Bowling legend Carmen Salvino

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One of the greatest bowlers of all time, Carmen Salvino recently celebrated 70 years of unparalleled success in a sport he loves and helped to transform.

In baseball and in life, “three strikes” are typically a bad thing. But for world-class bowler Carmen Salvino, it’s just another day at the office. He began his career as a professional bowler at 19 years of age, and 70 years later, he’s only now looking back at just how many pins he’s knocked down.

Carmen was born in the Taylor Street neighborhood of Chicago near Flournoy and Ashland. His father was from Calabria and his mother from Abruzzi. His dad had agricultural roots, so when the Depression struck, the family moved to a farm outside of Miami to weather the storm.

For many years, the Salvino clan toiled for little money, scraping by with no electricity or indoor plumbing. Carmen had only one pair of second-hand shoes, handed down from one of his two brothers. It didn’t much matter, though. He walked around barefoot most of the time anyway, picking up mail from the post office or gathering firewood for the stove his mother cooked on.

With the economy gathering steam in the 1940s, the Salvinos moved back to Chicago. Many men were away at war, and jobs were plentiful. After shining shoes from the age of 5, Carmen got a job at 11 as a pinsetter. Working the six lanes in the basement of the Amalgamated Center on South Ashland Avenue, Carmen caught the bowling bug. For the next five years, he practiced and practiced. His tall, lanky build combined with a relentless workout and practice regimen gave him a leg up on his fellow bowlers.

At 19, he was tapped to take the place of a pro bowler who fell ill before competing in the City Match Game Championship. He won it handily and hasn’t looked back for decades, racking up a remarkable array of honors and accomplishments. But the biggest prize was closer than he suspected.

Carmen bowled several nights a week at an alley that was split down the middle, with a men’s league on one side and a women’s league on the other. A friend wanted to introduce him to one of the ladies who was bowling on the far side of the room. He brushed his buddy off, saying he didn’t want any distractions as he focused on improving his game.

But while bowlers of both genders were perusing the scoreboard, he caught the eye of the gal in question and asked her what she was averaging. “Oh, about 185,” she said, to which Carmen slyly replied, “Here’s a nickel. Call me when you get good!” A 185 is an excellent average, and it was Carmen’s sharp wit that hooked her. They began to date and eventually married. Carmen considers his wife, Ginny, one of the cornerstones of his success. That and doing pushups on his wrists instead of his palms!

In 1958, Carmen and six other professionals launched the Pro Bowlers Association. To this day, it is the official governing body of the sport. Of the seven founding members, Carmen is the last one who is still with us. He is a true living legend.

With his dry sense of humor and animated approach to the game, Carmen came to be known as the “PBA’s Original Showman.” Racking up an astounding 105 games with a perfect score of 300, he bowled his way to 17 PBA Tour titles. On his many trophy shelves can be found the 1962 PBA National Championship and two PBA Senior Tour titles, including the 1984 Senior National Championship.

Carmen was among the eight original inductees to the PBA Hall of Fame in 1975, and he is similarly enshrined in the United States Bowling Conference Hall of Fame, National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, Illinois Sports Hall of Fame and Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame.

In the glory years of his 60s, Carmen opened a whole new world for himself when he began researching the science of bowling. His naturally inquisitive mind compelled him to pick up his daughter Corrine’s high school physics book, which he read cover to cover.

Guided by his recently acquired knowledge, Carmen devised a way to recenter bowling balls, which until then had been thrown off balance by the coring of the finger holes. His stabilizing solution earned Carmen three United States patents!

He then turned the laws of chemistry to his advantage, creating a ball surface with the highest friction in the world at the time, thus improving the ball’s spin and maneuverability as it travels down the lane. “Not bad for a farm boy from Taylor Street with barely a high school education who just read his daughter’s physics book,” Carmen says.

His autobiography, “Fast Lanes,” was published in 1988.

With all his achievements, what was his proudest moment? It came relatively recently, according to Carmen.

“The Tournament of Champions is the World Series of bowling. The top bowlers in the world come together and compete for the No. 1 spot,” Carmen explains. “In 2020, before the final frame of the tournament was shot, 99 of the greatest bowlers in the world came up to shake my hand and thank me for my contributions to the game. It was so meaningful to me. You can’t receive any higher prize than the respect of your peers.”

A sportsman, businessman, scientist, inventor and author, Carmen shows no signs of slowing down as he approaches 90 years of age.

“I know what I know, I know what I don’t know, I know where to get the answers I need. I don’t let ego get in the way,” he shares. “Champions are born. Coaches bring out the talent in athletes. I was blessed, and I’m not finished yet.”

Carmen still works in the research lab for the Storm Bowling Ball Co. and still regularly bowls an easy 200. There’s something to be said for reading your kid’s textbooks and doing pushups on your wrists!

The above appears in the June 2022 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.

 

About Ron Onesti

Ron Onesti is the president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans and the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, chairman of Casa Italia and a board member of the Italian American Veterans Museum. He is the founder and president of Onesti Entertainment Corp., which runs five entertainment and dining venues across the Chicago area and produces concerts, special events and festivals nationwide. Among the latter are Festa Pasta Vino on South Oakley Avenue, Festa Italiana on Taylor Street and Little Italy Fest-West in Addison. He was inducted as a cavaliere into the Ordine della Stella d’Italia by the president of Italy

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