Somewhat later, after Fischbach had given Wagner the diamond that adorns her left hand, he "whipped her butt" at duckpins, Baltimore's favorite pastime after steamed crabs and beer. Wagner had never seen or played the game before, and Fischbach claims to be "the duckpin champ," a title several thousand Baltimore bowlers might dispute. Truth be told, Fischbach doesn't know a whole lot about tenpins, the real bowling game; Wagner says the only advice he ever gives her is "keep your ball speed up," which he tries to phrase differently each time so he doesn't sound like he's repeating himself.
It was embarrassing, but in Game 6 of qualifying for the doubles tournament at Sam's Town, Wagner turned in one of the worst scores of her nine-year professional career—a 129. After a game like that, why does she stick with it? Certainly the money is no incentive; a bowler hoping to make mortgage payments on tournament purses alone might, if she were dynamite, set her sights on, say, a third-hand house trailer. This year, a moderately good one so far for Wagner, she has taken home a grand total of $8,900. That's why she had to turn to flying after five years full-time on the tour, three of them sponsored by her father.
Why, moreover, does she stay, now that the era of the lacquer lane is over? Wagner is a finesse bowler who honed her technique on wood, but modern lanes are "made of stuff like your Formica kitchen counter," according to Bill Vint, a spokesman for the LPBT What's worse, the tour has recently adopted a rule restricting the spread of oil on a lane to a maximum of 24 feet from the foul line. There are those who say that limited-distance dressing, as it's called, gives an edge to a pure power bowler who can heave the ball hard enough and fast enough that it doesn't hook when it gets past the oil and hits the dry lane. Without being asked, Wagner launches into a disquisition on this so-called short-oil rule. In short, short oil is ruining the art of bowling, she says. "You see girls out there with no knee bend and no form doing well. They just get their weight behind the ball and give it a lot of speed." At only 5'4" and 112 pounds, Wagner hardly has the dimensions of a power bowler.
So will Leila leave the Permalanes? (Can Lance convince Elizabeth to leave Tad?) After all, she has several possible careers. Golf, for example. Her agent, Albert Salinas, who also manages Lee Trevino, is teaching her the game and thinks if she applied herself she might make it on the pro circuit. That would be fitting, since in the past Wagner has joked, "I'm the Jan Stephenson of bowling, or maybe she's the Leila Wagner of golf." But if she were the Leila Wagner of golf, who would Jan Stephenson be?
Wagner would also like to get an acting-modeling career going. She gave it a shot for six months but found L.A. "too fast-paced." So she moved to the Metroplex, where, she says, the pace was more leisurely and there were still opportunities. Her acting-modeling credits to date are as respectable as many a New York City meal attendant's: She was an extra in the party scenes in Star '80 and modeled for a special Woman's Day feature on bowling exercises. And she appears in an instructional bowling video that will be released soon.
She could also have a future as a sportscaster. If you've been skipping The New Newlywed Game or Divorce Court on Monday afternoons this summer in order to catch ESPN's tape-delay broadcasts of the finals of the women's bowling tour, you already know that when Wagner doesn't make it into the top five of a tournament, she does the color commentary with play-by-play man Denny Schreiner. Bowling aficionados give her TV performances good grades. For now, though, Wagner is facing a 1-4-7 split: Even though she hates driving Fischbach's Jeep or his ancient Datsun to work (her Porsche and a houseful of furniture remain in Dallas for the time being), she would like to be with him in the house they're remodeling in Maryland. She would also like to continue on the tour, but that means being away from Marty for up to six weeks at a time. And she's getting weary of flying. "Passengers talk down to you and blame you for flight delays," she says. "And you'd be surprised how many 'gimmes' you hear on a plane.
"Sometimes, I wish I'd gone into fashion sales, or I wish the tour would fold so I would be released," Wagner says. "As long as the tour is around, though, I can't stand the thought of not competing."
So what is it that keeps bringing her back? Says the former Miss Washington, "Winning."