Monday, October 26, 2015

Sheffield Lake’s Sully Bates, Bowling Icon

Sully Bates Circa 1937
(Courtesy Dr. Jake’s Bowling History Blog)
For all you bowlers out there, this might be of interest.

Did you know that Sully Bates, the man who achieved national fame in the world of bowling by inventing two popular bowling grips, lived in Sheffield Lake? Read all about it in his obituary, which appeared in the Lorain Journal on October 23, 1963.

Sheffield Lake Resident Dies at 73
Sully Bates, Inventor of Two Bowling Ball Grips, Succumbs

One of the most prominent men in Lorain County’s bowling fraternity, Sully Bates, died this morning.

Death came at 5:30 a. m. in St. Joseph Hospital where Mr. Bates was admitted Monday. He was 73.

His lone survivor is his widow, Margaret, one of the area’s leaders among women bowlers.

The grip-conscious bowlers of the nation can thank Mr. Bates for one of the sport’s greatest contributions.

The Bates grip, invented by Sully Bates, did away with blistered thumbs, the bane of all keglers.

Prior to his invention, bowlers used the two-fingered grip or a three-finger grasp which placed an unnecessary burden of weight on the thumb.

It was in 1927 that Bates, a mechanical engineer who helped build the first Buick straight-eight in 1910 at Flint, Mich., decided something would have to be done about his blistered thumb which was turning a popular sport into a painful one.

Five years later after much trial and effort, Bates came up with his grip which was first offered to the Brunswick-Balke-Collander Co., which promptly turned him down.

Bates Grip Bowling Guide
(Courtesy Ebay)
A friend of Bates then wrote the Stowe-Woodward Co., Boston about Bates’ grip. Nothing less than the company president (a non-bowler) hustled to Cleveland where Bates demonstrated his innovation. Impressed, the concern purchased the rights to the grip for which Bates was paid a royalty on each ball.

Bates’ invention, like so many, is basically simple. He moved the thumb hole over and changed the pitch which alleviated the thumb strain.

Before he made the change, his thumb grip measured one and 1/16th inch. Having lost the callous caused by the old grip, his thumb measurement was changed to 13-16th of an inch.

Ad from the March 11, 1941
Sarasota Herald-Tribune advertising
an appearance by Sully Bates
Put on the road to sell the Ebonite ball with his grip, Bates found it took a little time before the public would take to his grip. He stayed on the road 10 years, once for as long as 10 months, before he retired to his Sheffield Lake home.

While his first invention developed into a big seller, he worked to develop another grip in 1950. Called the “Flat Grip,” Bates termed it an improvement because it: makes the ball easier to hold; permits more uniform release; permits better lift to the ball; gives better control and a better score.

Proof that the new grip must have something was offered by the Bates Grip team which was captained by his wife.

Turning to the new grip, the women captured the Rebman, Andorka and City Ladies titles for two straight years.

Mr. Bates, long active in bowling circles here possessed an average in the 170s and 180s. He rolled with the Bates Grip team in the Andorka Classic league and with the Crystal Clear Cleaners team of Al Alvarez in the Saxton Club Class B loop.

770 Sheffield Road
(Courtesy Lorain County Auditor)
In May, 1960, Bates was given a special salute by the Lorain Bowling Association. He was spotlighted at the keglers’ annual banquet and lauded for his “special efforts to promote the sport in many phases.”

Mr. Bates resided at 770 Sheffield Rd., Sheffield Lake for the past 22 years. He was born in Olean, N. Y. and worked as a machinist at the Columbia Axle Co., Cleveland prior to his retirement in 1951.

The body is at Reidy-Scanlan Funeral Home. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

1938 Ad promoting the Bates Grip ball
(Courtesy Dr. Jake’s Bowling History Blog)
If you’re interested in learning more about famous bowlers, old bowling alleys, bowling advertising and stories about bowling, visit Dr. Jake’s Bowling History Blog.

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