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News Maryland Harford County Bel Air

Remembering when 'Bullet' Bob Turley was part of the Bel Air Bowl

The former Major League Baseball pitcher "Bullet" Bob Turley, who died March 30 at age 82, played for the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees. His name also has a special meaning in the annals of Harford County sports and business.

In addition to starting the team's first game of the Orioles maiden season in 1954 and later leading the Yankees to the 1958 World Series title, winning Cy Young honors and being named the year's top professional athlete, Mr. Turley was an early investor/partner in the iconic Bel Air Bowl, which carried his name for the first decade of its existence.

"I have good memories of him," said Prescott "Pres" Coale, one of the co-founders of what was originally known as Bob Turley's Bel Air Bowl, along with the late Norman "Hope" Johnson and the late John Robert Wayne (not the actor, as Coale points out).

Coale recalled how the local trio and Mr. Turley were brought together by an insurance agent in the area who knew Mr. Turley and that Brunswick, one of the leading manufacturers of bowling equipment, was trying to interest Mr. Turley in getting involved in a bowling alley in Lutherville, where Mr. Turley had lived during his one season with the Orioles in 1954) and for a time after he was traded to the Yankees the following year.

The group hit it off, Coale said, and they decided to go into business together, but in Bel Air, not Lutherville.

Toast of the sports world

The year was 1959 and investments in bowling establishments were a favored avenue for ballplayers at a time when there was much less sophistication in how professional athletes invested their on-field earnings. A few months earlier, Mr. Turley had been the toast of the sports world, leading the Yankees back from a 3 games to 1 deficit to beat the Milwaukee Braves and avenge their defeat at the hands of the same team a year earlier. For the season, Mr. Turley went 20-7, pitching eight shutouts and 19 complete games and winning two games in the seven-game series after losing the opener. In addition to being named the top pitcher in baseball – there was just a single Cy Young Award in those days – he won the Hickock Belt given to the country's top professional athlete

Known for a blazing fastball, which gave rise to the Bullet Bob moniker, Mr. Turley would never have a better season after 1958, but he was on the cusp of what would become a very successful post-baseball business career. Coale recalls Mr. Turley was "a good partner" who helped to promote their fledgling business and make it a success, while continuing his baseball career over the next several years.

The investors secured a site on Route 1 just south of the Bel Air town limits, a neighborhood then still largely rural, but beginning to commercialize and suburbanize. The racetrack and fairgrounds were still going nearby (on the present site of Harford Mall), and the future bowling alley site contained a homestead that had belonged to the Bauguess family, Coale said.

In January 1960, several local volunteer fire companies conducted a controlled burn of the house that had also once been the home of Judge George VanBibber who presided over the county Circuit Court earlier in the century. Mr. Turley showed up for the fire and was photographed wearing a fireman's hat and overcoat standing in front of the burning building with Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company Chief Robert King and Assistant Chief Bob Zimmerman. The photo was one of several of the burn published in The Aegis Jan. 14, 1960, and the caption read in part that Mr. Turley was "accustomed to handling some 'hot jobs' in his business."

Bob Turley's Bel Air Bowl held its grand opening on Aug. 12, 1960, and would go on to become a Bel Air institution for the better part of four decades, attracting tens of thousands of league and casual bowlers and presenting top flight competition and exhibitions from the pro stars of the era. One of the odd coincidences about the lanes, Coale said, was they ended up installing competing AMF equipment, not Brunswick, which he said was OK with Mr. Turley.

"He never had any commitment to them," Coale said of Brunswick. "In fact, he came with us because he didn't want to be involved with an absentee ownership. That had happened to one of his teammates, and it had caused him problems."

Among those present for the opening activities was Lindy Faragalli, the 1958 World Bowling Champion, who was photographed with Mr. Turley in an article that appeared in The Aegis.

A 'good businessman'

"Bob was a good businessman and always enjoyed being around, and the customers enjoyed seeing him," said Coale who, along with Mr. Johnson, handled much of the day-to-day management of the bowling alley. Even though Coale was nothing more than a recreational bowler, "I liked it," he said, "but not to the level of being a professional, I liked it as a sport."

Coale said Mr. Turley would stop in any time he was in the area, frequently accompanied by teammates or other professional athletes. Of course, this was also the heyday of the Baltimore Colts, and Mr. Turley helped them attract visits from the football team's stable of stars, most prominently the Colts legendary quarterback John Unitas.

"We got a good mixture in that respect," Coale said of the celebrity appearances. "The people who came did it on friendship, too, I would hate to think what they would have wanted today, when you see the money these fellows get for autographs, it's something."

Coale, who is 84 and lives just north of Bel Air, has an extensive collection of newspaper clippings and photos from the time. One sports columnist wrote of a bowling match between Mr. Turley and Mr. Unitas, that nobody would ever mistake them for Don Carter, one of the sports immortals, as Mr. Turley bested Mr. Unitas, three games to two.

A February 1961 visit from Mr. Unitas found him and Mr. Turley being photographed with Bel Air twins Johnny and Billy Hughes. That photo was published in the Baltimore News American. Among the first year's visitors to the lanes was Nelson Fox, the 1959 American League Most Valuable Player and a future hall of famer.

Another visit Coale recalled was from Mr. Turley's Yankee teammate, Whitey Ford, another future hall of famer. Another newspaper photograph from the era showed Mr. Turley, Orioles pitcher Milt Pappas and former AL Most Valuable Player Bobby Shantz.

Free World Series tickets

An early advertisement for the bowling alley from the old Democratic Ledger of Havre de Grace noted "Bob Turley's Bowl" was giving away tickets to the 1960 World Series, a pair a week for the next six weeks. Mr. Turley won Game 2 of the series, but his Yankees would go on to lose to the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4-3, on Bill Mazeroski's leadoff tie-breaking homer in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Mr. Turley's baseball career wound down in the early 1960s. He was traded from the Yankees to the Los Angeles Angels in 1963 and later played with the Red Sox in what would be his final season. He served as Boston's pitching coach in 1964, and then left baseball completely for the business world full time. As his baseball arc declined, his post-career flourished.

Coale said Mr. Turley remained semi-active in the bowling alley, but he was developing other business interests as well, and in 1969, he and Johnson bought out Mr. Turley's interest in the bowling alley. They shortened the name to Bel Air Bowl and kept things going until 1997 when they retired and sold the property to their neighbor, BSC America, owner of the Bel Air Auto Auction. The bowling alley was closed and the building was converted into offices for the new owner, which has auto auctions in several states.

"We enjoyed the time we had with it; we really did have a good time with Bob and with all the people we met over the years," Coale said. Mr. Turley eventually relocated to Atlanta, where he became involved in several successful business ventures, according to his online biographies. He was still living in the Atlanta area when he died.

Coale said he and Mr. Turley had kept in touch for a number of years until Mr. Turley became seriously ill. "I thought about calling; I probably should have, and then I heard he had died. I think his sons are still in this area."

"Along with Bob. we were just three local guys who wanted to do something and it lasted 37 years," Coale said. "I certainly miss the people and the camaraderie. They were some great memories."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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