To stroke or to crank? A thorough investigation of both styles reveals that neither type of player has a distinct advantage – The Coach’s Corner

To stroke or to crank? A thorough investigation of both styles reveals that neither type of player has a distinct advantage – The Coach’s Corner – bowling

John Jowdy

IT’S A BARSTOOL DEBATE THAT surfaces sooner or later among all tenpin enthusiasts: Are the most effective bowlers strokers or crankers? Before I offer an answer, let me differentiate a stroker from a cranker.

Strokers, by definition, are bowlers who rely on finesse and touch with the application of power through fingers, rhythm, and timing. They are smooth and graceful and maintain immaculate balance. Strokers can be evaluated in several categories. Some are soft with their fingers, others are soft with their armswings. Some strokers are soft with both fingers and armswings, while others are soft with armswings and strong on fingers. Thus, there are pure strokers, “tweeners,” and power strokers.

The PBA rosters are replete with players who have made a comfortable living utilizing each style. Heading the list of pure strokers are Brian Voss and David Ozio. In my estimation, they are the epitome of ideal strokers. Both possess the most impeccable approaches in the history of the game. Their paths to the foul line can be compared with the silky approaches of ABC Hall-of-Famers Tom Hennessey, Joe Joseph, Dick Ritger, George Pappas, and Dave Davis. Their armswings, back and forth, are generated by ball weight from the shoulder point: loose, free, and unmuscled. Their follow-throughs are fluid, low and long, and unforced.

Voss had the enviable record of capturing at least one tournament for 12 straight years. His streak was halted in 1999, principally due to a wrist injury that hampered his execution. His performances were also thwarted, however, by an early swing that impaired his release point. After close observation, I determined that Voss, a five-step player, was getting the ball into motion prematurely, thus placing his release beyond the strongest leverage point.

This is a common error among elite bowlers: In delivering the shot, everything seems normal, yet the ball may hook early, roll out, enter the pocket late, or simply hit weakly–all deficiencies that impair good strike percentage. The frustrating results confound bowlers, eventually shattering their confidence. Ozio is truly poetry in motion and, like Voss, occasionally encounters difficulty in his release point.

Tim Criss, another pure stroker, has developed into an elite player on the PBA tour. Criss’ road to success began when he abandoned a bent-elbow follow-through behind his ear. I advised him to extend his follow-through in a lower, longer manner, out toward the pins. His smooth approach, coupled with his altered follow-through, brought him to the winner’s circle in 1997. His career was further heightened when he captured the PBA National Championship at Toledo in 1999.

Dave Arnold is the typical kind of stroker who performs free armswings with soft fingers. Arnold has a smooth, well-cadenced approach, an adequate release point, and a great extended follow-through. At the risk of impairing any of his other attributes, Arnold could enhance his victory totals with an alteration in his hand position, plus additional finger application in his release.

Dave Husted is the quintessence of a tweener stroker. Husted, who applies greater speed than the average stroker, is part of a group caught between power play and soft speed. He embodies all the qualities of a power stroker with one exception: His hand position at the release point raises his ball track, which, on numerous occasions, lacks the required side roll to drive out seemingly flush 10-pins.

Mike Aulby, recently named as one of the greatest bowlers of the 20th century, is a master of the soft stroke. Mike is the only player in history to have captured all the majors: the U.S. Open, PBA National, Tournament of Champions, PBA Touring Players Championship, and the ABC Masters. As a matter of record, Aulby is also the only player to have annexed the Masters title three times.

On the other hand, Pete Weber is the undisputed king of power strokers. With the possible exception of Robert Smith, Pete can generate as many revolutions as anyone on tour. And Pete does it with little or no effort. His power is all generated from the fingers, culminating with a long, extended follow-through with no bend in his elbow whatsoever. Weber’s only weakness is that, like Voss, he has a tendency to place the ball in motion prematurely, which results in an early swing.

Smith, Rudy Kasimakis, Steve Hoskins, Dave D’Entremont, and Brian Himmler typify tree power players. They sacrifice accuracy, create greater area, and can be dominant on conditions that favor wide-arcing balls. They rely on extreme wrist and finger action for excessive rotation and revolutions.

Now we’ll examine crankers, who can best be described as players who utilize force and brute strength. They exercise far greater energy than strokers. Additionally, they lack the grace and refinement of strokers.

A cranker, in bowling vernacular, is a player who applies exceptional and abnormal drive. Crankers, as a role, seem far less artistic and picturesque than strokers. They expend enormous vigor and are not as poised at the finish as smooth strokers. However, crankers, or power players, can also be evaluated in several classifications.

For example, elite crankers are able to apply exceptional revolutions to a ball with seemingly normal effort, perfect timing, and good balance. These are players who can qualify both as crankers and power strokers.

This list is headed by Weber, one of the smoothest power strokers in bowling history. Weber’s high back-swing descends in a mild, unforced manner and continues throughout the follow-through in a long, extended fashion. His release, one of the most envied on the PBA tour, is executed with little effort. The power of the ball is generated by his fingers, which rotate from approximately 10 or 11 o’clock to a finishing position of three o’clock.

