Lemon talks about teaming up with Ernie Schlegel in the early 1960s and their success bowling action together…
Mike Limongello Year Inducted: 1994 Category: Veterans/Senior A Touring Pro for more than a dozen years in the 1960’s and 70’s, Limongello established a reputation as one of the top clutch bowlers of all time. He was the 11th player named in the Veterans Category. Always quiet, but always effective, he never let high tech or varying lane conditions get in his way. If a ball felt good, he could and did win with it. If a lane condition could be hit, he’d find the way. Among his six titles are two gems, the PBA National Championship and the U.S. Open. Limongello was thrilled that his wife and two children were there to see him inducted. “My pro career was a different part of my life,” he said. My wife and children never really saw me bowl so it was great for them to see some old TV shows and hear about my earlier life as a bowler. It was a wonderful and rewarding time and I loved it. And to be recognized as a Hall of Famer just caps it all.”
I remember the night in the 1960s at Ave M Bowl in Brooklyn NY The house was full by 2 am, plenty of action, plenty of betters, in walks this thin, good looking kid, he was about 14 or 15 years old, actually he was 16, his backers challenge the house, (a house full of top notch action bowlers) He starts off bowling against either Mac or Stoop, I forget which one. To make a long story short, over the next couple of weeks he destroyed everyone that was thrown at him, including Freddie the Ox on the 4 lb logs, Turns out he was a lemon, one of the 5 best action bowlers of all time… Bernie B
I was part of the action scene at Ave M Bowl in Brooklyn in the sixties, there was a 3 year run that Ave M had big time action 7 nights a week, all the biggest name action bowlers came from all over the tri state area, the house had all it’s lanes going with action many a night until the wee hours of the morning. Saturday night was actually the slowest night when the really big action was at Central Lanes. One night his skinny kid that was called Lemon came in from Long Island with his backers, he looked like he was about 13 years old (actually he was 16) and not strong enough to throw a sixteen pound ball,hich he did. He went on to beating all the top bowlers that came to Ave M for the next 4 weeks straight, he was totally unreal… Butch
I was at Whitestone one night with Ernie and the same thing happened. We were in our early 20’s and he was about 16. He came in with his crew and challanged Ernie. I think they went back and forth and Mike came out one or two up. But, they got along very well and Ernie told him to come to Gun Post the next weekend so they could bowl doubles against Ralph Engan and Hank Borroughs.
The rest is history, they were unbeatable.
That was all before we started going up to Central, Gun Post got raided one Sunday morning around 5 am and the cops took away the kid holding the money and unscrewed the score table and took that for evidence. Didn’t bother the bowlers though. Very funny.
I’d love to chat with you, how do I contact you?… Harry Bar
Lemon was better than all mentioned.
Schlegel second best. How could you forget about the best, Richie Hornreich? Kitter was the best in the late seventies when all mentioned were on tour, except Lemon who did not bowl much then. kitter did crush Roth in a doubles match at rainbow in 1976.
Billy tops, you think lemon knows he is in the pba hall of fame? voted in by the VETs committee in 1994. What a character but class act on the lanes. Lemon would bet on anything.Still picture that skinny 130 pounder walking into Central Sat. night. those were the ACTION days, never since, never again.
The best action bowler ever from Long Island is without a doubt M.L. (Lemon) The best action bowler ever from Brooklyn is without a doubt R.H. (The Horn) Who was better, Lemon or Horn? Which was the greatest action house house of all time? My top list of action houses in no particular order was: Central Lanes Yonkers Bowl Whitestone Lanes Deer Park Bowl Ave M Bowl These houses were in a league of their own, any other house would have to go on the B list.
I disagree. Gun Post had as much or more action than Central but because it got raided all the action moved to Central. There were nights at Gun Post that you couldn’t get to the snack bar because it was too crowded. Action on just about every pair and all the big names. Jake Charter, Joel Meyers, Frankie Medici, Ernie, Mike Limengello, Fats and Deacon, RALPH, Howie Polefski, (my favorite) Jack Clemente, Iggy Russo, Chicago Bill, Billy The Kid, Doc Iandoli etc. etc. etc. If you remember Gun Post, here is a trivia question: What was the name of the manager? JK
The truth is there were so many great action bowleres in the 60’s that everyone has their favorites. It’s like picking great hitters between Joe DiMaggio And Ted Williams. Lemon and Horn were two guys I loved seeing. Daly was the biggest backer for sure.
sicke st, if you were in central in 67, schlegel never beat richie or lemon. Ernie was great as long as the shot was outside. Ernie could never play inside because he is blind in one eye. so many here really do not remember how great richie was. does anybody here remember how great charlie faino was from 1970-1975. he lived off of action and raised a family doing so. he was unbeatable during this era and rarely lost. when urethane lanes came into play in 1976, charlie’s full roller was not as effective and jeff kidder became the king. somebody asked who was better jeff or ernie. at their best kidder was, from 76 until his retirement in 81. he was the best in the country. ernie was never the best at any point in the sixties. of course the competition was much stronger in the sixties.
