The loaded ball of unpredictable behavior was a favorite with the hotshots in the early 1900’s. If you were challenged to a bowling match 50 or 60 years ago, chances were about even that your opponent was an expert in the delicate art of controlling a dodo ball.
The dodo, or loaded, ball isn’t yet as rare as the extinct dodo bird but it’s rapidly approaching that distinction. Fifty years ago, however, there was much long, loud, hot argument over legalizing the dodo. That controversy was fatally crippled in 1913 when the ABC outlawed the dodo, a stunning setback to some of that era’s hotshots but one of the more important single steps in equipment standardization.
Some of the earliest dodos were simply far over the present 16 pound maximum weight. Two well known Chicagoans of the early 1900’s, Bill Lee and Gus Steele, used 20 pound balls, although neither man weighed more than 120 pounds. Some men were even using a 22 pound ball.
The extremely heavy ball, called a "phony" at, the time, gradually disappeared as bowlers discovered the greater effectiveness of an unbalanced ball. The most common practice in loading a ball was called the "7-9" combination; half of a 14 pound ball cemented to a 18 pound half with the extra weight on the left.
Nearly everyone used a two-finger ball in those days and to make the dodo as effective as possible, the holes were drilled the same size so the bowler needed only to reverse his grip to change the' action.
Despite the advantage of using a dodo ball, by someone who knew how, that is, the loaded pellet wasn't universally popular during the early years of this century for two reasons: the difficulty in controlling it and a spreading desire for fair standard conditions brought to the game by the ABC.
Good bowlers in 1960 throw the ball with speed that fits their own style and lane conditions. They give the ball lift to get a working "turn" as it hits the pins. Not so with the dodo.
It can easily be imagined what would happen if a ball weighted an extra two or three pounds on the left side were given a little normal lift: it would be in the left gutter in no time. To compensate for all the natural left turn built into the dodo, bowlers had to keep the fingers perfectly straight when releasing it and kill any tendency to follow through.
Now instructors constantly stress the value of the follow through. In 1902, if you used a dodo ball, follow through was definitely a handicap. Phil Wolf of Chicago had a ball so heavily weighted on the left that most bowlers couldn’t keep it on the lane no matter what they tried.
The dodo presented still another little problem to its adherents; the "dodo split.” What is now popularly called the "washout" was originally a "dodo" since it was a common leave when the ball was thrown too fast and did not come up to the headpin.
In one of the early ABC tournaments, a well known bowling of the time drew 12 dodo splits, the 1-2-4-10 as often as the 1-2-10. Legend has it that this performance quickly converted the man to a legitimate ball.
Cleveland, Chicago and Louisville were the centers of the hot dodo ball competition from 1900 to 1913. As the influence of the ABC efforts towards standardization spread through the game, the bowlers in these cities divided into factions, either supporting or opposing the use of dodos.
The 1913 ABC convention ended the controversy, officially at least, as the delegates adopted a rule limiting the weight of a ball to a 16 pound maximum and requiring that the ball be evenly balanced. The rule ran into stiff opposition at first, but by consistent enforcement and the prevailing trend toward fair standards, the dodo gradually disappeared.
One of the early dodo experts, Louis Levine of Chicago, gave up his loaded ball but then became so good at hooking a legal ball that he often had trouble convincing people he hadn't returned to the dodo.
The present balance scale used by the ABC was only a hopeful dream when the Congress began enforcing its balanced ball rule. In the early 20s, a Philadelphia man patented a balance scale that helped somewhat. It required some calculations and moving balance weights but did the job.
Abe Langtry, ABD secretary from 1907 through 1932, would have given a lot for the balance and gross weight scale now used at the ABC tournament. The weighmaster has only to shift the ball in a balance cradle, glance at the indicators and he knows precisely how the ball is balanced.
Elmer H. Baumgarten, who succeeded Langtry and now is secretary-emeritus, likes to tell about a Sunday long ago when he was supervising the Illinois state tournament in Chicago. Two men, both notorious dodo experts, came in to bowl doubles. The scale said each man's ball was legal, though, so they started bowling. Early in the second game spectators thought a shotgun invasion had come and the pinboy was sure of it. One of the suspects had run out of luck. A plug came out of his ball as it hit the pins, spewing a buckshot load through the pit. That night the same thing happened to the other man in the team event. Both were suspended.
Most present day bowlers have probably never heard of a dodo ball. Still, a man occasionally shows up at the ABC tournament with an unbalanced ball, hoping to get it past the weighmaster. But anyone who thinks there's some advantage in using the dodo could take a tip from today's stars.
Without exception they ask "Why?" when someone brings up the loaded ball issue. It's difficult enough learning control and accuracy with a legal ball, they say, without the extra hazard of trying to control the unbalanced kind.
Article originally published by Bowling Magazine – November 1960
More articles by Ted Thompson