by Fred Eisenhammer
WINNETKA – “Black Beauty” is showing its age and it’s not a pretty sight.
After more than 55 years of devoted service, Jerry Simmons’ prehistoric Brunswick bowling ball has fallen on hard times.
Through the years, the ball has sustained its share of nicks and bruises. But now . . . “A big chunk came out of it and I don’t know when it happened,” reported Simmons, one of the leading bowlers in Tuesday’s “Comedians” league at Winnetka Bowl.
“For right now, I’m still bowling OK, so I’m not concerned about it.”
Simmons, who averages a solid 173, says Ray Plasse – the anchor on his Jerryatrics team – has been “pushing me to get a new ball. And I might check it out this summer, but for right now, the ball still works for me.”
Five years ago, Simmons recognized that his ball faced an uncertain future. “I fully expect one day to throw the ball down there and it will split in half,” he said then. Still, Simmons’ rubber ball has lasted and lasted and lasted. “I’m just so comfortable with this ball with the weight and the finger spacing. I have a fear that if I got a new ball, they wouldn’t be able to drill holes the same way and it would change my grip and the ball wouldn’t work the way I wanted it,” said the right-handed Simmons, who hooks the ball gently and efficiently.
Here’s a history of Simmons’ bowling ball: Simmons started using the ball as a Chicago teenager while sharing it with his younger brother, Al. Little did Simmons realize that the ball was riding in the trunk of his convertible Dodge Dart when he drove cross-country to California to attend San Fernando Valley State College (now Cal State Northridge). When he arrived in California, (“the Promised Land,” says Simmons), he realized “Black Beauty” was in his possession. And it would stay in Simmons’ possession after his brother told him to hang on to it for as long as he had it with him. The rest is history.
“I’ve used the ball all my life,” Simmons said. “It just worked for me. I used to average 150, then 160, then 170. Each year I seem to learn to pick it [average] up . . . Each year I thought it was the highest it would be and then it would go up. “A lot of people come in with four balls and hammer and nails . . .and I just have my ‘Black Beauty’ ball and use it all the time.”
Simmons, a Santa Clarita Valley resident, uses a semi-fingertip grip with his index and middle fingers slightly inside the ball. He has bowled a certified 269 and has recorded a 700+ series.
Interestingly, Simmons’ brother got his bowling ball second hand and Jerry now treasures all the nicks and scratches on the ball. Simmons said he has done nothing special through the years to keep the ball going. “I don’t wash it. I don’t get it de-oiled,” he said. “I don’t put it in a machine that polishes it. I don’t wipe it down and don’t even use a cloth. It is what it is. I don’t do anything to maintain it.”
This isn’t the first time Simmons has kept around one of his favorite things for a long time. He preserved well his Nissan 280z, a snazzy sports car that he purchased new in 1981. “I had it about 20 years and put in almost 500,000 miles,” Simmons said. “I have a tendency to hold things a long time that I like.” How would Simmons feel if one day he’s forced to replace his rubber ball? “I would miss it,” he said. “No doubt about it. It’s like part of my family.”