin with strikes. The graph below shows the strike percentage for each bowler before and after the upgrade. There are three questions here: Was there a change? Which way did it go? And is it meaningful? The last question is the most subtle. Statistically speaking, we would expect slight variation in strike percentage due to chance even if there was no change. Going back to my favorite analogy, flip a coin 100 times and count the number of heads you get. Now repeat the experiment. You are likely going to get a slightly different result even though nothing changed. Likewise, if you roll 100 frames twice, you will very likely get a slightly different number of strikes each time. Statistically, it's not difficult to evaluate whether any of the observed differences are meaningful, which would indicate that something other than chance can explain the change, such as the use of a new bowling ball.

So what happened? In short, not much. The only meaningful difference is for JD. He has gone from a strike percentage of 23% with his Qubica House Ball to nearly 32% with his new Hammer Raw Acid. This means he gets about one more strike per game. JPL has gone in the opposite direction. His strike percentage has dropped about 5%, although the difference is not significant. My strike percentage is up over a little more than 1%, something that can easily be explained by chance. For all of us combined, strike percentage has improved from 27.8 to 29.8%, a difference that is not meaningful.

In short, the new balls seem to have no effect for two of us, but Daniele seems to have made a big jump. I'm not sure why he is the only one reaping the benefits of a new ball, but it might be explained by custom fitting. Prior to the switch, he used a hand me down ball that was not drilled for his hand. Johnny and I both had custom fits prior. Or perhaps, as Hammer would like us to believe, his ball has actually helped him. I actually lean toward the latter.

What about spares? It's hard to imagine how our upgrade would affect our pickup rate. Having a ball with a lot of break isn't really an advantage when cleaning up leaves. You could even see it as somewhat detrimental. (e.g., It's harder to tuck into the 10 pin if you're a righty.) Interestingly, all of us have improved our spare game. The greatest difference is for myself, with an 8% improvement. None of the differences for individuals are statistically meaningful, but for all of us combined, there appears to be a real difference. We are getting 4% more spares than before the switch. Is this due to the equipment change, or is it just because we are becoming better bowlers? I favor the 2nd explanation- it is about skill.

In brief, after the Great Ball Transplant, we have benefited slightly, especially Daniele, who has been getting a lot more strikes. We all have made slight gains in our spare game, something I think is difficult to attribute to our new balls. So, will dropping $150 on a new hi-fi ball add 10 pins to your average? I don't know. For the three of us, only JD seems to have spent his money wisely. Those people who make and sell balls will tell you that it will for sure. Maybe we bought the wrong balls. All I can tell you is that I hoped for more strikes with my Brunswick Smash Zone, and it just isn't happening. I can also tell you that the next time I tell my wife that I need a new ball, she is going to point to this and say, "Uh huh, sure you do." I will respond, "I need a Hammer Raw Acid. Look what it did for Joe." By the way, Hammer, did I mention that were are looking for a sponsor?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Two Perfect Games

We arrived a tad later to the lanes on Monday. The prior league was just wrapping up as we migrated to our usual preleague booth in the lounge to enjoy some cold golden bowling juice. I didn't have the time to pour myself a mug by the time we had to migrate to Lane 14. Upon arrival, Cody Caldwell, the Kid Wonder, walked up. He said, "You should check out that screen. In the 1st game, Brett [Baker] and I both rolled 300's." He was pretty excited about this, as you might imagine. I slipped out of my shoes, into my bowlers, and checked out the screen. It was true. Two 300's in the same game by two guys on the same team. Wow. That's cool. But we had our own business to attend to.

Our foe for the night was Prairie Rose, the team anchored by the Eickbush's, father and son. Leading off is Shef, a man with an intimidating demeanor on the surface, but he is a very nice guy. They were missing their 3 man, Talley, so once again we would bowl with a slight advantage, 10 pins per game. No advantage, however, can overcome bad bowling, and in Game 1, we managed to continue our streak of sucking. We lost. It seemed like a long night was upon us yet once again.

