One of the most accurate bowlers in Capital Region history lost his toughest battle late Tuesday night.
The legendary Dick Peckham, a Schenectady Bowling Association Hall of Fame member who spent time on the PBA Tour, died at Ellis Hospital of complications from leukemia.
He was a month short of his 72nd birthday, but was still bowling competitively in scratch leagues until he became ill last February.
When he got sick last winter, Peckham was still averaging better than 230 in his two scratch leagues at Rolling Greens Lanes, where he’s been the manager for the last 14 years. Peckham was also the longtime companion of Rolling Greens proprietor Fran Lawyer.
“I’ve been with Dick for almost 40 years now,” said Lawyer Wednesday. “He spoiled me. I miss him already. He was one strong man, and there is no doubt in my mind that he was one of the greatest bowlers this area has ever seen.”
Lawyer said that Peckham tossed a four-game series of better than 1,100 in his last official match.
Unlike many bowlers of the modern era, Peckham relied on his accuracy to score. He rarely changed bowling balls, and used an old urethane Axe for more than 20 years.
“I remember drilling up his first Axe, and we later tried to drill up another one the same way,” recalled Kenny Hall, a former PBA Tour member who is a local pro shop operator and the color commentator for the “Huck Finn Capital Region Bowling Show.”
“I bowled with Dick on the first traveling team I was ever on in the mid-1970s. Dick was one of the most positive people I ever met. He always found the good in something,” said Hall.
“If he had a bad day, he forgot about it very quickly. He learned something from all of his experiences. He was a joy to be around, and he was a very tough guy. His attitude was infectious. He didn’t care who he bowled. And the funny thing is that to this day, his game never changed. When I was 18 years old and first started to bowl with him, he looked the same and bowled the same as he did just a few years ago.”
Jeff Segel, the tournament director for the “Capital Region Bowling Show” and one of Peckham’s peers for more than 30 years, agreed that few local players could match Peckham’s form and delivery.
“He was unquestionably one of the all-time great bowlers in our area,” said Segel. “He was just so consistent. A couple of years ago, he was still averaging 230. That says it all.
“He came up in the game the same time I did, and he could hit the pocket every time. He always seemed to leave one-pin spares if he left anything at all. He ranks right up there with all the great bowlers from this area.”
Local bowling standout Sonny Dorstek, 67, who manages Green Island Lanes, went head-to-head with Peckham many times.
“He threw a full-roller, and he didn’t hook it much,” Dorstek said. “He was really accurate, and he didn’t miss the pocket much. That’s when the lanes were pretty tough. He was exceptionally accurate, and he didn’t miss many spares. He was able to throw the ball in the pocket when you only had a board or two to hit. The thing I remember most about him was that he once made the 8-10 split on television, so they called him the WGY bowler.”
Peckham was a good friend and student of the late Joe Donato, and Tom Donato remembers traveling with Peckham and his father to several PBA Tour stops.
“Dick was a very accurate bowler,” said Donato. “He was always around the second arrow. He was a terrific bowler overall and a great league bowler.
“I roomed with Dick when we bowled in a pro tour stop at Madison Square Garden, and he traveled with my dad. He was tough to beat in the leagues, because he never missed a spare. He was the kind of guy who made the best of what he had. He was a hard-working guy.”
Cliff Ruth, longtime secretary of the Schenectady League at Rolling Greens and a longtime friend of Peckham, got the bad news early Wednesday.
“He could bowl on any condition,” said Ruth. “Talk about a gentleman and a sportsman. He was just like Joe Donato in that there was nothing he wouldn’t do for you. I’ve known him for more than 40 years, and it’s a big loss for the bowling community. He ran everything at Rolling Greens, and he was also a well-rounded and well-liked individual.”
Two-time SBA president and Hall of Fame member Frank Cornicelli said Peckham was right at the top of the list when talking about Schenectady’s bowling legends.
“To me, he was one of the all-time greats in our association, right up there with Joe Donato,” Cornicelli said.
“When Jack Scaccia was still alive, he used to bet on Peckham, and he made a bundle on him. Finally, he couldn’t get a bet down, and when he asked the other bowlers why, they said it was because Peckham was never out of the pocket and only left 10-pins. That’s one of the things I remember most about him. He had so many 299 games until he finally got his first 300 game when they went from long oil to short oil.
How accurate was Peckham?
“He used to put a dime out on the lanes to practice hitting his mark,” Cornicelli said. “Anyone who bowled with him will always say he was so darned accurate. Plus, he used that same style all the time, right up until the end.”
Peckham was a regular on both the old “TV Tournament Time” and Morris Cramer’s “Capital Region Bowling Show.” On the PBA Tour, he cashed in seven of the 16 tournaments in which he competed, and finished 11th in the $50,000 Bellows-Valvair Open at Clover Lanes in Rochester in 1969.
In the 2002-03 season, Peckham averaged at least 240 in three different leagues, including a 244 in the Thursday Night Classic.
He once owned the SBA’s highest triple with an 868, and finished his career with 40 perfect games and 36 800 triples.