Posts Tagged 'Sports'

Bowler of the Half-Century

When bowling was big and when Chicago was the bowling capital of the world, the greatest bowler in Chicago was Paul Krumske.  And there’s one story about Paul Krumske they always tell.

During one close match, Krumske suddenly keels over on the lane, grabbing his chest and gasping for breath.  The match stops.  Medical help is summoned, and Krumske is revived.  He gamely declares that he will go on.

By now the opposition is totally unnerved—especially when Krumske rolls the next half-dozen strikes.


This incident happened during the famous match Krumske bowled against Ned Day . . . or in a team match in the Chicago Classic League . . . or in a tournament in Detroit . . . or was it in a late-night pot game at Marigold?  Maybe he faked heart attacks on all those occasions.

After the first few times, though, you’d think the other bowlers would get wise, and just step over Paul as they bowled.

Born on the South Side in 1912, Krumske dropped out of high school to go to work as a clerk at a meat-packing plant.  One evening, when he was 17, the boss needed a sub on his bowling team.  Krumske volunteered.

He learned fast.  Within five years Krumske had rolled his first 300 game and was carrying one of the highest averages in the city.  The papers started running stories about the new boy wonder of bowling.

There wasn’t any pro bowling then.  The better bowlers all had day jobs.  They made money by getting on a top-flight team, then competing in leagues and tournaments, or by rolling matches against other hotshots.

Krumske Ball Cleaner (1946).jpg

Krumske followed this route.  He bowled in the city’s best league, the Chicago Classic, for nearly forty years.  For twenty years he was league secretary.  Recognized as one of the country’s top players, he was named to the annual All-American team seven times.

His finest moment came in 1944.  Ned Day was bowling’s match-game champion—the equivalent of boxing’s heavyweight champ.  He’d never been beaten in a head-to-head match.  But Krumske challenged him, and won the title in an 80-game showdown.

In 1951 a newspaper poll named Krumske Chicago’s “Bowler of the Half-Century.”  Bowling was starting to enjoy boom times.  By now Krumske was endorsing bowling products and giving exhibitions for an equipment manufacturer.  He also had a full-time job at the Peter Hand Brewery.

His title was Sports Director.  That meant Krumske was captain of the brewery’s famed Meister Brau Beer bowling team.  By staying in the news, the team helped sell beer.  And as secretary of the Chicago Classic, Krumske could convince bowling proprietors to stock Meister Brau in their bars.


Krumske appeared on the many bowling shows that were popular in the early days of TV.  For awhile he had his own local program called “Bowl the Professor.”  In 1957 comedian Jerry Lewis made a surprise visit, bowling a hilarious one-game match against Krumske.  The tape of that show was later used for charity fund-raising.

Like most athletes, Krumske’s skills declined as he grew older.  His bowling winnings shrank.  His exhibition contract was not renewed.  Then, in 1972, the brewery closed.

Krumske did some instructing and ran a few tournaments.  Early in 1979 he decided to make a fresh start and moved to Florida.  That same summer, Paul Krumske died in his new Boca Raton home.

The cause of death was a heart attack.


Chicago’s April Fools

What do Rod Blagojevich, Paul Harvey, and Jack Dempsey have in common?  They’re all on my list of Chicago’s April Fools—people who made foolish decisions, and should have known better.  Last night I was on Justin Kaufmann’s “The Download” on WGN-Radio, and talked about all of my April Fools.  Here’s the link—

Bowling Time-Out

Today I was interviewed on “The Phantom Radio” podcast about my latest book, The Bowling Chronicles.

Here’s the link to the interview–


Tomorrow, I go back to Chicago History here!


My Latest Book


Okay.  This isn’t Chicago history, exactly.  But it is history.  And now for the commercial—

The Bowling Chronicles has just been published.  The book contains a selection of 90 columns and feature articles drawn from those  I’ve written for Bowlers Journal International since 1990.  Available in print or on kindle, it’s 248 pages long, with 36 photos from the BJI archives and my own collection.