But something happened between Games 1 and 2, what it was I have no idea because Game 2 was a beautiful thing. Even though P. Rose put up a game well into the 900's, we broke 1,000 for the 2nd time this season. Daniele led us with a 200, his 2nd of the season, and once again, he hit 200 on the money. Gingy put up his best game of the season with a 187. Scratch, it was a 731, handicapped, a 1009. This was easily a new BM record for Game 2.

We took Game 3 with a 925 game, again led by Daniele. In fact, in Games 2 and 3, P. Rose also hit the 900's and lost both. I felt badly for them because it seems like that happens to us all too frequently. They bowled very well, but Games 2 and 3 for our team felt like perfect games, at least as close as our team can get to perfect games.

We set a number of records as a team. In addition to a new high for Game 2, we set records for strikes (47), strike% (35.9%), and accuracy (48.7%). The Rook earned a 180 patch, which he desperately wanted, and our team series was our 2nd best ever (1,931). This was, however, JD's night, who took the high score for all three games and had his best night of the BIA. He finally joined the 700 club, a 200 game with a 500 series by going 539 for the night, and he set a new record for first ball average, with a 9.03. This is the first time any of us have gone over 9, and it fulfills one of my goals for the season. He was all over the pocket all night. To give you an idea of why it's so difficult to do this, check out the frequency distribution of his 30 1st ball scores below.

It was a great night for the team. Heck, it was the first time I had seen us win a game in a month and a half. At the night's end, we had one more pitcher of bowling juice to celebrate, and Kid Wonder came over to our lane. I asked him what it feels like when you a bowl a perfect game. Specifically, I asked what does it feel like to step up to bowl after you have hit eleven in a row. He said, "You know, my mind went blank, completely blank." That's probably why Cody now has three 300's to his name, and I will never have one. (Brett has more than 10!) He does not over think it. He just rolls. Well, there's also the factor that Cody is a really good bowler, and I really suck. Next week, we're up against Cody, Brett, and the Lazers. It should be a good time, except they owe us a beatdown. We are 6-2 against them this season.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Seven BM's, 1000 X's

As I am traveling over the next couple of days, I won't have time for a full report of last night's activities. It was a great night, and I'll leave it up to the Rookie to do the initial reporting if he's up for it. It was much needed. You might say that Daniele had the time of his life. No, he never felt like this before. Yes, he swears it's the truth, and he owes it all to you...

Sorry, I was briefly possessed by the specter of Swayze. Last week, I noted that we were about to reach three milestones. A few days ago, we hit the 5,000 visitor mark on the Report. Last night, we got our 1,000th strike as a team, and it happened in a nice way. We put up 47 strikes. This was easily a new record. Our old record was 44. Everybody got double digit X's, and Daniele led us with 15.

What is truly amazing is that we needed every one of those strikes to get to exactly 1,000, and Daniele had to turkey the 10th in the last game to get us there. So, after 343 days of rolling once a week from September through May, we have joined the millennial strike club. When we accept our souvenir plate in the induction ceremony, we should remember to thank those who got us here. The core Movements have done most of the heavy lifting, but let us not forget the others... the Canadian, K-Terk, and Becker. And here's a nod to the Rook who last night got the 1st and 2nd turkey of his life, which remarkably happened in the same game. Here's the breakdown of the first 1,000 X's.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bowling Crime: The ball as not so deadly weapon

According to police, two years ago, in Ichikawa, Chiba prefecture, Shinobu Hirata attempted to murder her husband and commit suicide out of shame for mounting debts. Mrs. Hirata's chosen weapon was her husband's 7 kg bowling ball. Mr. Hirata survived the attack with only minor injuries including a serial number permanently stamped into his scalp. Upon apprehension, Mrs. Hirata stated, "私はポケットを見いだすことができませんでした。", loosely translated as "I could not find the pocket." Mrs. Hirata is now behind bars. She spends her spare time working on ways to get more power into her bowling shot.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pockets Needed

This is not standard BM fare for me, as it is about the personal struggles in my game, but I am struggling with something and felt the need to get it out. I thought maybe somebody out there in the void could relate.

