Anthony, Earl

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Earl Anthony


American bowler

Utterly without personal flash or pyrotechnics, Earl Anthony became the overwhelmingly dominant professional bowler of the twentieth century. Sporting a crewcut and horn-rimmed glasses in an age of permed hair and gold chains, Anthony was "Square Earl" to some. But the near-mechanical consistency of his form and the deadly accuracy of his shots earned him a more fitting tag: "The Machine." There was no better bowler in the 1970s and early 1980s than Earl Anthony. He was

named Bowler of the Year from 1974 through 1976, and again from 1981 through 1983. He led the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) Tour in scoring in five separate years. Over the course of his stop-and-start careerhe retired four timeshe won an unequalled forty-one titles on the regular PBA Tour, including six PBA national championships and two Tournament of Champions titles; he reached the championship roundthe so-called top fivein PBA tournaments 144 times, more than anyone else. He later added seven wins in the PBA Seniors Tour. He was the first pro bowler to amass more than $1 million in career winnings. "He was a tremendous guy," Dick Weber told Harry Page of the San Antonio Express-News. "He was a fierce, fierce competitor and everybody feared him. He had a simple game, and he could adjust to anything on the left side. I really admired what he did with a bowling ball. There was none like him. He was the greatest speed-control bowler ever to play the game."

Early Life

Earl Anthony grew up in Tacoma, Washington and entered the U.S. Air Force just before he was due to graduate from high school. His first sport was baseball, and he was a good enough pitcher to be offered a $35,000 signing bonus by the Baltimore Orioles. The deal fell through, however, on the very next day at an Orioles training camp when Anthony tore the rotator cuff muscle in his throwing arm. His baseball career was over and it was a year before he could raise his arm above his shoulder. The injury apparently did not affect his bowling prospects. "I'm not sure bowling and pitching have a lot in common. It's two different deliveries," Anthony told the Toronto Star 's Jim Proudfoot. "But you're talking hand-and-eye co-ordination and making a ball do certain precise things. Those are similarities."

Returning to Tacoma, a 21-year-old Anthony took a job as a forklift driver for a grocery store chain. Encouraged by co-workers, he joined the company bowling team. Ironically, although Anthony had, as a boy, worked as a pinsetter at a local bowling alley, he had never bowled. He was very good, however. By the season's end his average was 217, up at the rarefied level of professional bowlers. In 1963 he turned pro. He joined the PBA Tour long enough to bowl in seven events without winning a cent in any of them. For the next seven years he satisfied himself bowling at local tournaments in Tacoma, winning about $8,000 in the process.


1938Born April 27, in Kent Washington
1960Offered baseball contract by Baltimore Orioles
1962Bowls for the first time
1963Bowls seven events on the PBA Tour
1969Joins PBA Tour for second time
1970Wins first PBA tournament
1974Wins PBA Nationals and the Tournament of Champions back-to-back
1975Becomes first bowler to win $100,000 on the PBA Tour
1976Passes Dick Weber on all-time tournament victory list
1978Suffers heart attack
1982Becomes first bowler to pass $1 million in career winnings
1983Retires from PBA Tour
1986Briefly rejoins to PBA Tour
1990Joins PBA Seniors Tour for one year
1996Rejoins Seniors Tour for one year
1997Wins last PBA tournament
2001Dies in New Berlin, Wisconsin

Rejoins PBA Tour

Anthony returned to the PBA Tour in 1969 and had an encouraging second-place finish in his first tournament. He won his first event 1970 in Seattle, and another one the following year in New York City. It was in 1974, however, that Earl Anthony began establishing himself as the world's best pro bowler. After a slow starthe missed winning his first thirteen tournamentshe won two of the biggest events on the Tour, the Tournament of Champions and the PBA National Championship back-to-back. Before the season was over, he won four more events and set records for season average with 219.34 and season winnings with over $90,000. In 1975 he became the first pro bowler to win over $100,000 in a single season. In 1976 with his 27th title he passed Dick Weber as the leader on the career victory list. His success was due, in part at least, to knowing what he wanted. "I set goals throughout the years," he was quoted in the New York Times. "I wanted to win 40 tournaments and I won 45. I wanted to the first bowler to win $100,000 in a year and I did that. I wanted to win $1 million and I did that."

