"I'm tingling all over," Roth said in the car going back to his motel. While waiting at a red light, he spotted a sign bearing a phone number to be called for "advice and help." "Quick, call that number," Roth said. "I need help." Then in a louder voice he said, "Someone stick a fork in me. Let this stuff get out of me."
Letting this stuff get out is what Roth's routine is largely about. He would never describe his ritual as primal scream therapy or even as an emotional release. "I do it because it makes me feel better and it helps my bowling," says Roth, matter-of-factly. "It took a while before I tried my routine on the tour. Since I started it, I've bowled better.
"Hey, I don't go through that stuff all the time. Just when I need it." Roth smiles, an indication that he is somewhat proud that an introvert would have such an outlandish habit. "I used to be really crazy. I kicked ball racks, I cursed and lost my temper at the lanes. Now I've quieted down. Sometimes all I do after a bad night is get in the shower and scream."
Roth's view of the pressures of the PBA tour is that they cannot be handled in ordinary ways; there is more to the game than the game. It has become extremely complicated for him now, creating a mishmash of emotions and conflicts: how to be himself while being a winner; while communicating with the media; while trying to be alone; while trying to rest amid jangling phones; while trying to please those who tug at him for advice, endorsements, investments and autographs; while doing his sunbeam smashing; while avoiding psychological downers; while trying to act like a man-hero; while wanting to be a boy. It is to Roth's credit that he has dealt reasonably well with the above, especially since he handled most of them badly not long ago.
This past winter PBA Commissioner Joe Antenora called on Roth to discuss his relationship with the press. It had been Roth's habit to shirk interviews or to give terse replies to reporters.
"Antenora also asked me to speak to Mark about the situation," says Frank Esposito, a Paramus, N.J. bowling-alley proprietor and coordinator for ABC telecasts. "I suggested that Mark take a Dale Carnegie course. He wouldn't do it. But Mark has come to realize how important it is to be aware of the media. After winning two tournaments in a row early this year, he was unable to make it to the third because of a snowstorm. [Actually, Roth missed his chance for a record-tying third straight victory because, instead of leaving early for Cleveland, he saw his beloved Rangers play in New York. The next morning, the East was weathered in.] I called Mark and told him that his absence was news and that we would call him at his home during the TV finals and have him say a few words over a telephone hookup. He didn't want to do it. 'People have been bugging me all week,' he told me. I told him, 'We'll call you. It'll be a nice touch.' He insisted that he didn't want to do it. I told Mark, 'We'll call you.' We called. It went over very well. Mark has apologized half a dozen times since for his initial reaction. He's beginning to understand the media."
Roth has just come off the lanes after a dismal six-game block. His scowl is fearsome, the most forbidding on the tour. A local radio reporter, tape recorder in hand, thrusts out a microphone. Roth tucks his bowling ball more tightly in the crook of his arm and glares darkly at the man. But instead of stalking into the locker room as he often used to do, Roth says, "Give me 10 minutes to cool off and I'll be back." The reporter nods.
Amid the hubbub of the paddock, as the bowlers' locker room is called, Roth lights a cigarette, blows out the match and with a quick wrist snap, wings it floorward. He finds his bowling bag, contemplates mashing it with his 16-pound ball—as he has done numerous times in the past—but then gingerly places the ball on the floor.
He slumps into a chair, expels a cloud of smoke and locks his lips as if he will never speak again. A deep sigh is followed by a look around the paddock, a glance not intended to see things but rather a prelude to letting his eyes roll upward and almost under his lids in a favorite expression of disgust. Slumping deeper into the chair, Roth mutters an imprecation. Then, the wrath of Roth having subsided, he walks out of the paddock, seeks out the reporter and dutifully answers all questions.
Exploring Roth is like rummaging through an attic: one finds unexpected treasures. Roth's psyching-up procedure is one. Also startling is his bowling style, the most explosive on the tour. Roth's style is so theatrical and convoluted, so swashbuckling that it sets him apart from all the other bowlers. Seldom has anyone thrown a ball with such fury, speed and striking power, a combination that no one savors more than Roth himself.