The trouble with the PBA’s Ultimate Scoring Championship for the players who made the show is, it’s a bit like what happens to me when I go out and meet people who’ve read my columns. They say, “Hey Jason, I’ve read your columns! You’re a really funny guy! Can you say something funny right now?” And I’m like, “Uhhhhhhhh. Mmmmmmm. Uhhhhhhh.” If they haven’t walked away by then, I might come up with, “So this horse walks into a bar and sits down. And the bartender asks, ‘Why the long face?’” Zinga! Ba’dum dum.
So, when you get four guys on the show and say, “OK guys. You just made the show and you’re not only bowling for a title and 25 large and a guaranteed exemption for next season and god knows whatever else…but, could you also shoot a few 300 games while you’re at it? But, no pressure.” Can you say, “performance anxiety?” Plus, add to the formula that one of the guys (Robert Smith) withdrew from the event that took place just two days before and looked like he could barely walk (let alone throw one of the most powerful balls in bowling) and one of the others (Bill O’Neill) was coming off a second consecutive heart-wrenching runner-up finish about 15 minutes prior to appearing in his semifinal match (this show was taped right after last week’s Chameleon Championship in case you were not aware) and what you get is a textbook example of one of everyone’s favorite TV bowling announcer Randy Pedersen’s pet sayings, “Some days you’re the dog and some days you’re the hydrant.”
It would be really easy to criticize the PBA (today’s hydrant) for the medium to low-ish scores featured during what was hyped to be the shootout of all shootouts, but I’m not going to do that. Instead, I think the PBA should be praised for taking a risk and allowing us to see what might happen. Would I have liked to see the guys shoot scores that would make people’s eyeballs pop out of their skulls like Yosemite Sam looking down the barrel of a loaded cannon? Yes. But, is what the PBA (and especially what Randy Pedersen) did to explain and entertain us on this week’s show, make for good TV? Heck yes!
Now, instead of doing a blow-by-blow of each match, as has become my tradition, I’m going to try something a little bit different this week. I’m going to go ahead and tell you in short order the scores and outcomes of each match, then I’m going to discuss why the show worked for me.
Here’s how the matches went: First, Mike Scroggins beat Smith 238-205 in Semifinal #1, then, Mike Wolfe knocked off O’Neill in the other Semi, 237-215. In the finals, Wolfe defeated Scroggins 246-206 to win his fourth career Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour title. The finalists averaged a respectable 224.5 for their six games and, by my count, hit the pocket 54 out of 66 times. Interestingly enough, the man who missed the pocket the most (Wolfe, with four misses) had the day’s highest average and won the tournament. The players rolled a total of 40 strikes for the day, which works out to a 60% strike percentage and a 74% carry percentage (the number of strikes divided by the number of pocket hits). There was just one open frame for the day (rolled in the first frame of Match 1, by Smith).
So, why did I like the show? One reason. Randy Pedersen. Yes, that’s right folks, this week’s show finally allowed the PBA to showcase the talents of its play-by-play voice in the way that they deserve to be showcased. First off, because of the unique and ultra-highlighted lane conditions, it allowed him to show his vast knowledge of the game as the matches unfolded. The greatest example of this occurred in the early stages of the final match, when Randy explained that even though the players were not having too difficult a time hitting the pocket (which is goal #1 for any bowler) they were having a difficult time knocking down all ten pins, or carrying (which is goal #2). When it comes down to it, this is the fundamental equation of the sport of bowling, as E=MC2 is to the universe. Randy did a fantastic job of explaining this and, in the process, educated everyone watching about just how challenging it is to shoot really high scores and, in an extremely simple way, exactly what the greatest bowlers in the world are trying to do every time they hit the lanes.
Second, the three-match format allowed for a number of special segments, the best of which were anchored by the telegenic, humorous and self-deprecating Pedersen. In his first segment, Randy illustrated the specifics of what makes an easy lane condition, as the producers cut back and forth between a lane graphic that showed Randy striking from three different angles while standing in the same place on the lane. The hands-on demonstration illustrated Randy’s “still-got-it” skills as a bowler while also showing the folks at home exactly what pro bowlers are capable of when they have some room to get away with mistakes (especially in both directions…yippee, my favorite!) in execution.
The other great Randy-centric feature really let him cut it loose and turn on his megawatt personality. In this one, he visited the prestigious Detroit Athletic Club (which has been involved in the Detroit-area tournaments for a number of years now) and interviewed a number of the members. I cracked up out loud when Randy asked one of the guys if he “knew who Randy Pedersen was” and the only name the guy could come up with was Walter Ray Williams. Randy then asked the guy if he “wanted to bowl for some money!” He later questioned a stogie-chomping dude about the requirements of joining the club. After the guy listed a few simple qualifications, “you have to be a good guy, a decent bowler, etc.), Randy said in Lloyd Christmas Dumb and Dumber fashion, “so you’re telling me there’s a chance for me to join!?” The guy then looked back at Randy and, while blowing a giant cloud of smoke in his face, said, “Uhhhh…I don’t think so.”
Now, this brings me to an age-old debate in the history of PBA bowling show criticism, which is, “what’s better, more bowling or more feature segments?” I’ve heard a lot of folks argue (Walter Ray Williams is a big advocate of this position, by the way) that what the fans really want is more bowling. I have found in my experience speaking with fans that the majority follows this rule, but with a big caveat…which is, if the features the PBA had run in the past had been more entertaining, then would perhaps a big number of these folks be singing a different tune? I mean what if we had Randy giving Angelina Jolie (played by an actress) a bowling tip about how to pick up splits and using her kids as the pins? Or Randy inviting Robert Smith to demonstrate the power release and getting too close to Robert as the ball comes off his hand, setting fire to his clothes? At any rate, I think these are the kinds of things that need to be done to showcase the talent that we have on the show because, as we all know, Randy is the only bowler who makes the show every week (Bill O’Neill’s current run aside) and as much an effort as possible should be made to promote him as a star. And I don’t think Randy should have any reason to shy away from or feel unworthy of the spotlight. There’s a reason he was picked to be the play-by-play guy (awesome personality, nice looking, funny, and one of the all-time great bowlers in history) and, like I said of Lebron James back in my Week 1 review, the PBA needs more guys who, like him, embrace the spotlight in order to help our sport begin to garner the respect and attention we all know it deserves.
Let me also not forget to mention the progress that Rob Stone has made in the booth. He is clearly sucking up the ins and outs of the game like a sponge and is really doing a fantastic job of serving up softballs for Randy to hit out of the park. He is also cleverly picking his spots when it comes to promoting the Hambone (which is actually now listed in the official Wikipedia online entry for “Tenpin Bowling” as THE term for four strikes in a row…very nice going Mr. Stone) and I believe his restraint shows just how much respect he has for the bowling and the bowling purists out there.
Before I sign off, I just would like to add that I hope that the PBA continues with the Ultimate Scoring Championship again next year. Just because it failed to live up to the hype (solely from a scoring standpoint as I mentioned) this time around is no reason not to give it another shot next season. Hopefully, the next time the PBA will get to be the dog, or should we say, “the bid bad Wolfe,” as Mike was today (well, technically, last week…whatever). Congrats to Wolfe on the win! See you next week! Happy Turkey Day everyone!
Until next week!