Sunday, July 13, 1997

Bob Strampe--Hall of Fame, July 13, 1997

Trick grip points to bowling success

Register Staff Writer


Bob Strampe remembers the day well.

No wonder. It was the day he was told he'd never be a good bowler.

"The year was 1943, and I was just a kid," Strampe said. "An old gentleman named Andy Varipapa came to my dad's six-lane bowling establishment in Estherville for an exhibition.

"Andy was a trick-shot artist, and I bowled five frames against him. You know, it was the old deal where the owner's kid bowls against the pro. But once Andy saw me on the lanes, he said, 'You'll never make it, son.'

"You see, I had a habit of tucking my little finger under the ball, and it was a style Andy didn't like. He said I wouldn't be any good unless I straightened out the finger. He felt that if you didn't do things his way, you wouldn't make it."

It was that incident, Strampe, 66, said now, that had a strong impact on his career.

"Varipapa saying I wouldn't be any good was all I needed," Strampe said.

"I said to myself, 'Well, bully for you, Andy. I'm going to make it.' "

Strampe was right, Varipapa was wrong.

Today, following an illustrious career during which he never changed the way he held the ball, Strampe becomes the 151st member of the Des Moines Sunday Register's Iowa Sports Hall of Fame.

Dick Weber of St. Louis, who won 26 Professional Bowlers Association championships, knows Strampe well.

"Bob has a beautiful game, with a nice, fluid swing," Weber said. "He knows how to play the lanes very smart.

"He was also a fierce competitor. I remember that from when he beat Tommy Tuttle for the 1964 All-Star championship. He was unbelievable in that tournament."

The 5-foot 10-inch, 175-pound Strampe, then from Detroit, was the PBA's leading money-winner in 1964 - earning $33,592 in 31 tournaments.

In his career, he won five PBA titles and earned $248,179.

"My best years were 1964, 1965, 1966 and 1967," Strampe said.

He finished eighth in PBA earnings with $21,070 in 1965, fourth with $23,750 in 1966 and 11th with $22,486 in 1967.

Bob Strampe, once told he'd "never make it" by a veteran, went on to a professional bowling career that included five PBA titles. "Strampe's secret was coolness under pressure," regional PBA tournament director Dan Ottman said.

In addition to winning the All-Star in 1964, Strampe took the PBA national championship the same year by beating Ray Bluth of St. Louis by 258 pins. Also in 1964, he was named the PBA's player of the year.

He won the American Bowling Congress masters title in 1966, was elected to the ABC Hall of Fame in 1977 and to the PBA Hall of Fame in 1987.

Another man who knows Strampe's strength as a bowler is Dan Ottman, a regional PBA tournament director from Troy, Mich.

"Strampe's secret was coolness under pressure," Ottman said. "He wasn't afraid to make tough, quality shots. When you put the name Strampe up there, you were putting up the word competitor. Nothing bothered him.

"In addition, Bob was always there to help out when another bowler had a question about bowling. He was always available."

Strampe was born in Paullina, but his family had moved to Estherville when bowling became his big interest.

"Baseball was a big sport when I was growing up," Strampe said. "But we didn't have Little Leagues in Estherville then. It was just a matter of getting into a sandlot game with your buddies.

"I was too small for football and not tall enough for basketball. So I turned to bowling."

Strampe said his dad, Hy, introduced him to the game. For a while, his dad even tried to change the grip that Varipapa didn't like.

"Dad put tape on the joints of my little finger so I wouldn't tuck it under the ball," Strampe said. "But I'd tuck the finger right back under the ball.

"My dad was pretty much my instructor. Then there was another gentleman, Virg Carlson, who had a lot to do with my progress. He was my captain and coach when I bowled for the Hamms team in Minneapolis."

Strampe left Minneapolis in 1959 and headed for Detroit, where he bowled with the Stroh's team.

"I was with Stroh's for two years, then went on the PBA tour," he said. "I credit a lot of the success I had to staying cool under pressure as a pro."

Incidentally, Strampe said he had fun with Varipapa after being successful with the grip the trick-shot artist didn't like.

"After I won the 1964 All-Star, I turned to Andy and said, 'Hey, Andy, I made it!' " Strampe said. "He and I became great friends."

Strampe said he wasn't the only successful pro bowler to use the grip.

"Don Carter held the ball basically the same way," he said of Carter, a pro for 38 years who was voted the "Greatest Bowler of All-Time" in 1970.

Strampe said there wasn't as much money in pro bowling in his heyday as there is now, but he said he has no regrets.

"A buck was a buck, and it was fun back then," he said. "I stayed on the tour for 13 years, then opened a bowling supply store in Detroit. I had it for 20 years, then bought a little eight-lane bowling center in St. Charles, Mich. My home now is in Saginaw, Mich."

Bob Strampe said bowling as a business isn't as healthy as it used to be.

"It's been a long uphill climb, but I think the game is starting to make a little turnaround," he said. "I hate to point fingers, but I think a number of things hurt the sport.

"Some proprietors didn't modernize their places, and kids got involved with things like soccer and tee-ball. There was no bowling role model on TV.

"We had bowlers on TV, but kids didn't try to follow them."