Here are the great bowlers—Carter, Weber, Varipapa, Ladewig, Welu, Hardwick, Anthony, and the rest.   Here are the historic events—Therman Gibson’s big jackpot . . . Ed Lubanski’s TV Double 300 . . . the greatest team match . . . the greatest action match . . . the first national tournament (and it wasn’t the 1901 ABC) . .  . Dreamer, bowling’s first feature film (and it wasn’t as bad as some people claim).

Here are the offbeat stories—the bowling ball that went around the world . . . the 300 game that took a week to bowl . . . the bowler who won an ABC championship with a total score of 41 . . . strange bowling inventions . . . strange bowling injuries.

And here are the colorful people—the hustler who passed himself off as a German nobleman . . . the A-List movie star who was a serious bowler . . . the traveling bowling fan who gave away over 11,000 cases of Coca-Cola . . . Johnny Small and his magic ball . . . Johnny King and his magic cigar.

You can order The Bowling Chronicles on Amazon, or direct from McFarland Publishing.



Galloping Ghost Snagged by Bears! (11-22-1925)

Harold Grange—Red Grange, Old #77, the Wheaton Iceman, the Galloping Ghost—signed a contract to play pro football for the Chicago Bears today.  And that was front page news.

Grange at work

Grange at work

In 1925 college football was the only football that mattered.  The play-for-pay version was casually referred to as “post-graduate” football.  The NFL was struggling through its sixth season.  Though a big college game could attract 70,000 spectators, the pros usually played before a few hundred.

Grange was the most famous football player in the land.  He had rewritten the record book during his three years as a University of Illinois halfback.  In one game against a tough Michigan squad, he’d scored four touchdowns in the first twelve minutes.

Normally, after the football schedule was over, Grange would have returned to campus, gone back to class, and finished up his undergrad studies.  Then he might use his fame to get started in business.  Or if he wanted to stay in touch with football, he could look for a coaching job.

Grange at rest

Grange at rest

Most pro football players earned less than $100 a game.  A promoter named C.C. Pyle convinced Grange he could do much better.  Grange played his final college game against Ohio State on November 21, 1925.  The next day he came to Chicago and signed with the Bears.

George Halas, coach and part-owner of the Bears, immediately arranged a 19-game, coast-to-coast barnstorming tour.  Grange was paid a guarantee plus a percentage of the gate.  Newspapers speculated he might earn as much as $60,000—about what Babe Ruth got from the Yankees.

That figure was too low.  The tour drew so many people Grange pocketed over $100,000.  And the NFL had gained $100,000,000 worth of publicity.

In 1926 Grange and Pyle tried to start their own league.  When that venture failed, the Galloping Ghost returned to the Bears.  He retired from active play in 1934.

Even a half-century later, George Halas always declared that Red Grange was the greatest football player he’d ever seen.  In 1975 an interviewer asked Halas how many yards Grange might run up in an NFL season today. “Oh, about 750 or 800,” Halas replied.

“That’s not so much,” the interviewer interrupted.

“Well, you’ve got to remember one thing,” Halas said.  “Today, Red Grange is over 70 years old!”


Chicago’s Really-Forgotten Pro Football Team

NFL opening day!  You may have heard about Chicago’s forgotten pro football team, the Cardinals.  But let’s go back seventy years, and talk about the city’s really forgotten team.

Arch Ward

Arch Ward

The year was 1946. World War II had ended, and golden times were ahead.  Though baseball was still the national pastime, football was the up-and-coming sport. Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward was convinced there was room for a second pro league to challenge the existing National Football League.  He eventually found enough interested entrepreneurs to launch a new eight-team league called the All American Football Conference.

The Chicago franchise in the new league was awarded to Jack Keeshin, a trucking executive who’d failed in a bid to buy the White Sox. The city already had two NFL teams, the Bears and the Cardinals.  But the Cardinals were underfinanced, and had been forced to merge with the Pittsburgh Steelers during the war.  Keeshin thought he could drive them out of town.

Chicago Rockets Program

Chicago Rockets Program

Naturally, Ward’s Tribune gave the AAFC wide publicity.  Stories were leaked that the Rockets would sign Sid Luckman and other Bears stars.  The team announced it would play in Soldier Field, which wasn’t being used for much of anything in 1946 and had 100,000 seats to accommodate the expected crowds.