lemon never knew me. I always bet in the back. Same with hornreich. Became friendly with Richie at Fiesta. have not seen him in a few years, although I know you can find him at maple every afternoon. remember buffalo. saw him in florida over christmas. he got out of the slam last year or the year before after doing five years in Federal. He’s flipping burgers in a bowling alley. still would not trust him as far as i could throw him. and he weighs 300+
ralph was the smoothest bowler I have ever seen. He was the Fred Astaire of getting to the line. He never ever beat Hornreich. You guys do not remember or were not at central in 1967 to see just how great Richie. He beat jim godman the pba hof with about 18 titles including the toc in 1967.he kicked his ass in doubles bowling with ernie against lemon and godman. and destroyed him when godman came back again for singles. in both matches godman averaged close to 240 and could not win. richie had so much talent from 16-21 and threw it away gambling. he’s still good, but not even close to what he should have been.
the only time lemon made any money in action was when he bowled with ernie then his clique wanted to try and get it all,so lemon picked a partner and ernie bowled with a bowler name of pete mylenki and lemon and his clique never knew when to quit and all the money was then in the manhattan cliques pockets,that’s also what happened to ritchies money to,ernie was a hustler not a action bowler when he got on the lanes the other bowler lost. if you see lemon.ritchie you ask them who has whose money.ernie and his girl lived in a penthouse downtown n.y.on all their money and i put my self thru college.in one night ernie and pete beat ralph & doc 4 or 5 straight each game down to the 10th up a pin or 2 both teams struck out exciting and very profitable.lemon could never pick a partner ernie always could,he bowled him singles and it was to tough the only winner was going to be the house,to be a good hustler you have to know when to get out,ernie did and the rest of the bowlers didn’t.
great action bowlers, here are a few of the best and any time they bowled with or againest each other was like a great game in any sport you loved to watch. joe s,frank medici ralph engan(the most feared), jake charter, dewey blair, lemongello,ritchie hornriech,jack clemente,rich pizzutti, jeff kitter,john massaro,ernie schlegel,doc iandolli,jimmy mChugh, pete mylenki,mike derose,and many more that i’m probably other people can add to this great list. each one of these bowlers had alot of talentand when they bowled each other it was beautiful to watch no matter who one the clutch strikes the jibeing was worth the price of admission
SICKLE SHOULD CALL YOURSELF SICKLECELL BECAUSE YOU ARE SO FULL OF SHIT. ERNIE WAS NEVER IN LEMON’S CLASS. WHERE DO YOU GET OFF TALKING ALL THIS BULLSHIT. BOWL ME. I’D FOLLOW YOU AROUND THE COUNTRY. I’M STILL PRETTY GOOD, BOWLING ONCE A WEEK WITH A 205 AVERAGE. I’M TIRED OF ALL THE BS HERE. RICHIE AND LEMON WERE THE BEST. YOU JUST NEVER CAME TO CENTRAL ENOUGH. The only single matches he ever found up there in 67 were against richie. my god schlegel was voted into the pba because he’s been out there forever. lemon won 6 stops in about 9 years including the first bower with two majors in one year, 1971, us open and pba national in paramus. earl and the best ever wrw this year only bowlers to accomplish that. If lemon would have bowed ernie every day. max the shy would have been cleaning up from all of ernie’s borrowings. you oldtimers just forgot.and ernie bowled jeff at the hub before jeff became great(pre 1976). schlegel could never beat faino whom you idiots forgot about. Just ask berardi how good faino was. HE crushed berardi enud at fiesta.
LICHSTEIN SUCKED. His son is far better than he ever was. DOTTY FOTHERGILL was the best woman bowler and a lefty in the country in the late sixties. do remember the night lich walked into raceway in the fall of ’69 with dotty and like a fool decided to bowl doubles against lemon and bobby pancakes who was not that good but was on a tear for about six months. lemon won 5 or six straight. lich and dotty never returned. what a joke. also one night pancakes who was on a roll beating everybody in sight decided to bowl lemon. another joke. pancakes stepped up too much. lemon eight straight. I wish I had seen dewey bowl but I heard enuf about him, especially the night he crushed ralph and quit to go to school. Hornreich did tell me a few years ago how good dewey was as long as the shot was outside. dewey was deadly playing the track, but not that good once he had to play fifteen. and ernie did beat richie at central in the beginning because he was smarter. he would come at 3 am and challenge richie. he beat him because richie was there at 1am and already bowling and by the time the match got started the horn was tired. after a few times, the horn started showing up at 3am, rested and ernie never beat him again. I will admit that ernie was the best for my money because I never walked out a loser betting on him in the back. He had so many easy matches. As for ritchie, i could never get a bet in the back because everybody knew richie was the best. one night ernie beat mike chuchillo 7 out of 8 at central. to get chuchillo on the lanes, richie would have needed to spot him at least ten. you need to speak to schlegel one day and he will tell you that richie and lemon were much better. if you still believe schlegel was better then you forgot that whenever the horn and schlegel bowled doubles, richie was ALWAYS anchor. WHY? Because he never missed when it counted. enuf already.
You’re right,Pete didn’t belong on the same lanes with Lemon. But that didn’t stop him. I was Pete’s partner against Lemon and somone he brought from L.I. We beat them 4 or 5 games in row. Lemon covering all the action himself. Lemon shot 220every game while his partner shots 180. Pete and I at 210 each. The match was in Hackensack N.J. Pete not satisfied,so he wants to against Lemon alone. Pete takes Lemon to his home house in River Edge. Lemon takes every dollar we had.
