By Bob Johnson
Well, I was right.
I voted for Jason Belmonte in the 2011-12 PBA Player of the Year balloting, and you can read about the reasoning behind my vote here.
And as you’re about to read in the press release from the PBA (below), Sean Rash was elected PBA Player of the Year for the 2011-12 season.
So... how was I right? Because as I told several friends and colleagues, I voted for Belmo, but I thought Rash would win.
Why? Because the players — who accounted for the vast majority of the voting pool — think about the Player of the Year award differently than sportswriters do. Or, at least, differently than this sportswriter does.
As Rash mentioned in his brief acceptance speech carried online by Xtra Frame, he looks at the stats when voting for an award such as Player of the Year. And history has shown that most pros do exactly that.
For a guy who makes his living throwing a bowling ball, the most important PBA stat traditionally has been prize money won. Go back through the record books, and you’ll rarely find a PBA Player of the Year who wasn’t also that season’s leading money winner. And so it is again for the season just completed.
Today, of course, the prize money category is less dependable than it once was, so a player might consider earnings, but probably would be more prone to lean toward competition points and average when comparing one player with another.
Rash topped all of the aforementioned categories — earnings, points and average — which would seemingly make him an obvious choice for a player casting a POY ballot. And yet, as the PBA release indicates, this turned out to be one of the closest POY votes in PBA history.
Apparently, some of today’s players are coming around to my way of thinking — that tournament titles trump just about everything else. After all, that’s about the only way we can rate players from different eras — Walter Ray Williams Jr. versus Earl Anthony, as an example.
In an individual professional sport such as bowling, golf or tennis, winning is what matters. And winning in the “majors” matters just a little bit more.
Therein may be the explanation for this season’s PBA Player of the Year results. Although Rash won only one title to Belmonte’s three, that one was a big one — the PBA Tournament of Champions. Combine the TOC triumph with Rash’s sweep of the major statistical categories, and you have a good reason that 29.04 percent of the vote went his way, compared to 26.61 percent for Belmo.
It was interesting to watch the body language of the three Player of the Year “finalists” as they sat on stools on the approach at Chicago’s 10pin bowling lounge, waiting for the Xtra Frame webcast to begin.
Belmonte was on the left, Rash was on the right, and sitting between them was Mike Fagan. Every once in a while, Rash would say something to Fagan, and Fagan would respond. Then Belmonte would say something to Fagan, and Fagan would respond. I kept a pretty close watch on the trio, and I do not recall Rash and Belmonte ever chit-chatting. It was as if Fagan were serving as a wall between two rivals.
The Rash-Belmonte rivalry has the potential to bring the PBA Tour a good deal of exposure, depending on how often they meet head-to-head on television, and what happens during their matches. When two athletes who really don’t care much for one another do battle, there is the potential for great drama, and great drama makes for great television.
Here’s hoping Rash and Belmonte never make up...
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Here’s the press release from the PBA on the Player of the Year voting...
Sean Rash of Montgomery, Ill., was named as 2011-12 Professional Bowlers Assn. Chris Schenkel Player of the Year Monday, concluding one of the most competitive Player of the Year contests in years.
Rash, who made a record five consecutive television finals during the 2011 PBA World Series of Bowling and concluded his season with a victory in the PBA Tournament of Champions, was elected over a field of 11 eligible candidates in balloting conducted among his fellow PBA Tour competitors and veteran members of the bowling news media.
In the end, Rash received 29.04 percent of the Player of the Year votes, Australia’s Jason Belmonte 26.61 percent and Mike Fagan of Dallas 18.32 percent in the closest voting contest in years. Pete Weber of St. Ann, Mo., received 11.89 percent and Norm Duke of Clermont, Fla., 10.23 percent to round out the top five votegetters.
The announcement was made live on PBA’s Xtra Frame online bowling channel as a special kickoff to the made-for-television PBA Summer Shootout special event at 10pin bowling lounge in Chicago.
During the 2011-12 PBA Tour season, Rash, a 29-year-old right-hander, won the season-ending PBA Tournament of Champions for his only title, but had six championship round appearances, including third place in the PBA World Championship. Qualifying for a record five consecutive TV finals during the World Series of Bowling helped the Alaska native dominate PBA Tour stats where he finished first in average, points and earnings.
“We all had great seasons, but I think winning the TOC put a stamp on it,” Rash said. “I’m a stats guy. When I voted in the past, I voted by the numbers. They don’t lie. If one of those guys had won the TOC, he would have got my vote.
“I felt a big sign of relief,” he said of the moment PBA Commissioner Tom Clark announced his win. “It meant a lot to have the waiting finally over.
“Jason and Mike and I have bowled in 15 different countries during the past year. We travel around the world to stay sharp,” Rash added. “You take a lot of satisfaction after all of the travel, the practice, the sacrifices you make. We’ve made each other better.”
Belmonte, a 28-year-old two-handed player, won three titles, and finished third in average and second in both points and earnings. Belmonte also finished third in the U.S. Open and Tournament of Champions, fourth in the PBA World Championship and ninth in the USBC Masters.
Fagan, a 31-year-old right-hander, won the Alka-Seltzer Plus Liquid Gels USBC Masters for his first major title, and also won the Brunswick Euro Challenge in Paris, France. The Long Island, N.Y., native had three additional championship round finishes, including second place in the U.S. Open and fourth place in the Tournament of Champions. Statistically, he was second in average, and third in points and earnings.
Also contending in the Player of the Year race were Weber, the 2012 U.S. Open champion, and Duke, a three-time winner during the 2011-12 season.
The Chris Schenkel PBA Player of the Year Award is named in honor of the late hall of fame announcer who served as the voice of the PBA on ABC Television for 36 years.