In mid-September the word spread from alley to alley wherever the major leaguers rolled: Mort Lindsey was gravely ill. His spectacular bowling career, spanning more than half a century, seemed about to end. But two weeks later Mort was back at the lanes practicing for his 44th appearance in the annual American Bowling Congress championships. He hopes to set another record this year at Fort Wayne.
"I guess the report about my illness was my fault," Lindsey said a few days ago, as he piled three heavy morocco-bound scrapbooks on his table at the Roger Smith Hotel here. "I went to the hospital for a checkup and in between playing gin rummy with my nurse I telephoned some old friends. The harder I tried to convince them I was O.K., the more certain they became that I had one foot in the grave."
The old-timers should have known better. They should have remembered his 20-game match against Jimmy Smith, then U.S. champion, in 1922 at Dwyer's lanes in New York. Going into the final game Lindsey was 88 pins behind. Everyone considered the contest over. But Mort came through with 299 to win by 11 pins.
Then there was his sensational duel in 1929 with the late Billy Knox, first man to roll 300 in the A.B.C. More than $5,000 was wagered on the 60-game, home-and-home event. In the last frame of the 60th game at Knox's alleys in Philadelphia, Lindsey needed three strikes for victory. He got them with three pocket hits.
A GREAT MONEY BOWLER
In country-wide tours, taking on most of the nation's best at their home lanes, Lindsey became known as one of the greatest money bowlers of all time. As late as 1952, shortly after his 64th birthday, he came from behind to win $1,500 in the Bowlers Journal Sweepstakes.
Such a man, the old-timers should have realized, would not quit as long as he had a chance to attain his supreme ambition: the highest lifetime pin total in A.B.C. history. He is currently in fifth place, although his 194 average for 43 tournaments is by far the best among the four-decade men. In first place is Harry Steers, 74, of Elmhurst, Ill., who has bowled in 49 A.B.C.'s.
To beat Steers's total of 82,672 pins (188 average) Lindsey, who has rolled up 71,135 pins, would have to compete at least six more years. He will be 66 in December, but this night at the Roger Smith, his large, oval face beaming as he relived some of the great moments of the past, he felt confident that "the odds against me aren't too big." He had rolled 213-570 in his league the night before in Chester, N.Y.
"THE LINDSEY STORY"
"It's all here," Mort said, indicating time-yellowed clippings, score sheets and other memorabilia in the scrapbooks he has maintained since 1900, "the entire story of my life."
Well, some of "the Lindsey story" was there. How, in 1911, he and George Kelsey rolled a 12-hour marathon in bathing suits in New Haven. Mort spotted Kelsey 550 pins and won by five.... How in 1912 he captured the National Bowling Association all-events with a world record 2,031 that stood for many years...led Brunswick to the A.B.C. team title...repeated in 1914 with the New Haven quintet...won the A.B.C. all-events in 1919...and so on through election to the Hall of Fame in 1941.
But there is more to the story than the scrapbooks tell. There was, for instance, Joe Porto, Lindsey's teammate and friend for 25 years. When Porto died in 1942, Mort sent a floral wreath in the shape of an alley, with a ball heading for the strike pocket.
There was Esther Dugan Lindsey, who married Mort in 1915. Perhaps she did not match her husband's enthusiasm for the sport, but she proved a great asset to his career in the bowling establishment he operated in Stamford for 19 years. When she died here of a heart attack on March 23, 1947, Lindsey was competing in the U.S. team championships in Detroit.
And there was wealthy Mrs. Minnie Lindsey of New York, Mort's mother, who tried desperately to keep him away from the alleys when he was a boy. When he won the 86th Street Y.M.C.A. title at the age of 14, she consoled herself with the thought that some day he would be a great doctor, lawyer or financier.
In 1951, while rolling in the A.B.C. in St. Paul, Lindsey was handed a package containing a pair of tiny, gilded, five-buttoned shoes. A tag on one of them conveyed the message: "I am sending you these shoes for the A.B.C. tournament because they are the first shoes you struck out in." Minnie Lindsey had finally resigned herself to the fact that bowling was her son's life.
WHEN BOOTH GOT ALL THE BOOLAS
Little Albie Booth led Yale to a spectacular upset of Army 25 years ago this week. With Army ahead 13-0 in the second quarter, the 140-pound whirligig entered the game. He dodged here, scampered there and sped down the field for three touchdowns. He kicked the extra points too (above right). By the third quarter Army was routed and Albie had become a Yale immortal. Final score: Yale 21, Army 13.