Belfairbuck. Just wondering why did you bet on Mylenki? I guess you were taking a shot. why not quit after the first loss. Who was your partner in the doubles match? One other question. Who would you have bet on, on being the best in the tenth. Lemon, Hornreich or schlegel and why?
Thanx. Ralph was a great action bowler but I thought hornreich and lemon were better. If they were hooking too much, ralph had problems because he threw so much ball. He did with a ball what some bowlers cannot do today with resin. He was the smoothest bowler I ever saw, including all l the great pros. Ralph did win three stops. A real nice guy who passed away in the late 70s from cancer. I remember the night in central when he bowled Ray Shell and they tied at 300.
I went to Central just a few times, wish it had been a lot more. I saw Ralph, Ernie, Mike, Iggy, but not Dewey In those days I mainly stayed in at Ave M in Brooklyn, (horn, Lemon, Iggy, Mac & Stoop, Freddie the Ox, Ernie, Petraglia, Roth, and about every big name you can think of) and the rest of the Brooklyn action houses, there was a lot of them in that era. In the seventies I saw a lot of action at Raceway lanes on Saturday nites (horn, jeff, Berardi and many others) one of the best characters from the seventies was the Beeper
do not lie. you started being nasty jk. read back. foti is a right, owns the shop at roosevelt in jersey city and was real tough over 10 years ago before he put on a ton of weight. the beeper is still around and bowling. and wow, you never mentioned the horn at central. am i the only one that knew he and lemon were king there. and wow, i definitely knew you, because i was at raceway every weekend in the late 60s and maybe till 1970 when the action shifted to lyons in new jersey on friday nights.
I’m still surprised that you belittled Kidder. You are definitely entitled to your opinion but I hope you are not putting yourself in Kidder’s class. Many today consider him the best action bowler ever.That’s because they never saw the horn in his day. I have never heard your name ever mentioned. I may have seen you bowl but I can’t remember and I have been around this game 40 years. My ratings of the best amateurs and action bowlers I’ve seen: 1960s-the horn and lemon in a tie, with schlegel next and dewey blair(he could not play inside) 1970s- faino then kidder 1980s until he moved to florida in 87 or 88- hank behrom-kidder only bowled two years-hank rarely bowled bad and won alot of tournaments. he chewed up the horn at colonial, daly won 10g and then proceeded to get robbed in the parking lot for everything. Rudy was still learning to make spares. 1990-no doubt Rudy-the two best were he and neumann but neumann rarely bowled action. Today-scianna from the island and fagan when he is off the tour. scianna-this guy bets his own cash and i have seem him double the bet, lets say to $600 when he is stuck. He fears nobody. I’ve seen him come down games and always walk out a winner. he is one tough mf in the tenth. he clocked robert smith a few years ago. If you still plan to come back to the game and practice alot and want good action, scianna’s the man. guaranteed to travel to maple. My opinions again.
SC, you are right about Jake Charter. He threw a tank. Remember he was a regular at Gunpost along with Ralph and Hank Bouroughs. Sorry I don’t have a specific match in my memory bank. He could talk up a storm also. That stuff was almost as good as the actual matches. He always had a grin on his face. The gabbing among those guys and Ernie, Iggy, Lemon, Chicago Bill, etc. was priceless. Love reading your posts. You have the knowledge and respect for those great days.
Green acres closed before Scianna was bowling action. Lemon was the best ever from the island and in all houses. Mchugh was never better than him in any L.I. house. Kitter was great after Lemon was out of the game, otherwise Lemon would have kicked his ass also.
Lemon was the best action bowler by far from the island, way before your time. joe s I met last year and got to know fairly well bets it up. He hates to fly, therefore no Vegas. He will travel to your house and after he beats you he will spot you ten pins if he has to, to get a rematch. He will not bowl lefties no matter how bad they are. Best action bowler around since Rudy vanished. Two months ago he beat Neumann two straight and Neumann as usual was shooting.
Rudy lives in Mississippi now. For whatever reason, Scianna rarely bowls in tournaments.He bowled in the regional in Florida last weekend. Mack was probably bowling some easier competition in Singapore. Ya hoss, believe me these guys never saw Kitter bowl. Is Woodmere the place where the action is Saturday? Expensive weekend for Smith. He travels 3,000 miles to see his girlfriend and then gets waxed on the lanes. Action is just a whole new ballgame. Now Scianna is real good and the best around these days. I’m sure if he keeps bowling Smith, he will go down in the long run. And kitter feared nobody. He challenged Earl at GC one year. Earl said come to Seattle. Kitter and DALY went. For whatever reason(s), the match never took place. Remember, when Rudy was here, Joe was second best. And Rudy beat Pete Weber on three different occassions. Twice here and once in Texas. Kitter, Lemon and hornreich were better. You had to be there to believe. Rudy never bet alot. the three bet thousands.
