Morris Cramer never got the credit he deserved for helping to form the Professional Bowlers Association, but his passion for the game touched thousands.
Promoter, inventor, proprietor, equipment innovator and a member of both the New York State Bowling Association and Troy Bowling Association Halls of Fame, Cramer died Tuesday night at age 87.
The Cohoes native was not only one of the greatest bowlers of his era, including the likes of Joe Donato, Skip Vigars, John Walther and Joey Schmidt, but he was also a dynamic proprietor who opened numerous bowling centers in the Capital Region, including Olympic Lanes, formerly Tri-City Lanes; Cohoes Arena; Uncle Sam Lanes, formerly Troy Bowl; and The Bowlers Club. He also helped open Spare Time Clifton Park, formerly Clifton Park Bowl.
He was a prolific ball-driller, and was one of the first pro-shop owners to experiment with exotic drilling for his bowling balls.
“He was way ahead of his time,” said former PBA Tour member Kenny Hall, who runs a pro shop at Spare Time Latham and is the color commentator for the “Huck Finn Capital Region Bowling Show.”
“He loved to play with top weights, and he taught me a lot about how those weights affected the roll.”
The regional director for the Bowling Proprietors Association of America in 1958, Cramer proposed having a professional tournament in New York state, but he was turned down by that association’s board of directors. He resigned and started to put together what became the 1959 Empire State Open that drew a field of the best bowlers in the game, including Glen Allison, Don Carter, Ray Bluth, Harry Smith, Dick Weber, Vigars, Donato, Walther, Billy Welu, Dick Hoover and Buzz Fazio.
“He was so interesting to talk to,” said Frank Cornicelli, past president and current board member of the Schenectady Bowling Association Hall of Fame. “He
always thought Don Carter was the greatest bowler of all time, and when he got Carter to come to the Empire State Open, he brought Dick Weber and a bunch of others.”
With help from Schmidt and sportswriter Robert Chalmers, Cramer formed the tournament that later jump-started the PBA Tour.
Cramer was one of the original 20 members of the PBA Tour, and was also its first tournament director.
Although Eddie Elias is credited with founding the PBA Tour, he would have never gotten the idea without the success of Cramer’s New York State Open, which had a total purse of $10,694.
“I guess that’s the thing I’m most proud of,” he told The Daily Gazette in a 2006 In the Pocket column.
Cramer loved jackpot bowling, and often bowled individual matches against the game’s best players for thousands of dollars. He won the Newsday Long Island Open in 1956 and 1957, and moved to Chicago for a year to bowl in the Chicago Classic League against such stars as Carman Salvino.
As part of his promotional ideas for the sport, Cramer started a televised bowling show called “Capital Bowling” that averaged 1,500 entries per week.
“He was really amazing,” said Carol Judge, executive director of the Northeast Bowling Proprietors of New York, manager of Spare Time Latham and former proprietor of The Bowlers Club. “He wasn’t afraid to share his ideas. I think he actually began Rock-N-Bowl while at the Bowlers Club. He was really good at promoting the game. Everything I picked up about how to run tournaments I learned from him. He was just an unbelievable person. I’ve known him for such a long time. I was his baby sitter when I was just 15 years old.”
Judge’s brother, local standout and SBA Hall of Famer Hugo McGroty, also remembers getting plenty of help from Cramer.
“Morris sent me to a big junior tournament when I was only 15 years old, and he paid for it himself. My family couldn’t afford to send me,” McGroty said. “We ended up winning the tournament.
“He also taught me a lot about the game. He used to use the figure-eight backswing, which I used for a little while myself. Some of the things he taught me I still use today. He was so far ahead of everyone else at the time. He was a very special man.”
“He was a great innovator,” said Vigars, another SBA Hall of Famer whose own father bowled with and against Cramer.
“He helped start the PBA Tour, but never really got credit for it. He had so many unusual ideas,” said Vigars. “He had this one idea of pari-mutuel betting on your favorite bowlers, but he could never figure out how to implement it. He also had an idea about treating bowling centers like country clubs. Members would get reduced prices and other specials, and there would be tournaments every Sunday. It’s too bad that he didn’t have the money himself to put some of those ideas into action.”
“He had so many great ideas for bowling, and he would do anything for you.”