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This Earl has no peers

Earl Anthony is a crew-cut square, but a whiz with a big round ball

The final match of last week's $100,000 Brunswick World Open tournament in the Chicago suburb of Glendale Heights was right down Earl Anthony's alley. In this last major event of the season he could become the first bowler to win $100,000 in a year. All he had to do was add the $14,000 first prize to the $88,660 he already had stashed away.

Anthony, the last qualifier in the five-man single-elimination showdown, began by winning 277-219 against Mark Roth, who throws the most pronounced hook of any pro bowler and whose badly blistered and cracked right hand has suffered the consequences. Then Anthony beat Gary Mage 249-227, and next came a 257-236 win over Dave Davis.

That set the stage for the title match, lefty Anthony versus lefty Johnny Petraglia, whose single-season earnings mark of $85,065 in 1971 already had been surpassed by Anthony. It also was a rematch of the final of last April's Firestone Tournament of Champions in which Anthony beat Petraglia and won $25,000.

It was a throat tightener all the way. Through the first nine frames Anthony had six strikes, and all that kept him from nine straight were seven pins that refused to topple in the first, sixth and seventh frames. But Petraglia was throwing even more strikes, eight in the first nine frames.

Petraglia opened the 10th with a spare. When the 7 pin stayed up after his last shot he leaped high in the air, then stamped around in frustration. He was afraid he had blown his chance. He knew that if Anthony had three strikes in the 10th it would give him a one-pin win.

Much the same thing had happened at the Firestone, where Petraglia needed a strike in the 10th to win. But just as Petraglia had failed on that shot, Anthony now muffed his, leaving the 6 and 9 pins, losing the match 257-236 and missing the hundred grand mark.

Regardless of the scores, the trophies and the money in the bank, Earl Anthony looks and acts like a loser. Compared to him, Whistler's Mother was a swinger. From the top of his vintage 1940 crew cut to the depths of his personality Anthony is, in a word, flat. But put a bowling ball in his hands and the quiet man becomes a terror. When he arrived in Glendale Heights last week he brought with him not only his record-breaking earnings but a record-tying six wins for one year.

Anthony does not pretend to throw an explosive ball, but a battalion of other bowlers would gladly swap some of their flamboyant personalities and sizzling deliveries for the 219.4 pins-per-game average he has had in 27 tournaments this season. With just one event left he is certain to eclipse his own record of 215.8 set a year ago. Still, on the traveling circus that the tour resembles, he maintains the lowest of profiles, spending much of his time alone, or with his wife, three children and a dog named Puff, who make many of the trips with him. Behind his hornrimmed glasses are the apprehensive eyes of a man who expects to go out to the parking lot and find that the air has been let out of his tires.

But if Anthony says little about his skills, others are less reticent. Last week his fellow bowlers were lavish with their praise. Don Johnson, winner of the 1971 and 1972 Bowler of the Year Award that surely will go to Anthony this year, observed that "what Anthony did at the Detroit tournament this year was one of the greatest feats of all time. He was the only lefthander to finish in the top 24, led the qualifying all the way. And he did it by shooting the whole time from the fourth arrow."

Lefthanders generally shoot from the first or second arrows that serve as aiming points on the lanes; to move to the fourth is a radical departure, risked only when the condition of the lanes forces a major change in approach. It would be comparable to forcing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to forsake his close-in shots for 25-foot jumpers or obliging Nolan Ryan to become a knuckleballer.

In 1971 Anthony set another of his records by rolling 42 consecutive 200 games. This year he has had four 300s and has finished among the top five in 15 tournaments. And during his five years on the PBA tour he has compiled the highest per-game average (214.7) and has amassed earnings of $243,263.

No one is more impressed by these accomplishments than Dick Weber, alltime leader in PBA titles with 24 in 15 years. He is well aware that Anthony has already won more than half that total (13, plus one regional championship) in one-third the time. "He has the greatest change of speeds of any bowler of any era," says Weber.

Changing speeds is not a tactic limited to baseball pitchers; it is one of the most intricate and demanding aspects of bowling. What makes it so vital are the constantly changing lane conditions. Essentially, there are two underlying causes for these fluctuations: the oil used to dress the lanes and the tracks worn into the alleys by bowling balls. As a day's competition progresses, oil is dissipated by lane usage and evaporation, and bowling balls do not skid as much before breaking toward the pocket. To compensate, bowlers must adjust the angle from which they shoot and the speed with which they throw.

Anthony explains: "If the ball breaks early, you go through the middle of the headpin. If it breaks late, you get a washout [leaving the headpin and generally getting a 1-3-6-7 split] or a bucket [just hitting the headpin and often leaving the 3-5-6-9 pins]."

Oddly, the lack of a good change-up may well have kept Anthony from becoming a pro baseball player. "The Dodgers scouted me in 1959 when I pitched in the Air Force, and I saw their report," he recalls. "It said, 'Good fastball, fair curve, bad change-up.' "

When he was mustered out of the Air Force he went to spring training with Vancouver of the Pacific Coast League, where he was impressive enough to rate an offer from the Baltimore Orioles and a chance to play Class B ball. "I really wanted to play baseball, but there was very little money involved, and I had a family to think about," he says. "So I turned down the offer, went home to Ta-coma and took a job with a wholesale grocery outfit."

Working for West Coast Grocery turned out to be more than handling canned goods. During his first year the company began a bowling league and Anthony was in business. "It was during my second year of bowling that the bug bit me," he says. "I found the way to really learn to bowl was to compete against guys who were better than me and to get into pot games where the money was on the line. Sometimes I'd lose $40 or $50 a day, which was a lot for a workingman. But that's paying your dues." By 1963 Anthony figured he had learned enough to give the PBA tour a fling, and he used his vacation to compete in three tournaments. "I didn't make a dollar, but it wasn't time wasted," he says.

Back in Tacoma, Anthony practiced hard, sometimes rolling 200 games a week. More and more often he won pot money. One night he took three straight winner-take-all matches, after which the rest of the bowlers in the group quit.

Soon Anthony was obliged to quit himself. Faced with the prospect of having to switch to the 2:30 p.m.-to-10:30 p.m. work shift he decided to join the PBA tour. "If I had worked those hours I would never have seen my children," he says.

In January 1970 Anthony hit the PBA trail, striking fear into the heart of no one with his expressionless face and drab dress. But in his very first tournament the 6'1", 185-pound grocery-man captured second place. Goodby forever to Wheaties and canned peas.

By the end of this year the PBA tour purse money will have topped $2.3 million. Petraglia's triumph boosted his earnings to $52,543, fourth best behind Jim Stefanich ($54,410), Larry Laub ($63,735) and Anthony, whose $7,500 consolation brought him to $96,160. Both Stefanich and Laub had started the year like Johnny Miller on the PGA tour. In the season's first event Stefanich picked up $21,000 by placing third and rolling a perfect game on national TV, a feat that brought him a $10,000 bonus and a new car. Then he lost his touch. Laub, meanwhile, was on TV almost as often as Lucille Ball reruns, appearing in a record eight TV finals during the 14-week winter tour and winning $49,000. Then he hit a streak of bad luck, the final blow coming several weeks ago when he lost nearly everything he owned in a fire that totaled the $22,000 motor home he used to travel the circuit.

All of which left the bulk of the year to Anthony, who took full advantage of it. And he still has a shot at the $100,000 mark. He could make it if he takes the $3,000 top money at the Hawaiian Invitational and then adds a final $1,000 by winning a regional tournament. Whether he does or not, $96,000 will buy a lot of groceries. Well, some groceries.