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Memory lane: the legend of Buzz Fazio

Gianmarc Manzione
USBC Communications
Published: October 1, 2009 | Bowl.com

It is 1924 somewhere in Akron, Ohio, the town where a teenage Basil Fazio will soon scrape by on a job at the rubber plant, and, years later in Detroit, a desk clerk for Chrysler and a salesman for the Stroh Brewing Company. There he will become known only as "Buzz" after captaining the Stroh's bowling team for nine years in which he would win the 1955 Masters and bowl the first-ever 300 game in the finals of the "All-Star" tournament.

But this morning "Buzz" is known by his real name of Basil -- "Basilino" if we're going by the name his Sicilian-born parents preferred -- and he is just a boy who knows only that he has discovered the thing he loves and that it is found here at Butchel's Recreation in Akron which, on this particular Saturday morning, he finds shrouded in darkness and closed.

But just like the two tumors that failed to defeat him in his 70s, the car crash in '74 that took his spleen and nearly a leg as well but couldn't take his life, or the bowling thumb a barber sliced down to the bare bone while wiping off a shaving blade on a rag in Fazio's lap -- an injury that still could not keep him from finishing the final stretch at the All-Star that year -- young Basil Fazio is about to discover another passion of his: an adamant refusal to accept defeat.

And that is why Fazio finds himself feeling around in the dark of a cellar for half an hour now after slipping down a coal chute to get into Butchel's and set the pins up himself to bowl before his friends arrive. It is, after all, only 6 o'clock in the morning -- the kind of hour when you're only awake if you have to be.

Then again, the sight of a 14-year-old pinsetter finding a way into a closed-down bowling alley at 6 A.M. might not be all that unlikely in the scheme of things. This is the Basil Fazio who finds himself nearing a time in the 20th century when Bill Lillard will walk into a hardware store to the instant recognition of those inside who have seen him on one of the several weekly bowling shows they watch on TV throughout the week. it is a time when even bowling announcers like "Whispering" Joe Wilson had stage names and no masking units concealed those B-10 Brunswick semi-automatics as you bowled, a time when Basil Fazio would even find a bowling alley on the grounds of that rubber plant he'll work for in Akron.

By then, though, Basil will be 'The Buzzer' and he will find much more than rubber plants with bowling alleys in them. He will find himself freezing behind the wheel of a 'beat-up roadster' on his way to the next booked match somewhere in Ohio with a filthy tarpaulin draped over himself and his friends to keep the cold away.

'After the rides, we looked like coal-miners!' Fazio would remember years later.

He would find himself on the roster of Brunswick's bowling stars and hopping flights from Hawaii to Europe, when a Bowlers Journal story from 1953 would report that Buzz 'found champagne didn't cost as much in Germany as it did in France' and, by the end of a trip that included a ride on the Orient Express, that he had 'gained eight pounds.'

By the time that Fazio found himself a frame away from winning another Masters title in 1968 at 60 years-old, though, the little 'Basilino' once described as 'too small to take the pounding' of the football career he once pursued had gained a lot more than a few pounds on a jaunt through Europe for Brunswick. He had gained a reputation as the 'swarthy little grandfather' who had not an ounce of 'quit' in him, the wildly eccentric competitor who would leap and click his heels in the air as he converted two 7-10 splits on the way to winning a 1955 Masters title that would be described as 'the greatest individual triumph of Fazio's long career.'

By 1968, the bowler known in living rooms across America as 'the little Italian guy who jumps around all the time' was back and on the verge of becoming the oldest player ever to win the Masters, and stood one tenth frame away from defeating Pete Tountas to achieve a place in history which, as any bowling fan aware of Fazio's career will agree, he already owned even with a loss.

Click here to get a glimpse of one of the most flamboyant performers in the history of the sport, as Buzz Fazio's kneeling prayers and belly flops at the foul line factor as heavily into his repertoire at 60 years old as they did when that 14-year-old pinsetter slipped down a coal chute in Akron for a little extra practice at dawn.

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