DETROIT— When I was a youngster, I was able to watch him on Saturday television with my father. They both had cigars. When I became Chairman of the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame, Eddie Lubanski would help with any request. He was inducted into the NPASHF in 1978. He passed recently and was 81. He was the strong fabric of old Detroit and he was an ambassador. He was an ambassador for Polonia and he was an ambassador for life.
I became closely acquainted with Eddie Lubanski in 1992. He was much older and so very gracious when I told him the parallels between our fathers and baseball and bowling. Even more attentive was he, when I started to brag about Detroit and cigars. Eddie Lubanski was an original Motor City Ambassador.
Humble and Attention to Detail
He told Mark Danielewicz and me about old time Detroit baseball. “I wanted to play baseball at Wayne State University but I started to make money bowling,” he said.
Lubanski was born in Detroit, a son of the depression but tough times did not detour him. Baseball was his first love, “I got to play for my dad in American Legion Baseball and in Federation ball. He was hard on me but I knew it was for my best. My cousin Leonard was a star with the Ternstedt Post- #166 team. He was the State of Michigan MVP in 1954. He won the Kiki Cuyler Award. The factory was on Livernois Avenue.”
That was Eddie Lubanski, deflecting the attention to somebody else and what details that he remembered.
Eddie was dominant on the baseball diamonds in his own right. “We loved it when we got to play on Diamond # 1 at Northwestern Field. That was the pinnacle. The infield was manicured like a pool table,” he said. Lubanski signed as a pitcher with the old St. Louis Browns and bounced around in the minors. “I got my perseverance from my father, Edward. The minors were depressing. I was playing in Wisconsin and decided that I had a better future in bowling. It wasn’t a good life for Betty.”
He started to talk about me. We wanted his stories, but he acted interested in us. “Ray, I heard you and Tom Paciorek speak about perseverance. That is the key. I told my own boys during their youth hockey, don’t give up. You two played baseball at Wayne State, I followed that. Mark, I used to watch your brother Mike play football. I am Michigan State through and through, you know. My boys are Spartans.” We were stunned. How would Eddie Lubanski know that? Why would he know that? “Mark, you caught Doug Konieczny. He is the only baseball player from Wayne State to make the Major Leagues,” Lubanski added. Danielewicz and I looked at each other in amazement.
The astonishment of Eddie Lubanski’s sports knowledge had not worn off yet. Another former NPASHF Chairman, Buck Jerzy put it in perspective. Jerzy got to talk and travel with Lubanski extensively during the Detroit All-Star Classic days in the 60’s. Jerzy said, “Eddie was class, he was a gentlemen’s-gentleman. Classy and humble, he would focus and help the younger guys. I was a publicist and he helped me; we would talk bowling and college hockey. He always gave me a new angle for a new story.”
During our dinner at the American Polish Cultural Center in Troy, Michigan, Lubanski reminisced, “My father took me to the old Chene-Trombly Recreation Lanes on the East side of Detroit. Joe and John Paulus were the owners and they were instrumental in getting me started as a pin setter. I started making money in bowling at 16. My real pro break was with the Stroh Team and Fred Wolf really helped me.” Wolf had a televised Bowling show, ‘Championship Bowling’ that ran from 1954-1965. It was carried in more than 200 cities. “Wolf got me into the big time of bowling,” he added.
Bowling success brought Lubanski international notoriety. His television matches on ABC-TV with Johnny King were legendary. King would sport giant Churchill cigars, much bigger than Eddie’s. During the pro-ladder matches Lubanski would use body-English to coax his pin roll. It was pure theater. King was known to jump over the ball returns after a double strike. King would trash talk and play to the crowds. Eddie was more reserved and ever so watchful. It was the equivalent of Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier. The King-Lubanski matches always got the largest ratings, they were the heavyweight performers. Don Carter and Dick Weber were other notable and popular television foes.
Lubanski’s two-finger, five-step delivery began to show great results along his bowling tournament travels. He won the World’s Invitational Championship in Chicago in 1958, and then followed that with an amazing four titles in the 1959 at the American Bowling Congress tournament in St. Louis. He was voted Bowler of the Year in 1959 and named to the All-American Bowling Teams in 1958 and 1959. He won numerous BPAA titles.
“I loved the feel and control the two-fingered ball gave me and most especially the revolutions I was able to manufacture,” said Lubanski. He also told about the old Detroit Recreation Center on Lafayette and Shelby. “It had six floors of lanes and billiard tables, and a lot of ‘sharpies’. It was a bowler’s palace,” he said. “Eighty-eight lanes and the best cigar stand in the city. I won a lot of money there. People came there just to see the place, so much action. That was Detroit when it was glowing.”
He is noted in the Guinness Book of Records for carrying a 204 average for 25 years. “The fifties and sixties were so alive and exciting in Detroit,” he added.
Became an International Star, Remembered his Roots
Also, in 1959, Lubanski got to icon status when he bowled a 300 game on television. He had the “Great Double 300” in Florida at Miami’s Bowling Palace. “I was in a zone that you only find a few times in a career,” he told me about that night in 1959. “It was easily my proudest moment as an athlete. Don’t think bowlers aren’t athletes. Most times we would bowl six games and that took a toll. I advocated bowling to become a varsity sport in the NCAA.”
Lubanski has been inducted to five separate Halls of Fame. He was very proud to advance Polonia. “Everything I earned was related to my Polish-American upbringing, he said. With a smile and a twinkle he added, “And my wife’s faith in God and family.” Betty overheard, she smiled even longer.
Most recently along with writers Kevin Allen and Del Reddy he was promoting his autobiography, “King of the Pins”. He was forthcoming about a past drinking problem and his new passion was for mentoring in Alcoholics Anonymous. “I owe my life to Betty,” he said. “I can afford to give back.”
In all, Lubanski posted 11 sanctioned 300 games. He captained the Detroit Thunderbirds in the team pro team National Bowling League in 1961 and 1962. They won the championship.
Bob Strampe remembered how after the National Bowling League failed, they put together a squad from Detroit and won the Bowling Proprietors Association of America five-man Team Title in Birmingham, Alabama. “We had Eddie, Billy Golembieski, Bob Kwolek, Pat Stone and Bob Ulrich. Lake Pointe Chrysler sponsored us,” said Strampe.
“Eddie was a fine gentleman and a great family man. He was a tough competitor and an even better teammate,” he added. “This was before the Professional Bowlers Association tour was in existence.” Strampe had bowled for the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Twin City Skippers. “We were disillusioned after the pro league failed. Eddie really picked us up at the five-man BPAA tournament.”
Those were the years of the Beer Team bowling wars, Strohs, Pfeiffer and Goebel’s all sponsored powerhouse squads. Everyone wanted Eddie Lubanski on their team.
Son Paul said, “My father was a hero, a true hero and he inspired. He defeated his alcoholism and he anonymously helped save the lives of others. When we were young, dad travelled a lot. That’s when dza-dza took over, he helped mom.”
A Memorial Mass will be held on Friday at 10:00 A.M. at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Oak Park. Donations may be made to our Lady of Fatima Men’s Club, 13500 Oak Park Blvd., Oak Park, 48237. Lubanski is survived by his wife Betty. They were married for 62 years and travelled the world together because of bowling. Children, Janis, Edward, Paul and Robert survive their father. A daughter, Denise, predeceased him and he will be cremated and interred with her. All the Lubanski children graduated from Oak Park High School in Michigan. Edward and Paul played hockey at Michigan State.
(Editor Note: Raymond Rolak is a sports broadcaster and was fortunate to host a show with Edward Lubanski)
Photo by Sebastian Szczepanski
November 11, 2010