Dundalk's Danny Wiseman bowls his way into Hall of Fame

Baltimore County native will be inducted into Pro Bowlers Association Hall of Fame on Saturday

Danny Wiseman

Danny Wiseman (Handout photo / November 4, 2011)

Danny Wiseman is practicing at Country Club Lanes on Pulaski Highway, sounding like the 10-pin version of Rodney Dangerfield while expounding on a favorite topic: why bowling gets no respect.

"I hate it when they say bowling's not a sport," he says now. "Tell me why it isn't? Because we don't make millions?"

I shrug and tell him I have no idea.

"Take your best in-shape athlete," he continues, voice rising, "and have him bowl three or four games, and he'll be sore the next day."

I shrug again. Look, I get sore just putting on the shoes.

Wiseman is in an expansive mood on this weekday afternoon, and why not? On Saturday night, the hotshot from Dundalk will be inducted into the Pro Bowlers Association Hall of Fame at a big, fancy gala in Indianapolis.

He's won 12 PBA national titles, including the 2004 Masters, and 11 regional titles. He's bowled 43 sanctioned 300 games. He's listed at No. 42 on the PBA list of the 50 greatest bowlers of all time.

And the fact is, he's made millions, too, as much as $3.5 million by his rough estimate if you count earnings and endorsements and sponsorship loot.

Now semi-retired at 45, he hopes to coach and teach a sport whose popularity, he acknowledges sadly, is on the wane.

"Now there's a million other things kids can do," he says. "It's not on dedicated TV. It's not a first-tier sport like it was in the '60s, '70s and '80s. It fell through the cracks."

It was different years ago, he says. Wiseman was 6 when he bowled 10 pins for the first time. He found the whole atmosphere to be intoxicating.

"Gigantic bowling balls! The smell of oil! You knock down stuff!" he recalls. "They send your ball back! You knock down stuff again!"

He joined his first league at age 7. He bowled his first 300 game at 15. By 16, he was hustling games against older guys in D.C. and thinking he could make a living at it.

But turning pro in 1987 at age 19, he found the PBA tour to be whole different world.

"I thought I was good," he said. "I beat up on a small pond. But there's a whole hell of a lot of better bowlers in that big pond."

Three years later, he won his first title in his first career TV appearance at the Fair Lanes Open in Woodlawn, walking away with $27,000 and the confidence to think he could finally bowl with the big boys.

In 2000, Microsoft bought the PBA and rescued it, some say, from the brink of irrelevance. They wanted the tour to attract a younger, hipper demographic.

Wiseman was perfect for the mission.

"They wanted our personalities to come out," Wiseman says with a shrug.

Oh, Wiseman gave them plenty of personality. Plenty of good looks, too.

He was as far from the stereotypical fat-guy bowler as you could get. He was lean and mean, with the body fat of marble after months of working with a personal trainer.

He wore a soul patch on his chin and arm tattoos and colorful "flame" shirts that looked like hot rod decals come to life.

"People were saying: 'What the hell are you doing?'" he says. "I said: 'I'm wearing what I want to wear.'"

He also put his name on the back of his shirts, something bowlers hadn't done in years.

"I want people to know who I am when they're flipping through the channels" and come upon bowling, he'd tell anyone who asked.

The other bowlers on the tour thought he was nuts. Soon, they were wearing their names on their shirts, too.

In 2004, Wiseman won his lone major, the Miller High Life Masters. It was held in Miller Park in Milwaukee, the first time a bowling championship had been held in a major league baseball stadium.

It had a rock concert atmosphere, with fans banging thunder sticks and doing the wave. Wiseman loved it.

"Nobody's had a better week than Danny Wiseman," the TV announcers intoned breathlessly. He was the consummate showman who pumped his fists and played to the crowd. And with eight straight strikes in his first game, he blew his opponent, Patrick Allen, out of the ballpark.

Things got tougher for Wiseman after that.

In 2005, he was in his car at a stop light in Chicago when an SUV rear-ended him at 45 miles per hour. The driver and his girlfriend were having an argument. But it was Wiseman who bore the brunt of it.

The accident left him with balance issues and a cracked ankle. "My career was never the same after that," he says.

Then in 2009, his mother suffered a brain aneurysm. And he spent the better part of the next two years caring for her and helping his step-dad.

Now he bowls only in big tournaments — he's been competing in the Barbasol Tournament of Champions in Indy this week leading up to the Hall of Fame ceremony . And he marvels at how his career turned out.

"I set out to become one of the best of all time — and I did that," he says. "A kid from Dundalk throwing a bowling ball..."

The kid from Dundalk got plenty of respect, too.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kevincowherdsun

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

 

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