“Barry Asher (born July 14, 1946) is a former bowler.”
That is what it says under his name on his Wikipedia page.
It is estimated that more than 95 million people in 90 countries are bowlers. So that brief description of Barry Asher doesn’t exactly narrow it down.
Asher, a member of the Professional Bowling Association Hall of Fame, the American Bowling Congress Hall of Fame, and a bunch of other halls of fame — “It helps to be Jewish,” he said — was in Henderson the other day for Camp Bakes at Strike Zone at Sunset Station.
Camp Bakes, which lasts four days, is headed by Mark Baker, another former bowler. Baker won four PBA titles. His camp costs $1,150 but you get three new bowling balls, and you learn how to bowl from guys such as him and Barry Asher and Chris Barnes and Dave Husted, and from gals such as Linda Barnes and Robin Romeo.
It must be a pretty good deal because Asher told me they hold Camp Bakes twice a year at Sunset Station, and this was like the 18th one. People come from all over — not just Milwaukee and Toledo — to learn how to become better bowlers. Some wear matching shirts.
“If we don’t do this, the sport is dead,” Asher said when asked what brings him here, and so it can be assumed that he is not entirely optimistic about where bowling is headed since ABC stopped showing it on TV.
My old man was a pretty good bowler. On Saturday afternoons he’d insist my brother and I watch bowling on TV even when there was a ballgame on. So though I had never met Barry Asher until Thursday, his name was familiar.
We chatted for nearly an hour after Camp Bakes, when I learned he was far more interesting than his brief Wikipedia biography suggests.
For instance, he was on the ABC “Superstars.”
Remember “Superstars” — Bob Seagren and Kyle Rote Jr., the obstacle course, Howard Cosell and Keith Jackson breathlessly describing the action? Remember when Smokin’ Joe Frazier entered the swimming competition and nearly drowned?
Barry Asher competed on “Superstars” in 1977. He finished 10th in the preliminaries but at least he beat Rawly Eastwick, the relief pitcher. He even won the baseball hitting segment — “I got a batting lesson from Al Kaline and then nobody entered,” he said.
He didn’t do as well in swimming, but at least they did not have to send the lifeguards for him.
Asher met Ken Griffey Sr. during the filming of “Superstars” and they became friends. When Ken Griffey Jr. got married, Barry Asher was among the invited guests.
For some reason, I remember somebody — probably Chris Schenkel and Nelson Burton Jr. on TV — saying that Asher was a flashy dresser who wore long fur coats when it was cold in Milwaukee and Toledo and the other stops on tour. This was true, Asher said.
He pulled out his cellphone to show a picture of him bowling with wild pants imprinted with bowling pins. Apparently, this is where Guppy Troup got the idea.
Asher’s father was a Hollywood prop man who was working on the “Lassie” show when he died.
Barry Asher would get a little taste of Hollywood himself when he was hired to be the bowling consultant for “The Big Lebowski.”
“They called me up and said, ‘Can you give some lessons to Steve Buscemi, to (John) Goodman, and to Jeff Bridges?’ I said, ‘Sure, whaddya’ wanna pay me?’ and they said, ‘$400 a day,’ ” Asher said.
“I said, ‘I’ll meet you down there.’ ”
The bowling scenes were shot at Hollywood Star Lanes, which no longer exists. The movie, which received only middling attention at the box office and from critics, has become a cult classic.
Now people have these Big Lebowski fests, and last year they had one in Beverly Hills and at Fountain Bowl in Fountain Valley, Calif., where Asher runs the pro shop.
The kids who dressed up as the movie characters didn’t know that in 1976 Barry Asher became just the 15th bowler to win 10 PBA titles, and that he averaged 247 in winning the South Bend Open in 1971, a record that stood for 10 years. Or that he twice finished second in the Firestone Tournament of Champions, the pro bowling Super Bowl.
But when they learned that in 1998 he was the bowling consultant for “The Big Lebowski” they asked for his autograph.
“I’m one step removed from The Dude,” Asher said.
He showed Donny Kerabatsos and Walter Sobchak and The Dude himself how to bowl, and when a strike was called for, he threw one, on the first take.
“I threw every ball in the movie,” Asher said.
So when it came time to shoot the final scene, the Coen brothers thought Asher should be in it. Sam Elliott finishes telling the story, and then the camera moves away to show a solitary bowler with perfect form throwing the last ball of the movie.
Pins splatter. Credits roll.
The bowling dude Barry Asher still abides.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.