The originator of fruit salad did lose to Richie on more than one occassion. How could you forget? You had maybe 6 tour wins in your career. Lemon had that in less than ten years including two majors in one year. You are smarter because you are still here. You were not a degenerate gambler like lemon and richie. And covering all bets please. $100 was a good bet for you in Central. Richie, Lemon and if you remember RC bet a grand many many many times. for my money you were great because I never went home a loser betting on you in Central. it was tough to get a bet on Richie or lemon because they were the best around and always the favorites. Remember when you and richie chopped up godman and lemon at central. Richie was the anchor.
Lemongello Surrenders On Kidnapping Charges
Published: January 23, 1982
Mark Lemongello, a 26-year-old former major league pitcher, surrendered at the Pinellas County sheriff’s office today and was booked on charges of kidnapping and armed robbery. He was released on $10,000 bond.
Lemongello and Manuel Seoane, also 26 and a former major league pitcher, are charged with abducting and robbing Lemongello’s two cousins of more than $50,000 a week ago. Seoane surrendered earlier in the week and is also free on $10,000 bond.
The two are accused of abducting Mike Lemongello, 37, a former professional bowler, and Peter Lemongello, 34, a former entertainer, from an expensive subdivision the brothers are building north of St. Petersburg.
Lemongello was with the Houston Astros from 1976 to ’78 and the Toronto Blue Jays in 1979. Seone pitched six innings for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1977 and eight innings for the Chicago Cubs in 1978.
Saturday afternoon and evening at Falcaro’s in Lawrence was the premier action house during the mid 70’s and early 80’s. Guys came from all over to challenge the house bowlers. The true house action bowlers at Falcaro’s were as follows and not necessarily in order of the best. Tommy “Triple” Yadanza Bruce “The Dipper” Pastor Gibby (“The matchmaker”) Pastor Sr. Gibby Pastor Jr.Barry Clare Phil Caporusso Jr. Al (“Ironman”) Pinola John The Pollack Joe Viverito Big Al Julio Curra John Dugan Maury BergerSteve Weiss Steve Gowa Paul Katz Ira Katz (“The Whale”) John Kurkemelis Steve Reiss Aaron Goldfedder Louis RothmanMichael (“The Sailor”) Sperber Dino Star Freddy (“The Silver Fox”) Mayo Freddy (“The Ox”) Arbolino Andrew Castardi Mike Kilgannon Mike Lemingello Ray Shell Anyone who remebers more …..please let me know..
Action Bowlers who came down to Falcaro’s during this era to bowl either house bowlers or other bowlers from the region were as follows: Jeff Kidder Bill Dailey Tavie Joe Cologna Cliffy Berglund Tony Devito Ricky Papandrea Gino Papandrea Louis Prisco Big Earl Bobby Simonelli Jr. Hank Behrbom Snake Les Shirwindt Jimmy McCue The Beeper Anyone who remebers more …..please let me know..
Memory Lane: An Interview with Mike Limongello, Pt. 1
Those who remember when the name of PBA Hall of Famer Mike Limongello routinely found its place high up on PBA tournament standings might wonder where he has been since retiring from the tour, but those who knew Mike Limongello will not be surprised to learn where he finds work today: at a poker table in Atlantic City. “If you put Mike and Richie in a room and gave them $10,000 each, they would only be in the room together for five seconds,” says Johnny Petraglia, who grew up bowling with Limongello and his fellow action bowling legend, Richie Hornreich, throughout the New York City area. “That is the way both of them were. Great bowlers, and loved to gamble.” As Petraglia and any number of other legends will tell you, though, Mike Limongello is as legendary a bowler as he is a gambler, a man who could stuff thirty pins in the pit in the tenth frame for any amount of money just as coolly as he could wager an Everest of hundred-dollar chips on a single roll of the dice. Included among the six PBA titles Limongello won during his Hall of Fame career are two majors – the U.S. Open and the PBA National Championship, both of which he won in the same year (1971). Now the man known affectionately as “Lemon” in action bowling lore is back to share his tales of the famed action bowling scene where his name became legend, as well as memories of some of the mammoths of the sport. In this two-part series, Limongello discusses the day he discovered the greatness of Dick Weber the hard way, the time he won the U.S. Open with a ball he borrowed from the great Harry Smith in the middle of the tournament, his matches for thousands of dollars a game against some of the greatest action bowlers who ever lived, and other great stories.
Tell me about Richie Hornreich, the man whom some consider the greatest action bowler that ever lived.
ML: I am still very good friends with Richie. I deal poker at Taj Mahal, and Richie comes here once a month or so. He was really great, we started really young. The first time I bowled him he was one of the best bowlers in Brooklyn and I was one of the best on Long Island. He was only 15 and I was 17, and at that young age we were the best around. So they hooked a match up with us at Leemark Lanes in Brooklyn. We had never met before, but I had heard of him and vise versa. So it was a Friday night and we must have bowled all night, we started at midnight and went to four or five in morning. The money that people were betting was unreal. Everyone in Brooklyn was betting on him and all the Long Island people were betting on me. We were bowling for $2,000 or $3,000 a game – a lot of money, especially for the early 1960s. Over the next year or two we would bang heads about once a month or so. There were three or four guys that were the toughest to bowl, and Richie was right there on top. I think he is in the top three best I ever bowled in a match. It always just came down to who didn’t get wrapped the most. We both banged the pocket all night, and we were both very good in the clutch. Richie was a great clutch bowler, neither of us would back down. For spectators it was a great thing to watch – two of the best around going after each other. After that we became good friends.