Then things began to go wrong for the Rockets. In a pre-season practice rookie halfback Bill McArthur fractured his leg.  Complications developed, and the leg had to be amputated.  Meanwhile, most of the top-level players preferred to stick with the NFL.  The Rockets were unable to recruit Luckman or any other big names.

The Rockets opened at home against the Cleveland Browns on September 13 and lost, 20-6. After a tie the next week, the team ran off two straight wins, before descending into mediocrity.  The season ended with the Chicago Rockets at the bottom of the AAFC Western Division, with a record of 5-6-3.

Trying to find a winning formula, Jack Keeshin had gone through five head coaches. At the end of the season he bailed.  AAFC commissioner Jim Crowley stepped down and took over as head of the new ownership.

Crazylegs Hirsch, in better days in L.A.

Crazylegs Hirsch in L.A.

The 1947 Rockets were even worse than the previous season. They lost their first ten games, eked out a victory, then dropped three more for a 1-13 record and another basement finish.  Meanwhile, across town, the Cardinals won the NFL championship.  Even if the Rockets had fielded a super-team, they wouldn’t be driving out the Cardinals any time soon.

The Rockets continued their losing ways in 1948, with another 1-13 record and their customary spot at the bottom of the standings. On September 26, halfback Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch was kicked in the head during a game, putting him out of action with a fractured skull.  Hirsch was the team’s one marquee player.  With Crazylegs gone, there was little reason left for fans to freeze at Soldier Field while watching the Rockets lose.

For 1949, the team changed its name to the Chicago Hornets. Legendary NFL coach Ray Flaherty was hired.  The team’s record improved to 4-8, but still landed in last place for the fourth straight year.  After the season was over, the NFL and AAFC finally ended their war, and the Chicago Hornets (aka Rockets) disbanded.


When Wrestling Was Wrestling (4-14-1909)

Professional wrestling was a recognized sport in 1909. When Frank Gotch defended his world heavyweight championship in Chicago, the match was a major news story.

A 30-year-old son of Iowa, Gotch had held the title for a year. Tonight he was scheduled to face Yussif Mahmout, the latest wrestler to call himself The Terrible Turk. The site was the Dexter Park Pavilion, Halsted and 43rd Streets.

Champion Frank Gotch

Champion Frank Gotch

The main event was scheduled to start at 11 p.m. But by 7 o’clock, a half-block-long line was already snaking down Halsted Street from the Pavilion entrance. Police were called out to keep order. More than 20,000 people finally jammed into the building. That was a crowd the White Sox or Cubs might envy.

When the wrestlers met at center ring, the Turk was barefoot. That was a violation of the rules, and would make it harder for Gotch to use his signature toe hold. The champ decided to go on with the match anyway.

In 1909, wrestling matches were hard-fought and scientific—but not very flashy.  The two opponents would grab each other, then struggle to gain an advantage. To an untrained observer, the wrestlers looked like they weren’t doing anything but pose. Often this went on for an hour.

Tonight’s match was best-of-three falls. The first round had some action. The two men rushed each other, broke a few holds, and bounced off the ropes. Gotch pinned the Turk in 8 minutes flat.
The Terrible Turk

The Terrible Turk

After a 10 minute break, they went at it again. The champ kept his dominance.  He was now using the half-nelson and the crotch grip. At 9 minutes and 10 seconds, Gotch again pinned the Turk.

The match was over. Twenty thousand throats cheered the American victory.  The Tribune reported that “several prominent men from Western cities climbed into the ring, seized the victor, and carried him in triumph to his dressing quarters.”

The Turk was dazed. “I didn’t know Gotch was so good,” he admitted. “I don’t know anyone who can beat him.”

Reporters found Gotch relaxed and mellow. “I had him beaten when I laid my hands on him,” the champ said. “He is a strong fellow, but I am stronger and know more about wrestling.”

As the years passed, the public began to turn away from pro wrestling and its slow pace. That’s when the sport became more—how should we put it?—“theatrical.”