The most notable trait among power players is their unique approach to the desired target. Most power bowlers use five-step approaches, push the ball away to the left, and extend their non-bowling arm forward to open up their shoulders. Power bowlers like Amleto Monacelli not only extend their non-bowling hand in a forward direction, but they also turn their palms downward in a clockwise manner. This maneuver further opens up their shoulders and sets them in a position to release the ball with greater authority.

One of the principal features in power bowlers’ games is their unusual approach to the foul line. In a five-step approach, most power bowlers apply an exaggerated drift on the third step, then open up the shoulders and drive the ball toward the right side of the lane. This method of execution is referred to as “opening up” the lanes; that is, they swing the ball from the left side of the approach, send the ball anywhere from 15 to 25 boards to the right side of the lane, and hook it back into the pocket. Although this seems illogical and defies the theory that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, it has proved to be an invaluable weapon for players like D’Entremont, Kasimakis, Smith, Himmler, and Bob Learn Jr.

Modern bowling balls have had a great effect on the game. The built-in power of reactive resin balls, together with sophisticated cores that are designed to further enhance potency, has lessened the efforts of smooth strokers who rely on finesse and accuracy yet achieve additional revolutions on the ball. Conversely, if crankers are to succeed, they are compelled to tone down their missiles for greater control of their deliveries.

Modern explosive bowling balls have greatly enhanced scoring in both the amateur and professional ranks, particularly among female professionals. The coverstocks on current bowling balls are designed to create greater friction on the lanes, and–coupled with strategically positioned, sophisticated cores–the normal deflection of the ball on contact with the pins has been greatly reduced.

Reactive, proactive, and particle coverstocks have been a boon for players featuring straighter shots. Bowlers like Dave Traber, Roger Bowker, Ernie Schlegel, and Michael Haugen have raised their games to a higher level.

Carolyn Dorin-Ballard, one of the most accurate players in the game, has completely dominated the women’s tour. Dorin-Ballard has elevated her game to superstar status by blending precision-type deliveries with modern explosive bowling balls. The former West Texas State All-American can be likened to Walter Ray Williams Jr. Although Dorin-Ballard does not have an end-over-end roll like Williams’, she cannot be categorized as a pure stroker. She doesn’t fit the mold of a cranker, either. Her path to the pocket is more direct than that of her fellow pros, yet her carry percentage is considerably higher.

Conversely, Leanne Barrette and Michelle Feldman deliver wide, sweeping hooks. Although they are not as dependent on accuracy as Dorin-Ballard and Kim Adler, they, by virtue of high-revolving missiles, create greater area to the pocket. Barrette and Feldman are the PWBA counterparts of current PBA power players Smith and Himmler. Dorin-Ballard and Adler fit the mold of PBA sharpshooters Williams and Norm Duke, while smooth strokers Kim Terrell and Tish Johnson can be identified with PBA smoothies like Arnold and Aulby.

Throughout the history of the game, recorded statistics do not overwhelmingly favor either type of player. For example, some of the greatest players in the past–Don Carter, Earl Anthony, Dick Ritger, Hennessey, and Davis–were soft strokers. They all achieved ABC Hall of Fame status. On the other hand, Bill Lillard, Carmen Salvino, Junie McMahon, Connie Schwoegler, and Harry Smith all “tore the cover off the ball” and all have plaques placed beside the aforementioned Hall-of-Famers.

Over bowling’s long history, it’s hard to spot a trend among the elite that favors either the power or the finesse game. The debate likely will continue, whether on barstools or on the lanes. Crankers or strokers? You make the choice.

Strokes Rule the PBA … for Now, Anyway

ON THE CONTEMPORARY SCENE, statistics do not unanimously favor either crankers or strokers. For example, here were the top 10 2001-02 PBA points leaders–noted by playing style–at the midpoint of the season:

1. Parker Bohn III (stroker)

2. Walter Ray Williams Jr. (stroker)

3. Jason Couch (cranker)

4. Ryan Shafer (cranker)

5. Chris Barnes (stroker)

6. Tommy Delutz (stroker)

7. Patrick Healy (stroker)

8. Norm Duke (stroker)

9. Byron Smith (stroker)

10. Pete Weber (power stroker)

This list favors strokers over power players–in fact, a number of well-known power players didn’t even make the top 10, including Robert Smith, Brian Himmler, Amleto Monacelli, Dave D’Entremont, Steve Hoskins, Jason Hurd, and Jeff Lizzi.

But over the years, both crankers and strokers have made their marks in the professional ranks. So, which group holds the overall advantage in the bowling arena? That’s a tough one to answer.

It poses a particularly heated debate regarding players who are not specifically categorized as pure strokers or crankers. For example, how and where do the “tweeners” fit into the big picture? Tweeners, players like Dave Husted and Brian Voss, stroke the ball aggressively yet generate fewer revolutions. However, they execute deliveries with considerably less effort than power players and are far more accurate. But in doing so, they are unable to take advantage of the great area created by power players.

Right now, the strokers appear to have the edge in the PBA. But if history is an indication, things are bound to even out.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Century Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group