Interviews Reprised #1 – Earl Anthony

by Bob Johnson 0

In one way, the interview format is a snap for a writer. Turn on the tape recorder, ask a few questions, ask follow-up questions when necessary, transcribe the tape and — voila! — you’ve just filled four pages in the magazine.

Some magazines transformed the interview into an art form; Playboy and Rolling Stone come immediately to mind. In the world of bowling, beginning in 1975 when Jim Dressel interviewed Mike McGrath, the go-to magazine for riveting interviews has been Bowlers Journal. If you were the subject of “The Bowlers Journal Interview” — whether you were a bowler, an association official, a proprietor or an executive — you knew you had made it.

As part of BJI’s 100th anniversary celebration, we asked the man who conducted 95% of those interviews — the aforementioned Dressel — to share some of the highlights from more than 37 years of interviews with the Who’s Who of the bowling world. Each month leading up to the 100th anniversary issue in November 2013, “They Said What?!?” will reprise the best of “The BJ Interview.”

By Jim Dressel

Earl Anthony was one of my favorite interview subjects. Perhaps that’s why I interviewed him so many times. I believe he realized I respected him too much to bother with frivolous demands on his time. But the respect was a two-way street, and while certain questions were unavoidable, he knew I would try to come up with questions he might not have heard before, or at least phrased in new ways. He once told me, “You know more about me than my wife.” Now that was a scary thought. The excerpts that follow were culled from interviews that took place between 1976 and 1993.

What drives you?

It’s not one particular part of an individual’s make-up, but it’s a combination of all of them — how badly he wants to win, how much he hates to lose, whether he wants to win because of the money or glory, what kind of competitive desire he’s got, etc. All those things enter into making a winner, and if somebody’s got all those things going for him, then he’s that much more of a winner. — November 1976

How big a role did your temper play in your ability to win?

I matured to the point where I could use it to my advantage. I still get very upset, but I try not to let it get out of control. I’m more aware of the position I’m in insofar as publicity is concerned. If I kick a ball return, it’s going to be in the newspapers, whereas somebody else would get away with it. So I have to keep my emotions inside, but I’ve learned to channel it into improving my play. — November 1976

What would you say is your primary motivation?

The biggest motivating factor for me, and the one that’s helped me to win titles, is the fact that I’m left-handed. The right-handers look at the lefties as if they’re not really good players. It’s always been that way because there are fewer left-handers. So I’ve always felt that if I could accomplish enough, eventually somebody would say, “Well, he could bowl. Anthony could play as well as the right-handers.” If I’d ever hear that, it would make me the happiest guy in the world. — November 1976

What kind of price did you pay to be the best?

I never really thought about it because it just comes with the territory. If I start thinking about what it costs, you begin wondering whether it’s worth it. That kind of thinking gets dangerous. When you set your goals as big as I set mine, you give up a few things. I gave up a marriage, a stable life, and things that might be incidental to others, but which are important to me. For one thing, I’d be able to stay home for a change, and I’d be able to do other things, like go fishing. It’s like putting your life into a funnel. It starts out really big, and it’s funneled down into one small channel where everything is directed and your life revolves around that. You say, “Well, I can’t go ice skating or skiing because I might get hurt.” Or you get up in the morning and don’t want to practice, but you still have to put in four hours whether you want to or not. Same for the 9-to-5 guy, really. Except that I’ve got a performance standard that I have to meet and I can’t afford to have a bad day. If I were salaried, there might be a tendency to let it slide when you aren’t feeling up to par. But we still have the expenses, and if we don’t have anything coming in, well… — January 1983

You don’t look like a gambler, but you really are, aren’t you?

I spent 20 years of my life gambling that I could do what I wanted to do and make a living at it. If I was wrong, I could discover that I don’t have a career, that I have no money in the bank and could be stuck looking for a job without any marketable skills. In other words, you dedicate your life to a sport that doesn’t guarantee you a living. That’s the biggest gamble right there. — January 1983

Was there any one tournament in which you bowled your best?

I don’t think I’ve ever bowled as good as I could have bowled. Bowling is a game of mistakes. Generally, whoever makes the fewest comes out the best. Even when I won a tournament, I was seldom elated… unless it was maybe the National Championship, the Firestone, or one that I was really pointing to and working hard to win. But generally, I felt more of a sense of satisfaction than elation. You should feel happy that you won, but to me, it was more a sense of, “Well, it’s over with. I came here to win and I won, but I could have bowled better.” I was always dissatisfied because I knew I made mistakes. I guess I was too much of a perfectionist. Maybe I would have bowled better if I wasn’t quite so demanding. — November 1993

You quit in the wake of a 150 game on television in Waukegan, Ill. Sounds like pride at work.

Pride? That’s a drawback, true, and I think that’s one of my personality problems. I have too much pride. It helped in a way because it made me work very hard on my game. I wanted to be the best. I don’t like to be embarrassed. I don’t know if it gets completely to the point of obsession, but it’s definitely close. — November 1993

How difficult was it to quit baseball?

It was harder than it was to turn away from bowling. From the time I was 10, I wanted to be a pro baseball player, and I was on the threshold of realizing that dream when I got hurt. When you’re 21, it’s more of a blow to you than when you’re in your mid-40s. Turning away from baseball at that age was tough for me. It still hurts, even today. I’ll always wonder how good I could have been. — November 1993

Is there one word that best describes you?

Being tenacious. The fact that I never quit… is something I was either born with, or was ingrained in me. Even when I sometimes felt that the lane condition didn’t favor my game — and I’m not going to say the PBA tried to stop me or anything like that — it just made me work a little harder. So I take pride in the fact that I never gave up, I never quit. As we’ve already discussed, it’s really an honor to be classified with Don Carter and Dick Weber. — November 1993

You always seemed to speak your mind on things that were important to you, such as short oil. Considering the companies you were working for at the time, didn’t that put you on the spot?

I don’t feel that way. It’s the same opinion I’ve had for years, and that is [that short oil is] really demeaning to the sport. I’m a spokesman for two companies [which are affected by short oil — Ebonite International and U.S. Polychemical], and they understand my feelings. No one has ever censored me. That’s not to say they necessarily agree with me, but they haven’t censored me and I respect them for that. — November 1976

Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson has received more national writing awards than any other bowling writer — close to 70 over the course of his 40-year career. He began at age 16 as a staff writer and then assistant editor for the weekly Pacific Bowler newspaper in his native California, and within three years was writing feature stories for Bowlers Journal. He has written for the magazine ever since, except for a five-year span when he was hired as the founding editor of another magazine. He moved to Chicago in 2000 and spent 13 years in the Windy City, including five as Bowlers Journal’s Editor. In 1975, Johnson received the Robert E. Kennedy Award as California’s top undergraduate high school journalist. Five years earlier, on the lanes, he had shared the Bantam Division Doubles championship in the Orange County Junior Bowling Association Championships. Today, he continues to work full-time for Bowlers Journal as its Senior Editor, to write his popular “Strikes Me” column, and to edit Luby Publishing Inc.’s weekly business-to-business Cyber Report.

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