I seem to have developed a slight pocket problem. The problem is that I can't find it, and it is driving me crazy. I change starting position and target, but nothing seems to work. Here is a short history the development of this problem.

I taught myself how to throw a hook. This happened about a year a ago. Unfortunately, I taught myself incorrectly. At first my ball had back spin in addition to side spin. Then, I got the ball to spin at more or less a 90º angle to the lane axis. One day, when I was doing a little practice, our local hot shot, Adam, saw me throwing this crazy shot, and decided to give me a little instruction. It was a shot I had actually mastered fairly well, but it did not have a lot of break to it. He showed me how simple it was to throw a hook correctly.

Well, it took me a long time to break those bad habits, but I have largely done it. I am now at the point where I throw a pretty decent hook about 95% of the time and revert to the old way very rarely. As my hook has evolved, I have gained more and more break on the ball. I am happy with its current state.

Anyway, now that I have this nice action on the ball, I can't seem to find the pocket. I have solved one problem only to create another. Go figure. Now, I seem to be left of the head pin, either right on it, thus my split problem, or beyond it. When I get a strike, which is rare , it seems to be a brooklyn.

I take the standard recommended medications. I move my feet left. I move my target right. Here's what happens. If I start the ball further to the right, it will either go into the gutter, or stay well right of the pocket. If I readjust to try to fix this, I'm back on the left side. Those seem to be my choices, to throw a brooklyn, or to come in around the 6 pin.

Honestly, I think the problem is that I find it very uncomfortable to let the ball get near the gutter before bringing it back toward the middle. I think I have some mental block against it. Or maybe I have to put a little more speed on the ball. Whatever it is, I would like to figure it out soon because I can't seem to get double digit strikes in a series anymore, and thus my scores are stuck in the 130's-150's.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The TV Currency

I was pleasantly surprised to find in my mailbox a couple of days ago the new issue of US Bowler Magazine, specifically Volume 5, No. 2, the Winter 2009-10 edition. It's always a surprise because it comes so infrequently that I forget that it is one of the perks of my USBC membership. In fact, it seems like the only perk. On p. 8, there is an interview with Stu Upson, the USBC's new Executive Director. I generally liked the things that Stu had to say. In particular, I found this statement intriguing, "We want to work closely with our membership to achieve our mission of growing the sport, having said that, we have to search for new ideas. The current approach is not working well enough."

Now, maybe I'm reading too much into this. After all, a new Executive Director has to point to problems he thinks he can fix, or else he would be saying that he's not really necessary or the right guy for the job. But being part of your membership, Stu, I'd like to share a few thoughts, not that you'll ever read them. Nobody ever seems to pay attention, other than the Holy Cross Lutheran Church A Bowling Team in Arlington, Texas. (Thanks guys!) Before I begin my rant, let me say at the outset that this might anger many a bowler if they read it, but thankfully, most bowlers don't know how to read.

That little joke right there really speaks to my point. I have rediscovered bowling over the last few years. I have enjoyed it tremendously. It is a frustratingly simple game, like billiards. I know what I have to do, but I just can't quite do it. It shouldn't be this hard. That one aspect of the game keeps me coming back over and over again trying to get to the point where I can consistently find the pocket or pick up solitary 10 pins. It suits my obsessive personality well that way. It is a remarkably difficult thing to master.

However, while I enjoy bowling, analyzing bowling statistics, and writing about bowling, there are times when I am ashamed by this. Take the simple fact that I have generally concealed my identity. Ok, if you click on that link, you will bring me out of the closet. That feels better. [Please don't give me a lifetime ban.] But why have I worn this mask in public? Well, in certain contexts, it can be a little embarrassing to be a guy who puts so much time and effort into bowling. I can't put my finger on the reason why exactly, but it kind of feels like being a guy who is a huge fan of the WWE. Bowling has a certain gestalt and style that does not mesh with my other life. In that life, I am a long-haired, overly educated, liberal academic (some would say "elitist"). Are these words we associate with bowling? Not so much.