Richie loved the action but he loved other action too – the horses and all that. He didn’t love the tour, but I loved the tour because there was always action. We played golf for money, cards three or four nights a week. It was just like bowling action. There wasn’t a lot of money on tour – the guys on tour now, they are just devoted to bowling. There is no action, they don’t play cards. But back then, of the fifty or sixty who toured every stop there were thirty of us that were all action guys. The director used to write out sheets for us, Harry Golden would tell us where the action was. Harry would tell us what hotel rooms the card game would be and we would go right to the action. We’d play card games all night and bowl the next day without sleep.
Some people say that Richie, if he wanted to, could have become another Dick Weber. Do you agree?
ML: Richie could have been great, but he didn’t have the drive. He didn’t like the tour. He is a great guy, a really great, close friend of mine. But some guys have tremendous drive, he didn’t. He was just great under pressure, you know. We bowled tremendous matches. People would come from all around just to watch us bowl. They were just nail-biting, tough drag-out fights. Neither one of us would back down. There were some guys, I would put so much pressure on them every game that they would fold up. But not Richie. He was good.
I could have been better, too. I think I could have been if I would have devoted more time to practice. But I loved the action too. Sometimes after I bowled qualifying I would play cards all night until 4am instead of getting a good night’s sleep. Many tournaments I’d come back the next day and I wasn’t fresh and I didn’t bowl as good as I could have. I was so addicted to the action that bowling was secondary. When you were young you could do it. When you got older it was tougher.
Now Dick Ritger, there was a guy that was methodical. He never played cards, always went back to his room. Salvino hung around but wasn’t an action guy. Weber wasn’t. A lot of the top names weren’t. But some like Dave Soutar, Dave Davis, Don Johnson – they were all action guys. They would play cards but they were great too. Johnson had 26 titles and he would play cards all night. Some of us could do it, other guys couldn’t.
Obviously one of the great characters to come out of the action bowling scene was Iggy Russo. What can you tell me about Iggy?
ML: Iggy Russo, he was just one of a million. Unbelievable. He was kind of crazy, he was nuts. He wasn’t great, but he was good hustler. Well, he was better than people thought he was and first of all he pulled a lot of dump jobs, a lot of shady matches. He was a good hustler, he would bowl just good enough to win so everyone thought he was a 180 average bowler. He used to bowl a lot of guys that weren’t that good, 180, 175 average guys, and he would just bowl good enough to beat them. He would beat them a couple games and then dump a game back and let a guy win a game or two. He got away with murder, he screwed so many people. How he didn’t get shot I don’t know. He was like a legend dumper and people would still bet on him. He would bowl matches where you’d say ‘He can’t be dumping this match! It’s too easy, he can’t lose to this guy.’ He would be dumping and you’d never know it. One time at Gil Hodges Lanes he was dumping a match, and he gets up in the tenth frame and needs a mark to win lot of money. But he was betting against himself. So he is sitting in the settee area before he goes up to bowl. I wasn’t there, but good friends of mine were there, and some shady mob guy comes up to him and says ‘You better get a mark or you’re a dead man.’ I guess he didn’t know what to do, so he gets up in the tenth frame, drops the ball, and fakes a heart attack. He lays out on the approach grabbing his heart and he is acting like he can’t breathe and they called an ambulance and they took him away. He knew he would get beat up or killed, so that’s what he did. And that’s the type of guy he was. He wasn’t going to win the match and lose money.
Did you find yourself in a lot of dangerous situations back then?
ML: Oh we went to some bad places sometimes, but I never really worried about it because I wasn’t alone. You know we used to go to some places in Brooklyn that were a little shady. But if I travelled alone, yeah, it might have been scary. But we used to go with guys, friends of mine that were big – two guys that were body guards with me. Back then you know it never happened, you never thought about it. There weren’t robberies and all that. Now it could happen more. So many people could have gotten robbed so easily, but like in Central you could have walked out of there with tens of thousands of dollars and you never heard of any robberies. I don’t know what it was. Thank goodness the crooks never came to the bowling alley. These days you would be more scared of it happening.
Another guy you hear a lot of stories about is Kenny Barber.
ML: Kenny Barber! Oh, Kenny was the loudest nut in the world. He was funny, just a crazy guy. You talk about a hustler? He came in one night to bowl me in Sunset Lanes, I had never seen him before or heard about him. So we set up a match, he is going to bowl me. So we start bowling and he is in my home house now, right, and some people were in from Brooklyn or Queens. He was pretty good, threw a big hook, kind of a spinner. Good, tough action bowler. If I bowled him on ten different conditions I would beat him on eight out of ten of them – he threw too big a hook to beat me. Anyway we’re bowling and I beat him the first game and I am beating him the second game, and about halfway through the game all of a sudden he starts having trouble with his thumb hole, dropping the ball. But now he is hustling me and I don’t know it. He is slowing me down, every other ball he is complaining about the thumbhole, and before you know it he threw me out of whack. He beats me the second game and the third game. I think I beat him the fourth game, so we’re even. He beat me one or two games more than that, threw my timing out of whack. I was taking five, ten minutes between every ball. After that I said ‘That’s it, no more.’ And we never bowled each other after that.
