"You know that every time Mark throws the ball he's saying mentally, 'Look at that. Will you look at that,' " says Domnitz.
"Sometimes I throw rockets," Roth says with a boyish grin. "My ball can even overpower lane conditions at times."
Roth is a hurry-up bowler. Once he has planted his feet on the approach, he pauses only a second. He hunches slightly, taps the top of the ball with the fingers of his left hand and twists his right hand, which supports the ball, so severely that the palm is straight up. And then he is off.
His footwork is a shuffle-stumble of small steps while he whips the ball through one of the most exaggerated backswings of any bowler. Three things give Roth command of his complicated form: he keeps his head straight, he maintains a proper center of gravity with his body, and he counterbalances the wrenching forward swing of his right arm by a final backward sweep of his left arm and leg.
Roth forsakes the conventional slide to the foul line with his last foot movement, preferring to stop his left foot just short of the stripe so that it can withstand the force of his powerful follow-through. As Roth moves the ball through his forward swing, his right hand is set so that his palm faces the pins. Then he adds a ferocious inward twist of the arm and wrist. Roth is 5'11" and 170 pounds, and throws so hard because he drives the strength of his body through his right shoulder and into the ball. His ball takes a fairly straight path for about 45 of the 60 feet down the lane. Then it happens: all that power and all that twisting send the ball suddenly hooking left toward the 1-3 strike pocket.
To get strikes, most bowlers must hit the pocket squarely, or within a two-inch margin to either side. Roth, however, can be off target by much more and still strike. His cranking release gives the ball more revolutions than most—16 or 17 as opposed to the normal 13—and causes it to hook sharply. Both the revs and hook provoke a mixing action among the pins, toppling many that would otherwise remain upright.
Roth's style is so vigorous, in fact, that it is painful to watch. Jerry Levine of the PBA staff recalls that in 1970, when Roth first gave the tour a brief and unsuccessful try, many pros said, "He'll burn out in a year or two. The crankers and throwers don't have a chance out here anymore. Now you need finesse."
"I've known Mark since I was about 14 or 15," says bowler Johnny Petraglia, who is 31. "He lived about 15 minutes from me in Brooklyn. Mark bowls now the way he did then. I thought he'd do well on the tour, but that his hand problems would force him out."
For a few years, Roth was the most prominent member of the PBA's walking wounded. His exaggerated twist of the ball upon release left his thumb frequently looking like raw meat. There were times when he took a week or more off from bowling so that the thumb could heal.
Assorted remedies were tried. "The best was soaking my thumb in Johnson's Foot Soap," Roth says. Such relief was only temporary. Just when it appeared that Roth might need a thumb transplant to continue bowling, his problem was solved by Bob Simonelli, a bowling equipment dealer and a longtime pal from Brooklyn. Simonelli changed the angle at which he drilled the thumb hole on Roth's ball so that Mark could yank his thumb from the ball quicker and cut down on abrasion. "That was about four years ago and I haven't had much trouble with my thumb since," Roth says.