It shouldn't be this way. Bowling should have a positive association for everyone, but cultural forces are powerful forces. They shape perceptions and they shape trends. I know that not everyone feels the same way I do about bowling. In fact, if I look at the advertising in my new magazine, I recognize that I am not the target demographic of the USBC. Your target demographic is apparently into cheap diamond initial pendants (p. 15) and fake diamond-like substances (p.29). These ads really speak to what bowling wants to be. It wants to wear diamonds, but the best it can do is to wear stones that "dazzle like diamonds but without the outrageous cost" (p. 15).

In other words, Stu, I think you recognize that bowling has an image problem, and this magazine really isn't helping. I could dissect it like any good academic would, and believe me, the temptation to do so is strong. For example, US Bowler always includes some short segment we could call, "Cool people bowl, too!" (See Chris Paul, pp. 2-3; Alyssa Milano and Manny Ramirez, p.12). Unfortunately, these always come off as hokey and insincere. While Chris seems to have a genuine interest, Manny and Alyssa do it only for charity. They could care less about bowling, and the account of Manny's bowling illustrates this perfectly. It feels like this segment is self-defeating.

Leaving aside US Bowler, one thing that I find incredible is that bowler success is commonly measured in terms of "TV appearances". I get it. Most bowling tournaments are not on TV, and when they are, only the final rounds are shown. So, if you make it into the glowing box, you're doing well. I can think of no other sport that does this. If you are a professional athlete in a major sport, you are on TV every time you step on the court, field, or ice. "Television appearances" would be synonymous with "games played", not a very meaningful indicator of ability or success. When we say that the guy with the bushy mustache has the most television appearances of all bowlers, it makes it seem like this is what drives bowlers- to be on TV. There may be some truth to that. Everybody likes attention. But the use of this simple descriptive statistic of bowling ability just screams, "Pay attention to me!"

This, is your problem, Stu. Bowling wants more attention. You can do this my measuring how much attention bowlers get on TV. You can do this by wearing fake diamonds. You can do this by trying to associate bowling with people who get a lot of attention. But all of this stuff just makes you seem desperate, like the fat girl in the bar with big hoochy heels and clothes that are way too tight. We all know that the fat girl will be miserable and alone at the end of the night.

I wish I knew how to make bowling more widely popular and not seem like the desperate fat girl of professional sports. I'm sure you do, too. I will say this. US Bowler magazine does not make me feel like I belong. It seems like it was written for somebody else, and if I continue to feel out of place in this sport, I can guarantee that many others feel the same way.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bowling Haiku VII

An inch from ideal
turns ten to eight with a void
and hope to despair

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Four crappy bowlers bowling crappily

I can't remember the last time I saw the Movements win a game. Monday night was no exception. The best we could do was tie the team named after a pizza franchise in Game 2. Because of this, we have a decimal attached to our record. It's just an ugly thing. 15.5 wins? What the hell?

Anyway, the Caesars came into the night with a handicap 100 pins greater than ours. That means that if we both bowled our averages, we would have won by ten pins. On top of this, they were missing a bowler, so we actually had a 20 pin advantage per game. Yet, we got our ass kicked. I must sound like a broken record. What happened in brief is that they bowled very well and we bowled poorly, all of us.