He was just a wild nut. After meeting him and hearing stories about him, at first I didn’t like him at all. The first time I met him I didn’t like the way he acted, but then I said you know, the guy really is a nice guy, but he was crazy. He just wasn’t sane. He just did wild things. I don’t know what he was involved in and I didn’t want to know. He wasn’t the kind of guy I wanted to hang around with, he could have been dangerous.
You used to bowl as Ernie Schlegel’s doubles partner in your action days, right?
ML: Yes, Ernie was one of the best. They set up a match with me and him at Whitestone Lanes and we bowled all night long. After the match was over and the smoke cleared we were even, and he says ‘We’re gonna make a lot of money!’ I said ‘What do you mean?’ I was unknown at the time, it had just started to get out that I was pretty good. So he said ‘Listen, we’re not ever going to bowl each other again. I am going to take you around. I have some places to take you where they don’t know you and we’ll bowl doubles.” I said ‘OK.’ So we used to go up to Raceway. Well he took me in there and he says ‘Look, I will set up a match.’ No one knew me at all in that area, and he set up matches against guys that were really easy matches to start out with, every weekend, every Friday and Saturday night for 6 months we never lost. I am out there trying hard and Ernie is doing nothing, shooting 180, 190 and I am going ‘What’s wrong with this guy? I am shooting 220, 230 every game and we’re going back and forth and more and more people started betting on the other guy, the hometown guy. Now the money is getting big. More and more people are betting, the matches are getting up to $500 a game, $1,000 a game. Now all of a sudden Ernie starts shooting 250s. I still didn’t know what was going on. He pulls out another ball and shoots lights out. In those days, it was so different from now. Then guys bowled ’til they were broke. You didn’t bowl a few games and quit. In those days guys would bowl until they had no more money in the house. But you started out slow, not the top bowlers right off the bat, and you just kept winning, kept beating guys week after week. Then the matches got harder and harder, but we still won every week. It got to the point when there was nobody left to bowl but there were always places to go. We used to travel to Connecticut.
Ernie was famous back then for his antics on the lanes. What was Ernie like back then?
ML: When Ernie was bowling against me, he would try to trash talk, and I said ‘Ernie, that might have worked on some of the other guys you bowled. But if you want to beat me you’re just going to have to beat me. You’re not going to rattle me or shake me up, no matter what. It’s not going to shake me.’ He laughed and said ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ But he would rub it into guys when we used to bowl other teams. He was really bad, he would really rub it in trash-mouthing people. If he got a strike in the tenth, he would get a light hit and he would yell ‘Fruit salad!’ He would get the whole crowd going. He was a wild man, a showman. I was real quiet.
Schlegel sings the praises of an action bowler by the name of Dewey Blair. Did you ever have any matches against him?
ML: That’s an amazing story. When I used to bowl action in Central I always heard about this guy Dewey Blair. He was the best anybody had ever seen, but I had never seen him and he never went on tour. Finally one night up in Yonkers they set up a match with me and him, and everybody is betting on him. So the first game, he beat me 269-268. The next game we both start out with first six, and I get up in 7th frame and I get the first 7. Now he throws a strike and he has the first 7 too. But on that 7th strike he rips his thumb, a big chunk of skin comes off, and he couldn’t finish game so he had to forfeit. It was like the weirdest thing in world. This was going to be an unbelievable match, and now he rips his thumb and couldn’t finish. And that was it, I never bowled him again. I was so upset because this guy is the best I have ever seen. He didn’t throw much of a ball. He threw a straight ball, but he was deadly accurate. He never came around again. He was like a ghost – a legend, but a ghost.
Memory Lane: An Interview with Mike Limongello, Pt. 2
Yesterday PBA Hall of Famer Mike Limongello reminisced about his days as a young, legendary action bowler from long Island. Today, we conclude our interview as Limongello remembers more of his legendary matches against action bowling greats. While Limongello may be best known for his now-mythical, all-night action matches against the likes of Richie Hornreich or Ralph Engan for thousands of dollars a game, though, he also proved that he could contend with the greatest names in the sport during his days on the PBA Tour, winning two majors in one year when he took the U.S. Open and PBA National Championship titles in 1971. Here, Limongello also recalls the day that Dick Weber kept him off what would have been his first telecast, the time he borrowed Harry Smith’s bowling ball in the middle of the 1971 U.S. Open and won the tournament with it, and memorable matches against legends like Carmen Salvino and Ray Bluth.
A lot of the guys who were a part of the action scene back in the day say they were the best days of their lives. What made those days so great for you?
ML: To me I was just so much in love with the action. I loved bowling, I started when I was 14. I wanted to be a baseball player and when I used to play baseball the manager of the baseball team took us out bowling after the game. I fell in love with it right away and wanted to be a bowler. I just knew I had the talent, and once I started bowling for money and action I didn’t want to go to school anymore. One of my home houses was Sunset Lanes. We’d bowl pot games for two or three bucks a man. I got out of school, the school year was over and summer was starting. I was about a 175 average and I bowled the whole summer. I must have bowled 150 games a week. I went from 175 to just about a 200 in three months. I just got so good in three months from bowling every day, I don’t know how I did it. But it just was natural to me I just loved the action. The friends we had, such a great time. Everybody liked the action, everyone had this group of guys traveling with them. They used to bet on me.
