PBA Charter Member, Hall of Famer Harry "Tiger" Smith Dies at 91
Harry “Tiger” Smith was one of a kind.
Using an unorthodox style on the approach, he was one of the stars in the early days of the Professional Bowlers Association Tour, bowling against the likes of Dick Weber and Don Carter.
Smith died at a Cleveland VA hospital on Aug. 8 at the age of 91, and was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Twinsburg, Ohio, on Aug. 26.
“His health wasn’t real good, but he was 91 and just expired,” said Fred Borden, one of Smith’s closest friends. “He was raised Catholic, so there was a priest at the funeral and Smitty was buried with a small, family only ceremony. They buried him next to his mother, who I think lived to be over 100.”
Smith was one of the charter members of the Professional Bowlers Association and was on the inaugural PBA Hall of Fame class in 1975 after winning 10 titles from 1961 to 1965. He also won the 1960 All-Star, a Masters title and four Eagles in the American Bowling Congress Tournament (now the USBC Open Championships).
He was inducted into the ABC (now USBC) Hall of Fame in 1978. In 2009, Smith also was selected at No. 28 among the top 50 greatest PBA players at the PBA 50thAnniversary Gala in Las Vegas.
Smith was a bowling phenom when he was a teenager in the Cleveland area, but moved to Detroit to bowl with the Pfeiffer’s team. He moved to St. Louis to join the star-studded Falstaffs (which included Glenn Allison, Billy Welu, Buzz Fazzio, Steve Nagy and Dick Hoover over the years), and then joined the PBA when it started in 1959.
He was voted the top bowler in Cleveland in 1954, the top bowler in Detroit in 1956 and 1957 and the top bowler in St. Louis in 1960.
As the news of Smith’s death spread this week, bowling greats from coast to coast remembered their friend, both as a great champion and as the PBA Assistant Tournament Director on the PBA road staff from 1977 to 1988.
“Harry’s death hasn’t sunk it yet, so I haven’t cried yet. But I’ve been a little too keyed up with my other responsibilities and haven’t really had time to think about it,” said long-time PBA Player Services Director Larry Lichstein, like Smith a member of both the PBA and USBC Halls of Fame. “But my feelings are very simple: From 1957, ’58, ’59 and into the early ’60s, it was Carter, Weber and Smith. That was it. They were the three best bowlers in the world on the PBA Tour.
“I was one of the few people in the world that saw Smitty inducted into the Hall of Fame twice – in the PBA in 1975 and in the ABC in St. Louis in 1978. I was with him at the telecast of the 2018 PBA Tournament of Champions at Riviera Lanes. He sat with me, Johnny Petraglia and Marshall Holman. They introduced the four of us before the show and during the show. It was remarkable!”
PBA legend Carmen Salvino, 87, remembers coming up the ranks with Smith when the PBA unfolded.
“When I first met Harry, we were like two of the fast guns,” Salvino said. “In those days you bowled a lot of match games, heads up, besides the pro tour. I bowled Harry 20 games. He won 10 and I won 10. I told him, ‘I’m tired, let’s go home. We’re wasting our time.’ Nobody could beat the other guy.
“Harry was one of the toughest bowlers that I’ve ever faced. If you went into a brand new bowling center, there was nobody better on brand new conditions than him. The only way that people like Carter and Weber and myself could compete with him is when we stayed at a house for a long period of time. But by the time we found the angles for ourselves, he could be way ahead of us at the tournament.”
That statement was substantiated by Lichstein.
“I heard this directly from Harry, but I can’t document my words,” he said. “But in 1963, Harry told me that he led the qualifying every week of the Winter Tour that year. And I’m not the only one who heard it. I’m sure Salvino, Glenn Allison, Dave Soutar, Jim Stefanich or Wayne Zahn might know of it.
“But at the time, all qualifying pins were dropped for the finals, and that’s probably one of the reasons Harry didn’t go around Weber and Carter in popularity and titles.”
And Smith did it with a style that was tough to describe and tougher for anyone else to duplicate.
“He walked left and turned his body sideways – like Jason Belmonte does today – back in the 50s,” Borden said. “He would tuck his swing in and that would give him that big heavy hand at the bottom, and he had all that twitch muscles he was blessed with that were pretty responsive. He was a feel player to the top of the level.
“He was the first power player in our sport. You’d think Mark Roth, but Smitty really was. He had a very unique intelligence about him and it wasn’t intelligence as we know book smart. It was street smarts. And he knew bowling balls. I think he was the first one to use a plastic ball on tour.”
On his approach, Smith would drift several boards to the left, and then hop after releasing the ball.
“What was good about Harry was that he looked like he was chasing a fly going to the foul line,” Salvino joked. “But he could repeat that. If somebody would walk in and see him throw a ball, they’d want to challenge him – and they’d go home broke!”
Smith also helped the PBA get off the ground with his unique style and fiery temperament on the lanes that earned him the nickname, “Tiger.”
“He was a tremendous talent,” said bowling great Johnny Petraglia. “He helped make the PBA. He had that animation and was a wonderful guy. There are all those photos of him when he used to run out his shots, and then always telling funny stories.
“I got to know him pretty well, and it’s very sad.”
Barry Asher, another PBA Hall of Famer, said he was 9 years old when he first met Smith.
“He was bowling with the Falstaff team at Victory Bowl in Van Nuys (Calif.) when I first saw him,” Asher said. “Then he actually roomed with Nelson Burton Jr. and me one winter, and it was an adventure! Harry was like a neat freak. Everything had to be in order, like if it was in a military chest.
“But when you’re 91, I just look at it like what a great run he had. When somebody that age passes, hopefully peacefully, I have no bad vibes. It wasn’t unexpected.”
After his career on the lanes was over, Smith was hired a few years later as the PBA Assistant Tournament Director by close friend Harry “Goose” Golden, who served as PBA National Tournament Director for almost 30 years. The two met while they were in the military together, and became great friends through bowling.
“Goose loved him like a son or a brother, and worried when Smitty would do things wrong,” Lichstein said. “We were two characters out there and worshiped Goose, but he was so loyal. He could have fired both of us a lot of times, but never did. He knew we loved bowling, loved traveling and loved the PBA. And we knew what we were doing.”
Barb Wilt, the long-time PBA Member Services Manager, remembers working with Smith when he was on the road staff.
“Obviously I worked with him a lot when he was Assistant Tournament Director,” she said. “He was quite a character. When the staff was off the road, they had to be in the Akron office, so they became part of the mailroom brigade. They helped me and Al Gates get the Friday membership mailing stuffed. You get to know folks that way. I know some of his life was hard, but he had a good heart.”
Former PBA Commissioner Mark Gerberich echoed those sentiments.
“He was always a good guy and well-liked by everybody,” he said. “He was one of the true entertainers.”
Even into his later years, Smith was a fan favorite, with some great stories to tell to anyone who would listen.
“It’s hard to explain the things he did to make us laugh,” Borden said. “And some of the things he did we can’t talk about!
“There was never a game he bowled that was half tried. He was always trying to do the best he could every shot. If everybody bowled as hard as Smitty, it would be unbelievable. He wore it on his sleeve. And he was fun to watch.”