In 1978 Anthony suffered a serious heart attack, but made an astonishing comeback, leading the PBA in scoring in 1980 and 1983, and being named Bowler of the Year from 1981 through 1983. In February 1982 he became the first bowler in history to win more than $1 million in his career, rolling five straight strikes to take a national championship in Toledo Ohio. However, by 1983 the constant life on the road had worn Anthony down and, with $1,216,421 in career winnings and forty-one PBA Tour wins, he announced his retirement. At the request of friends he made a brief comeback in 1986. "I absolutely hated it. My concentration was gone. I'd get out there and forget what I was trying to do. I'd start thinking about whether my lawn needed mowing. So that was it for me," he told the Toronto Star.

Joins Seniors Tour

He became a commentator on televised bowling events and a representative of the makers of Ebonite bowling balls. He joined the PBA Seniors Tour in 1990 but, wracked by arthritis, he retired from that a year later. When alternative medical treatments relieved the arthritis substantially, Anthony returned to the Seniors in 1996. The public loved having him back, enthusiastically cheering every strike and moaning every pin left standing. "Such respect is saved for the few great athletes who have transcended their sports. Anthony is one," wrote the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 's Paul Drzewiecki. He retired from bowling for the final time at the end of the 1997 season.

Earl Anthony died in August 2001 after falling down the stairs at a friend's home in New Berlin Wisconsin. The official cause of death was head trauma. He was survived by his wife, Susie, his son, Mike, and his daughters Tracy Nelson and Jeri.

Awards and Accomplishments

1973-75, 1980, 1983George Young High Average Award
1974-76, 1981-83Leading money winner on PBA Tour
1974-76, 1981-83Bowler of the Year, Bowling Writers Association
1977, 1984ABC Masters winner
1986Inducted into PBA Hall of Fame
1986Inducted into American Bowling Congress Hall of Fame
1997AMF Grand Prix of Bowling winner

With his thick glasses and deadpan expression, Earl Anthony looked like the most improbable of athletic champions. His record though speaks for itself. He was the only pro bowler to win at least one title fourteen years in a rowdespite his mid-career heart attack. He rolled more than 600 perfect games in his career. He was named to the Professional Bowlers Association Hall of Fame in 1981 and the American Bowling Congress Hall of Fame in 1986. What's more, bowlers loved him. In 1985 the readers of Bowling Magazine voted him the greatest bowler of all time, an honor that was reiterated in 1995 when American Bowling Congress members voted him the "best bowler ever," giving him well-over three times the number of votes garnered by the runnerup, Dick Weber. It is unlikely Bowling will ever see the likes of Earl Anthony again.



"Anthony Says Goodbye To Career of Fast Lanes." New York Times. June 20, 1991.

"Anthony Quitting Tour." New York Times. October 16, 1983.

Drzewiecki, Paul. "Anthony gets his due from fans: Respect and admiration follow legendary bowler." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. April 8, 1997.

Fuller, Tom. "Anthony Hopes To Return To The Top At The Seattle Open." Seattle Times. July 5, 1997.

Klein, Tom. "Runner-Up Anthony Goes Out On A Roll." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. June 21, 1991.

Proudfoot, Jim. "Out of baseball, Anthony became No. 1 in bowling." Toronto Star. August 26, 1989.

Smith, Craig. "Legendary Anthony Still Bowls 'Em OverHall Of Famer On Mission For Sport." Seattle Times. June 30, 1996.

Smith, Craig. "Tacoma bowler became a legend." Seattle Times. August 15, 2001.

Sonderegger, John. "Rolling On: Anthony Still Likes To Compete." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. June 20, 1990.

Sketch by Gerald E. Brennan