The action was a lifestyle. So many guys were into it. It was just a fun, fun lifestyle. In other words it was an addictive thing. You just loved the action, the money was there all the time. You could be broke but you always had a shot to make money and it was fun, exciting and fun. I wouldn’t have changed those days for anything. It was a really unique time to be bowling back then, from 1960-61 to ’65 when I went on tour the action was really big, 7 days a week and it was in a different house every night. One night it was in Brooklyn, the other night was in Queens, then Jersey another night. Yonkers was big on the weekends. At Central Lanes up there they had about 50 lanes, you could go there after leagues were over on Friday night, say ten or so, and go nonstop through Sunday afternoon. I would go there Friday around 11pm and you literally by one or two in the morning just about every lane was going, there was a different match on every lane. It was just before I went on tour, we just traveled the action circuit every night. It was a group of guys that I lived with on Long Island and it was maybe seven or eight of us. We were all bowlers, and we would just go every night wherever the action was and just bowl whoever was there.
At any time we could lose whatever we had in our pocket. I could have two grand and blow it easy, or I could have $50 and go into the house and just beat everybody in the house and turn $50 into $5,000. I did it so many times with a small amount of money. I won a lot of money bowling and the only way I lost money was in doubles when I couldn’t get matches anymore. I would have to bowl with a 170 or 180 bowler against two 200 bowlers and you just lose matches like that.It was a different world. It started in the 1960s, ’61 and ’62 and went to maybe the late 70s, about 15 years. But from ’61 to ’70 it was just all over the place, and then it just died out. There was no action anywhere anymore. It was really a life not a lot of people would know about and what’s funny is kids nowadays come up to me where I work, some kids come into Taj Mahal-this actually happened. Some young kids came in from Long Island, a lot of people where I deal know me and that I used to bowl. I’ll be dealing, and somebody might be saying something like ‘Hey, this dealer, he used to bowl on tour.’ ‘So this young kid from Long Island sitting at the table, the kid was about 25, and he says ‘You’re the Lemon!’ and I go ‘Yeah.’ And he says ‘Oh my God! You’re a legend!’ and I am like ‘How do you know about me? You’re 25.’ He says ‘You’re a legend in Long Island, everybody knows about you.’ I was shocked. I know a lot of people know about me, but here is a young kid and he is a bowler and he bowls in league, wants to be a pro maybe, he says ‘Yeah the guys always talk about
the old action days. Look under actionbowlers.com.’
A lot of people call Ralph Engan the king of the action. What was your estimation of Ralph Engan?
ML: Ralph Engan was a tough guy to bowl. We had some great matches, me and him. He would beat me, then I would beat him, we would go back and forth. But one night in Central Lanes it was really late, like six or seven in the morning, and most of the action is done. I had been bowling a couple of matches earlier and Ralph was there betting on other matches. Well it came down to nothing going on and they said ‘OK, Ralph, bowl Mike.’ The house was betting against me and I am bowling Ralph heads-up for three or four grand a game because everyone in the house was betting on him. I beat him like four in a row, and that was the end of the match. But he beat me a few times too. I didn’t really want to bowl him, it was a tough match.
What was it like to make that transition from action bowling to the pro tour?
ML: The action and the tour were very different things. My goal was to be a pro bowler, I didn’t want to be a hustler for rest of my life even though I loved it. I wanted to be on tour. When I went on tour the reason I started out so good right away was that when I got up against the best guys on tour I wasn’t afraid of them. I was in awe of them, I had seen them on TV, OK, but in my mind I said ‘If I bowl as good as I can bowl I can beat them.’ That is how I felt in my heart. So bowling in the finals against Dick Weber or Salvino or Harry Smith I wasn’t afraid of them. Of course they beat me sometimes. I am not trying to brag, these are my honest feelings. The first finals I made was in Florida. It was the fifth or sixth tournament I bowled in and the first game I bowled Salvino, he shot 250 and I beat him. The next game I bowled Harry Smith. He shot 240-something and I beat him. The next game I bowled Ray Bluth. He started with the first 9 and I beat him. I started out strike, spare and struck all the way out. He had the first 9 and left the 2-4-5 and shot 277. I struck out and shot 280, and I am floating on cloud nine. I just bowled three of the best bowlers I have ever seen on TV and beat them. And I settled down after that. It was a 16-man finals. I was hanging in there in 5th, 6th or 7th place-somewhere in that area. They only took the top four to make TV. So now it comes to the final game and I am bowling Dick Weber. So it’s whoever wins the game makes TV, whoever loses is the alternate. That was the first time that I was nervous and had to win a game to bowl on TV, and I am bowling Dick Weber and he is in his prime. It was a close match all the way. Then it came down to the tenth frame and it was really close, and I got up first and I had to double to win and I get up in the tenth and left a four pin. He had to strike to beat me and he just struck out in the tenth and he beat me 218 to 210.
How do you deal with that, coming so close to the show and missing it by just 8 pins?
