The HAMMER Hits Harder

December 02, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

The harder the bowling ball hits the pins, the more pins go down.

And the HAMMER hits harder.

About 60 million people in the United States bowl at least one game a year, and every day in the old Western Electric plant near Colgate Creek on Broening Highway, Dennis Baldwin oversees the manufacture of 800 bowling balls engraved with the name HAMMER and shipped to sporting goods stores around the world.

A lifelong bowler who carries a 200 average, Mr. Baldwin got the idea for his knock-out ball 10 years ago.

Frustrated with balls that didn't smack the pins hard enough, the Albany, N.Y., native started experimenting on his own and stumbled upon a simple concept.

He discovered that the more he surrounded the weight at the center of the ball with a slick plastic called urethane -- the same stuff used in molded bumpers on new cars -- the more powerful the impact when the ball hit the pins.

"Old balls were made in three pieces with just a half-inch urethane shell on the outside," said Mr. Baldwin, 51. "Our balls are made in two pieces: the anchor and 2 inches of urethane around it."

The proof was simple.

When he dropped a traditional, three-piece ball from a height of 6 feet, it bounced 2 feet into the air.

When he dropped his invention the same distance, it bounced between 4 and 5 feet.

Today, with his patent expired, most everyone in the bowling ball business does it the Baldwin way.

Even with the proliferation of copycats, more HAMMER balls made by Mr. Baldwin's Faball Enterprises are used on the Professional Bowlers Association tour than any other.

That's a long way from the days when Mr. Baldwin was running his own motorcycle accessory business by day in Highlandtown and making two bowling balls a night in the back of a Baltimore pro shop.

"We were just trying to making a bowling ball better than any that was on the market back then," said Mr. Baldwin, a retired motorcycle drag racer who lives in Kingsville, studied guitar in college, and has a soft heart for Elvis Presley.

"We just felt that a thicker shell would give more resiliency. Once we threw it ourselves we knew we had a winner and when we got some of these balls in bowlers' hands, they did so well we thought of ways to mass produce them."

Anywhere from 60 to 80 people work at Faball's 55,000-square-foot factory on Broening Highway, where a typical laborer earns about $6.50 an hour making bowling balls that retail on the average for $130.

The workers blend urethane on site; send molds for seven different balls through an assembly line that fills the molds with special blends that make the balls spin and hook; turn them on lathes that guarantee near-perfect roundness; engrave "HAMMER" and "Made in U.S.A." on each ball; and pack them in boxes for shipment to people throwing balls down glossy lanes from Mississippi to Poland.

"When we're hiring it doesn't matter that [an applicant] bowls," Mr. Baldwin said. "But most of them do."

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