If I had led a normal life I would've been bored to death," says Carmen Salvino, who has bowled through life on and off the alleys. The 40-year-old Salvino has been a success despite unaligned hips, a short leg and a swollen ego that has alternately made him as loathed as a 7-10 split or as beloved as a clown. Twenty years ago he was one of the finest bowlers and the most captivating showman in the sport. High scores and sonic-boom laughs were his trademarks. By 1969, though, he could not find the strike pocket and was on the brink of a breakdown. As a last resort he sought help from Hank Lahr, a pal from his early bowling days in Chicago.
Lahr, an engineer, was on an extended leave of absence from his job of constructing nuclear power plants. "You can't believe how far Carmy had sunk," Lahr recalls. "I told him bowling could be reduced to a mathematical equation that could make him a champion again. But he would have to trust me. The work wouldn't be easy."
Lahr began by having Salvino tell him all he knew about bowling: footwork, shoes, angles, speed, lane conditions, temperature, humidity and air conditioning at the alleys, approach, release, follow-through, instinct, aim, ball rotation, strategy. For eight, 10, 12 hours a day they went at it. They argued, fought, yelled. "It used to be that my body ached from bowling," Salvino says, "but after those sessions it was my mind."
"We invented a language, a combination of layman's terms and engineering terms," Lahr says. "For six months I taught Carmy the basics of physics and engineering. When he wanted to quit I'd say, 'Go ahead. Be stupid.' If a .300 hitter can't get out of a slump it's usually because he doesn't know what he's looking for. He's proved he has the talent to hit, but that's not enough unless he also has knowledge about hitting. What can you learn from practice if you don't know what you're doing? Carmy had to learn the value of knowledge, of thought and problem solving. I also taught him the uselessness of being negative. I'd say, 'Tell me one way being negative will help.' He couldn't. This sounds easy, but it's not when a man's locked into a deeply negative state."
Almost imperceptibly progress was made: portions of the bowling equation were found, Salvino toppled more pins and Lahr's philosophical discourses broadened Carmen's outlook. In June of 1971 Salvino finished fifth at the Fresno Open. Two months later at the Grand Rapids Open, Salvino lost to Tommy Tuttle by one pin. Carmen wept. "I admit it," he says. "When they handed me my check I told the crowd, 'I'm emotional. I always will be. I just want you to know one thing—I'm back.' "
Again in 1972 he came close to winning, but a last-frame strike by Barry Asher deprived him of victory in the Japan Gold Cup in Tokyo. It was, however, a fine year in other respects: Salvino and Asher took the American Bowling Congress Classic Doubles for pros and Carmen earned money in 27 events on the Professional Bowlers Association tour, a record. As gratifying as that was, Salvino's deepest longing had not yet been satisfied. "I had won 10 PBA titles, but I hadn't taken one since 1968," he said.
While Salvino traveled with the PBA tour Lahr remained in Chicago, where he labored for 18 months on the elusive equation. He came up with the following, in which E[Total] is total energy; E[T] is the energy of translational forces; E[R] is the energy of rotational forces and E[LF] is energy loss caused by lane friction:
To a physicist the equation is sound but essentially meaningless because it is just about impossible for a human to apply it while bowling. There are too many variables. No matter to Salvino, who believes in it and has the scores to back up his belief. In his own mind he thinks of his right arm as a controlled pendulum (E[T]) and goes around mumbling to himself about vector analysis and the principle of Archimedes.
Salvino continued to bowl well early in 1973, and at the Lincoln-Mercury Open in New Orleans he qualified for the fifth and last spot on the TV finals. Stringing strikes the way he did in his prime, he beat Dennis Swayda 225-183, Gus Lampo 248-212 and Alex Seymore 236-216. And in the finale his five straight strikes finished off Bob Strampe 245-204 for the title, $10,000 and a new car. Salvino had made it all the way back.