Only Gingis Khan crested his average for the night. I only recorded six strikes for the series. Daniele went 2 of 21 on spare chances in part due to eight splits, but he also led the team with a dozen X's. As a team, we left 17 of 27 single pin chances untouched. It was ugly. Maybe, just maybe, with the loss of the cursed towel, we will turn things around next week. K-Terk has been a welcome addition for the last three weeks, but for the first time in a month, next Monday, the Movements should once again be unified. We need some wins because we are doing our best to go from first to worst at a mind boggling pace.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Towels, Superstition, and Sports

Athletes in many sports have rituals or superstitions that guide their actions to maintain optimal performance, defeat opponents, and above all ensure victory. While players of baseball and hockey are generally considered the most superstitious, bowling is not immune to irrational beliefs. For example the three most common bowling superstitions are 1) to continue a winning streak, wear the same clothes; 2) the number 300, a perfect score, on your license plate will increase your score; 3) carrying charms on your bowling bag, in your pockets, or around your neck for good luck. While these three are pretty tame compared to baseball and hockey where athletes have urinated on their hands to avoid calluses (Moises Alou, NY Mets & Jorge Posada, NYY), brushed their teeth and chewed licorice between every inning (Turk Wendell, MLB-retired), wore necklaces adorned with trophies from animals they have killed, including mountain lion claws and the teeth of wild pigs and buffalo (Also Wendell), and dipped the blades of hockey sticks into toilets before games (Bruce Gardiner, Ottawa Senators). They are no less important than the ones used by bowlers to boost confidence and appease the bowling gods.

Last night we conducted our first ritual as a team to break our losing streak (no we did not dip our bowling balls in the toilet). We participated in the ritual killing and abandonment of the purple Rockies play-off towel. For weeks we have been losing so last night we drew the conclusion that the slump began with the Rockies losing the playoffs. After they were beat our next game was one the worst performances in movement history (also the first appearance of the towel). After last week, when we went 3-1, there was some talk of trading Todd as we seem to win we he leaves town. Todd, however, is not the problem as Todd has generally carried the team this year and has put up some monster games (e.g., 226). Last night Joe D and I recognized that Todd carried the towel. And then it hit us like a ballistic missile, it’s not Todd it’s the towel, the terrible towel. The bad karma that had cursed the towel at the Rockies losing game had traveled to Laramie and cursed the movements. This left us with only one option, destroy the towel. Our first thought was to burn it, just like you would burn a witch or any other evil thing. Unfortunately, some genius decided it was wise to make flame-retardant towels, so our ritual burning of the towel in the parking lot was a failure. So although not ideal, we did the next best thing, abandon the towel on the Union Pacific Railroad tracks where it can be ripped to shreds by an oncoming locomotive.
Although many don’t believe in superstitions the power is in belief – confidence that the ritual will bring victory and success. I am confident that the removal of this evil will indeed allow us to break the slump.

The race is on

The Movements are about to achieve three milestones. They should all occur within three weeks of each other. These are:

1) The one year anniversary of the BM Report. The first ever BM Report was published on December 2, 2008, but the blog did not come into existence until nine days later.

2) The 5,000th visitor to the BM Report. There's a little visitor counter down there on the right. As I write this, it sits at 4,835.

3) The 1000th strike of the BIA. The BIA is the "Bowling Information Age". It is the time since we started tracking our statistics, which is more or less contemporaneous with the start of the BM Report. We currently have 927 strikes as a team.

I'm fairly certain that #2 will happen first. As for the other two, it would be nice to get to 1,000 team strikes in the first year of the BIA. It would not only seem like a nice accomplishment, but also it would set a nice benchmark to beat for Year 2.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Patches? We don't need no stinkin' patches!

I love my patches. I have two affixed to my jersey. When my wife came to bowling night a couple of weeks ago, she said, "You have to remove those patches." She noted that nobody else in league flaunted their accomplishments on their jersey (not that anybody else wears jerseys). The other Movements like to make fun of them, too. But you know what? Everybody likes a patch, and only two BM's have 'em. This provides an obvious opportunity for making fun of those who lack patches. The BM Patch Club was formed at the end of last season. It still has only two members (me and Johnny), but it's membership will grow to include at least Daniele at the end of this season. I put them on my jersey for two reasons. 1) What else should I do with them? 2) I think it is funny to flaunt the 180 game patch. Is that really something to be proud of?

