Cliff Kidd dies at age 93

Duckpin national champ was known as the ‘screwball specialist’ and owned South Baltimore’s Southway lanes

April 24, 2010|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

Cliff Kidd, the No. 1-ranked duckpin bowler in the country during the 1944-1945 season who later owned his own alleys, died of cancer Wednesday at Gilchrist Hospice Care. The Parkville resident was 93.

"He was consistent, well known for his competitive skills and evenness in duckpin bowling," said his son, Clifford Joseph "Cliff Jr." Kidd of Perry Hall. "Even as duckpin bowling's popularity waned in recent years, my father retained his overwhelming enthusiasm for the sport."

Born Clifford H. Kidd in Baltimore and raised on Scott Street in Pigtown, he left Polytechnic Institute during his junior year to help support his family during the Depression.

"It was 1933 and I had broken a leg at Carroll Park," Mr. Kidd said in a 1995 Evening Sun interview. "I wandered into Lithuanian Hall. It had six [duckpin bowling] lanes. I bowled my first game on one crutch. I was captivated."

His son said Mr. Kidd made money in what were called pot games, a variant of traditional bowling where the contestants bowled only two balls, instead of three, and had to score nine or better to earn points. The contestants threw money in a pot and wagered on the games, which could continue for hours.

His son said that duckpin bowling was a very popular pastime in Baltimore, with many neighborhood bowling alleys in commercial buildings, social clubs or religious halls. Bowlers joined leagues and competed citywide. Newspapers regularly covered these contests as if they were professional sports.

Mr. Kidd remained at Lithuanian Hall for a few years, then got into a league at the Regent lanes in the 400 block of N. Eutaw St.

"Cliff's professional life flourished at the bowling alley, as did his love life," his son said. "In the early 1940s, he was bowling in a travel league at Southway Bowling Centre at South Charles and Hamburg streets. He went to the counter to order a Bromo Seltzer, and a waitress named Emma Charvat was working. They fell in love and married."

From 1944 to 1945, Mr. Kidd was ranked as the top player in the nation. Though he was ranked only third in Baltimore, his out-of-town record was strong enough to boost his average to best in the nation.

"Cliff Kidd … blasted 993 pins into the pits to outdistance a field of 95 rollers in the 10th annual South Atlantic duckpin tournament at the Recreation mapleway yesterday," said a 1944 Sun article, which used the word "mapleway" to describe a hardwood bowling lane.

Mr. Kidd worked for Recreation Centerprises and was a manager of the old Stadium Lanes, an alley constructed atop grocery stores on Gorsuch Avenue in Waverly, and at the Spillway on East Monument Street.

While working at the Stadium Lanes, he met women's duckpin legend Toots Barger. They remained friends, and Mr. Kidd was interviewed by National Public Radio's Linda Wertheimer and Noah Adams when she died in 1998.

In a 1961 Evening Sun article, which described him as "bespectacled and soft-spoken," Mr. Kidd advised bowlers to "relax. You should slow everything down. Lay the ball down smoothly."

He became a bowling alley owner when he and his wife purchased the 16 lanes at the old Plaza on West Lexington Street in the city's main department store. From 1952 to 1981, he owned the Southway in South Baltimore. It was a popular bowling center a flight above a busy grocery store.

"It was a neighborhood business, just walk-in, 26 lanes on the second and third floors," he said in 1995.

It was there that the sportswriters began to call him the "Southway screwball specialist." Throughout his career, they said he was "murder on the single-standing-pin shot."

Mr. Kidd later sold the Southway. After duckpin bowling suffered declines in popularity, the lanes were made into housing units.

Newspaper articles said that Mr. Kidd liked teaching children to bowl and thought the scoring would help them improve their arithmetic. He played the game until four years ago. He played billiards until recently.

During his career, he won all of duckpin bowling's titles and awards.

Services were Saturday at Evans Funeral Chapel and Cremation Services, 8800 Harford Road in Parkville.

In addition to his son, survivors include three daughters, Joy Kathleen Dimaggio of Abingdon, Diana Marie Kidd of Joppa and Marie Jean Catherine Kidd of Portland, Ore.; three sisters, Dorothy Cole, Ruth Fuchs and Carrie Ball, all of Baltimore; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. His wife of 59 years died in 2001.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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