Long-time Chicago Cubs manager Leo Durocher famously said, “Nice guys finish last.”
Leo Durocher obviously never met Dick Ritger.
Ritger, who was inducted into the Professional Bowlers Association Hall of Fame in 1978 and into the United States Bowling Congress Hall of Fame six years later, has died. He was 81.
Ritger had a front-row seat for Don Johnson’s famous 299 game in the “Pro Bowlers Tour” telecast of the 1970 Tournament of Champions, as he was Johnson’s opponent in the match. He was the first on the approach to offer both condolences and congratulations to the prone, face-down Johnson — not surprising, since Ritger twice was selected for the PBA’s Steve Nagy Sportsmanship Award.
Ritger won his 10th career PBA title in 1972 (the last year Durocher served as the Cubs’ manager), but he would win 10 more before calling it a career. At the time, he was only the fourth player in PBA history to attain 20 titles.
PBA and USBC Hall of Famer Nelson Burton Jr., Chris Schenkel’s long-time “Pro Bowlers Tour” broadcast partner on ABC-TV, once described Ritger as “probably the least known of the great players.” That’s likely because he never won a major title, although he finished second four times in pro bowling’s signature events — including that loss to Johnson in the Tournament of Champions, in which he shot 268 in the championship match.
Ritger grew up in Hartford, Wis., about 45 minutes northwest of Milwaukee. His parents owned a 10-lane bowling alley, and the family residence was upstairs above the lanes. That made it possible for Ritger to bowl pretty much anytime he wanted. With no youth leagues to speak of at the time, he was bowling in adult leagues by age nine.
He would go on to major in physical education and recreation at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse. He and Burton were known on the Tour for their physical conditioning.
Ritger’s “second life” in bowling was as a coach, and through the years his Dick Ritger Bowling Camps provided expert instruction and fond memories for thousands of bowlers, including a young Kelly Kulick, who joined Ritger in the USBC Hall of Fame in 2019.
Ritger also was a traveling coach, conducting clinics in 38 countries on five continents. He produced a three-part video series called “The Feelings of Bowling,” and also developed a “Wounded Warriors” teaching program to help disabled veterans enjoy bowling more.
Bob Rea, Director of Dick Ritger Bowling Camps, Clinics and Coach Training, put out the following message about the news:
“It is with great regret that I announce the passing of our mentor, dear friend and the greatest bowling instructor the bowling industry has ever had… Dick Ritger. Dick had been in failing health having gone through several serious strokes over the past few years.
For all of us that he touched along the way, we will be forever grateful for having known Dick and been able to share time with him. Truly, one of best men I have ever known.
He will be dearly missed, but has been such a positive influence on the sport he loved… bowling. Through his books, DVDs, bowling camps and by way of his “Feelings of Bowling” coaching methods, his legacy will live on. For those of us who were able to call him ‘friend,’ we will forever be better people for our time with him.”
Ritger was born on Nov. 8, 1938, and passed away on Aug. 27, 2020. Services are scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 20 in River Falls, Wis. Memorial gifts may be directed to St. Bridget’s Catholic Church (https://www.saintbridgets.org/) or the River Falls Food Pantry (https://www.facebook.com/RFCFP/).
Dick Ritger spoke with Bowlers Journal International in late-2018 for an interview that ran in BJI’s 105th anniversary issue that year. In it, Ritger reminisces about the most memorable moment of his career as a professional bowler: bowling Don Johnson in the title match of the 1970 PBA Firestone Tournament of Champions. You can now read that interview online here: https://www.bowlersjournal.com/dick-ritger-on-bowling-don-johnson-in-the-famed-1970-firestone-title-match/
Additionally, Bowlers Journal legend Mort Luby Jr.’s original reporting on that unforgettable event, which culminated in what would be voted #1 in the PBA’s 60 Greatest Moments when that poll was taken in the PBA’s 60th anniversary year in 2018, also now is available online here: https://www.bowlersjournal.com/a-fantastic-finale-mort-luby-jr-s-original-account-of-perhaps-the-best-tv-show-in-pba-history-was-as-lively-as-the-broadcast/