The USBC has a fairly large number of patches that can be earned for accomplishment in bowling. My favorites, none of which have I earned, are the Special Achievement awards. These are for rare accomplishments. They consist of: 1) 7-10 conversion; 2) Big four split conversion; 3) All spare game; 4) Dutch 200 game; 5) Triplicate series. I don't really want to get into what all of these things are, but they are hard to do. They don't really speak to your ability as a bowler. They are just really unusual occurrences. Someday, I'd be thrilled to get just one.

So far, I have only earned Single Game Awards, the 180 game and the 200 game patches. The next step up in this series of awards is the 250 game award. In fact, the 180 and 200 patches are currently unavailable to me because in order to get them, you need an average under 140 and 160, respectively. I think I earned another 200 patch during the first three weeks of league, but since then, my average has crested the 160 mark. So, now my next target is the 250 patch.

As I pondered to which part of my jersey I should affix this patch, I realized that I had no idea what it would take to actually roll a 250. Quite some time ago, I looked at what must be done to roll 200. So, I thought I'd do the same for 250. In short, I realized that my 250 patch is a long way away. In fact, I may never get one. Let's start with the obvious. In the 81 games of league bowling that we have on record, I have only crested 200 three times. My high game is a 226. You can see it on the bottom of the blog. So, a 250 is pretty far away.

Above are four hypothetical 250 games. What I found is that in order to get to 250, you need at least seven strikes. I have achieved this twice in single games, except in order to get to 250, those strikes have to be consecutive and not in the 10th. I have never recorded more than five in a row. If you only get seven, you have to spare the remaining frames. If you don't string strikes together, then it is more easily done with eight or nine strikes, if you think that's easy. For example, the top game has nine strikes with three turkeys. Three turkeys in one game? I'm happy to get one in a series. In short, in order to make 250 a realistic possibility, you have to be able to throw strikes at a high rate. I currently strike only 1/3 of frames on average.

So, maybe I'll work on that Dutch 200 game patch instead cause I am a long way from 250. Or maybe I'll just buy one and pretend like it's mine, and while I'm at it, I think I'll get a perfect game jacket, too.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

USBC: Bowling has lost its credibility

I like to make fun of the USBC. My usual targets are the rulebook and US Bowler magazine. I don't really have anything against the USBC. It's just fun to stick it to the man. I am generally very impressed with the governing body of American bowling. For example, I recently found a nerd's dream book, the Equipment Specifications and Certification Manual, which is filled with all kinds of detailed information about standards of lane, pin, and ball construction. It's a rather remarkable thing. I had no idea to what lengths the USBC had gone to standardize the game. Anyway, while I was perusing, the USBC website, I found an article with this headline: USBC Equipment Specifications and Certifications Committee adopts new bowling ball specification as part of continuing effort to reestablish bowling’s credibility.

While there is clearly some history here to which I am not privy, I found this rather remarkable. Below is a screen shot of the website. You can find it here. I'm curious if they will change it. In effect, this headline says that bowling has lost its credibility, or at least that this is the official opinion of the body that governs it.

In brief, this article has to do with a change to the rules governing bowling ball specifications, specifically the radius of gyration. This change will decrease the amount of action a ball can have or reduce its break. According to
USBC Technical Director Steve Kloempken, “We will continue addressing this issue and investigating possible specification changes until we get back to the point where player skill is as important as, if not more important than, technology in determining success on the lanes.” In other words, bowling ball technology has evolved to the point where scores are not really reflective of skill. Lower skill players can inflate their scores through the use of highly engineered bowling balls. It is somewhat analogous to the use of steroids in baseball, something which has clearly harmed baseball's credibility. Incidentally, the use of steroids is permitted in bowling.

Still, I can't imagine the MLB ever saying that baseball has lost its credibility. Can you imagine the NFL saying that football is no longer credible, or that we need to reestablish its credibility? All sports evolve over time. Rules change. The intent of rule changes is to make the game safer, more standardized, more fair, etc. Think of instant replay in football, baseball, or basketball. Despite delays to the game, incorrect calls can be overturned and the correct outcome is attained. Were these sports not credible prior to instant replay? Of course not. Bad calls were part of the game.

