By J.R. Schmidt
QUESTION: WHO IS THE ONLY PERSON to win an American Bowling Congress championship and also be elected to the baseball Hall of Fame? Answer: Cap Anson. Weren’t familiar with that bit of sports trivia? Well, here’s the rest of the story…
Adrian Constantine Anson was born in 1852 at Marshalltown, Iowa. He played professional baseball from 1871 through 1897, mostly as a first baseman with Chicago in the National League. His nickname came from his role as the team’s captain/manager. He was the first major leaguer to collect 3,000 hits.
When his diamond career ended, Anson went into the bowling-and-billiards business. Anson’s Emporium opened in downtown Chicago on July 4, 1898. The new establishment had 10 lanes and 22 tables, and rated a feature story in The Bowler’s Journal of New York.
Anson had periodic labor trouble; his pinboys went out on strike three times during his first four years. Even with that, the business grew, and the alleys became a regular hangout for the local sporting crowd. After all, the proprietor was the most famous athlete in the country.
Organized bowling was in its infancy. The American Bowling Congress had just been founded, so Anson’s celebrity gave the sport a tremendous boost. He was one of the organizers of the first ABC Tournament in 1901, and also served as an ABC vice president.
Anson was an expert amateur billiard player. His bowling was respectable without being spectacular — he averaged in the 180s, about 10 pins below the top players. He made a few dollars in tournaments, but didn’t take home any first-place medals.
The 1904 ABC Tournament was scheduled for Cleveland. Anson reserved a spot, then forgot about it. At the last minute, he realized he didn’t have any bowlers. Most of his friends had made other arrangements, so Cap put together a pick-up team.
The tournament itself was a fiasco. The barn-like Armory was so cold bowlers could see their breath. The shellac lane dressing stiffened and nearly froze. A new 16.5-lb. weight limit on balls was now in force, causing some bowlers to complain they were being forced to bowl with “balloons.”
Meanwhile, Anson’s pick-ups opened with a big 960, then cooled off. Still, their 2737 put them on top of the leader board, and looked good to cash. Cap held up his end with 199-152-186/537.
In the 105 years that have passed, no team has ever won the big tournament with a score as low as 2737. But in 1904, nobody could beat that total.
When the bowling ended, the Ansons — much to their shock — had captured the championship.
They returned home as heroes. A large crowd met the team at the train station, and they paraded through Chicago’s downtown “Loop” behind a fife-and-drum band. At Anson’s Emporium, the triumphant Cap was called upon to make a speech.
“We are glad to bring the championship once more to Chicago,” he said. “Our men were all in good form for the occasion and played a strong, consistent game from the start.” It was no surprise he declared the recent tournament “the best ever held.”
Fresh from his triumph on the lanes, Anson entered politics. In 1905, he was elected City Clerk of Chicago, served one term, then lost his bid for re-election. His emporium went bankrupt in 1908. As a businessman and as a politician, Cap Anson was one helluva baseball player.
Anson drifted way from bowling after his business failed. In 1914, Bowlers Journal reported that the one-time ABC champ was trying to qualify for the Western Amateur golf tournament. By then he was earning a living appearing in a vaudeville act with his two daughters.
Cap Anson died in 1922. Four years later, he was placed on bowling’s “Perpetual Memorial” list, and for decades afterward, his name had a place of honor in the ABC’s Annual Report.