ML: You know, I didn’t even care. I wasn’t even disappointed to not make the show. I just thought ‘Wow, I just bowled Dick Weber!’ I didn’t choke, I bowled good. But I was nervous. That was one of the happiest times on tour for me, knowing that I was good enough. I said ‘OK, I made it. I bowled all these good guys, beat some really good ones, and one of the great ones beat me. Dick had to strike out in the tenth to beat me.’ But Dick was great. He just got up and threw three strikes like nothing. It wasn’t like I was rooting against him. I was like in a different world, it was so great to me that I was able to watch somebody that great. That was a turning point in my career. Five or six weeks after that, I won. At that moment, I knew I was good enough.
What other memories of Dick Weber do you have?
ML: Dick was a great guy. A lot of times I would have talks with him and I would say ‘God, how do you do it?’ He was about thirteen years older than me. And a lot of times I’d say ‘How do you stay so good? How do you keep going?’ To me at that time he was older, he might have been 33 or 34. I said ‘What gives you that drive? You’ve done everything.’ At that time he had won so much. He just said he loved it, loved the game, the action, the competition. You know, when you bowled him you could see the fire in his eyes. He wasn’t giving an inch. He was totally focused. He was just mean on the lanes, he was like a tiger on the lanes, just mean. Off the lanes he was a great guy. Like Marshal Holman or Pete Weber. On the lanes he is a lion.
Your Hall of Fame entry on the PBA’s website describes you as “one of the top clutch bowlers of all time.” How did you control your nerves under pressure?
ML: I guess I just did it so much. There were times I bowled with nothing in my pocket and I HAD to win the game, I didn’t have enough to cover the bet. I think I just did it so much and so often it just became second nature to me. The biggest thing was I loved it so much it didn’t really affect me. In other words I actually loved the pressure, I would wish when it came to the tenth frame-let’s say the match was even-I would actually root for the guy I was up against to throw a double so I would have to double to beat him, because I wanted to see how good I could be in the clutch. I didn’t want him to screw up. Money wasn’t important at the time, I wanted to beat him under pressure. I wanted him to get a double to show I could get up there and beat him. I used to do that all the time. I knew I was going to do it. I knew I could do it. The thing I would concentrate on was the basic principles. If you get nervous and do not think about what you’re supposed to do you’ll forget your basic fundamentals and you might choke. But if you have a set way of bowling that keeps you in time-you know, keeps your timing right to make a good shot-concentrate on that and not on ‘Oh, God I have to get a double to win!’ That’s what I concentrated on, I got my focus down so good that my concentration was so good and the pressure never came into my mind.
There are stories online about you not even using your own equipment on tour. Is this true?
ML: A lot of times I would borrow someone else’s ball. I always believed before this new equipment that if I was having trouble with the lanes there was another ball that would react better than my ball. So if I was struggling, most of the time when we went to an alley on tour I would have one or two balls at the most, the black rubber and a plastic ball-that was it. Now guys carry fifteen to twenty balls, there are so many different things to choose from. If I was bowling I would bring one ball with me, maybe borrow someone else’s. I would walk around and ask when I bowled the U.S. Open, after the first qualifying round I was in 150th place. At that time we bowled four 8-game blocks. I said ‘I am dead.’ I go into the paddock, talking to Harry Smith who had four bowling balls. I am putting my hand in his stuff-his hand was almost identical to mine, same span, grip, everything-and I say ‘Harry can I try one of your balls in the next block?’ So I get this ball, and whatever kind of balance he had in it, top weight, whatever-in those days all you could do was play around with different weights-the ball just reacted perfectly and I averaged 220, 230. I kept moving up the line and went on to win the tournament. There I am using Harry Smith’s ball, and it went all over the paddock, ‘Lemon’s using someone else’s ball!’ I used to do that a lot because I always knew in my mind that there is always a ball for every condition.
Why did you leave the tour?
ML: I hurt my back in my late 20s and had to lay off a whole year, doing rehab, weights, training, stuff like that, and it just never helped. I had to have an operation, and then it just kept giving me problems. In my later days on tour when the lanes got tougher for me, you know, it wasn’t as easy. Then when I got married everything changed. It was more pressure for me and harder to handle it because I was not just bowling for me anymore, and I was having trouble performing. And even if I did, my fundamentals weren’t working. In other words, that’s when pressure can get to you-if you can’t perform anymore. In my prime, it never got to me. So when I was not able to hit the lanes the way they were doing them I lost interest, the fun was gone. I won 2 majors in 1971 in my prime. I won the U.S. Open and the PBA Nationals, and I got married that same year, and then the year after that was when I hurt my back. I started losing interest and I quit the tour after the winter tour in ’75. I moved to Vegas, met my future wife, and I lived in Vegas from ’75-’78. Then when we decided to get married we moved back to New Jersey. I had odd jobs here and there, bartending and different stuff, and in the ’90s I got into dealing poker. I have been in Atlantic City ever since. I still love the action. I work part time, I am on social security now. I deal three days a week and play poker three times a week. I only live ten miles outside the city, so at least I am still in the action.
Mike Limongello Had Ice Water In His Veins
Lemon’s house was not Falcaro’s. Of all those mentioned, he was the best with Kidder in second place and Mchugh third.
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