So USBC, I would recommend that you change the wording of this headline. If you feel that some of the juice should be taken out of hi-fi bowling balls, I applaud your efforts to do so. After all, I've always felt that the reason why everybody in league is better than me is their equipment. I bowl as well as a human can possibly bowl, and still only average in the 160's. But when you write headlines, don't say that bowling has lost its credibility. What do you think of this edit?

USBC Equipment Specifications and Certifications Committee adopts new bowling ball specification as part of continuing effort to reduce score inflation

Yeah. I think that sounds a lot better. Don't you?

Friday, November 6, 2009

In absentia

I missed this week's league night because I was in Ole Virginny. The good news is that my brother was elected to serve as the new member of the House of Delegates in the 44th District. I'm proud of the boy, and I had a good time. The bad news is that the Movements went 3-1 without me.

How could this be bad news? Well, I'm starting to feel like the Allen Iverson of the Bowl Movements. You see, every time I leave town, these guys bowl well. Granted, during the BIA, I have only missed two weeks of bowling, but both times, they have kicked ass.

The first time was on January 19, 2009. I spent that evening staying up all night playing poker and Wii in D.C. before going out the next day to stand on my toes in the freezing cold for six hours in a massive crowd to see the inauguration of our new Commander and Chief. That night, we bowled against the mighty Lazer Washers, and went 4-0. This time, again for political reasons, I was in absentia, and we went 3-1 against the Loungers of the Lanes of Laramie. In my absence, we have won 87.5% of our games. In contrast, when I have been present, we have only won 49% of our games.

I wouldn't be surprised if these guys trade me to some team in Detroit or Arlington, Texas. It's a good thing that I still have two years left on my contract.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Movements Return

As our lead blogger is off fighting for the democratic future of my fellow Virginians - I thought I would provide a quick update for all of loyal fans that anxiously check the blog every Tuesday.

After a few weeks of coming up short we pulled off a 3-1 victory against the Lounge. Despite the absence of Movement 2 we pulled off the victory taking Game 4 by only 2 pins. Johnebob and JD lead the team. Johnebob pulled a deuce in the second game with a 217 pushing him over a 550 series for the night. JD was consistent, putting up 161, 156, 140 games. He also rebounded from his spare slump. K-Terk and I struggled to meet our averages - but fortunately we still went 3-1. Perhaps, the most exciting part of the night (at least for me) was the eruption of cheering in the 10th frame of game 3, when I came from behind to once again avoid the Fightin' 88 club.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Bowling Crime: The mystery of the smashed mailbox

And now for a new segment on the BM Report. It will be called Bowling Crime. Because bowlers are a notoriously lawless bunch, this segment will feature bowling-related law breaking activities, such as cheating, theft, vandalism, terrorism, illegal warfare, false imprisonment, check bouncing, jaywalking, murder, public drunkenness, and illegal parking.

Today's feature crime occurred on Thursday October 22, 2009 in the normally peaceful hamlet of Midland, Michigan. The police responded to a call from a 66 year old resident who awoke to find that his mailbox had been smashed. Two members of the Midland Police Forensics Lab were sent to the scene, wherein they discovered a 14 lbs fluorescent green house ball approximately 12 feet from the post of the mailbox. By comparing damage patterns on the ball and mailbox, they concluded that this ball had been involved in the incident. Since they felt that the ball probably did not act alone, they attempted to retrieve fingerprints from its thumb and finger holes but found that prints had been obscured by residues of sweat, beer, and nacho cheese. The motive for this heinous act of vandalism remains unclear. Sheriff's investigators are toying with the idea that the destruction of Mr. [name removed]'s property could have been accidental, but if so, it must have been one of the worst shots in bowling history, most likely an overly enthusiastic attempt to pick up a 7-10 split. The investigation is ongoing.