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Rick Auerbach has special status as two-sport star

Rick Auerbach has distinguished himself in two sports.
Rick Auerbach has distinguished himself in two sports.
Fred Eisenhammer

This story originally ran July 27, 2012. It is being re-run with an update at the bottom.

Rick Auerbach created quite a stir when he bowled his exhilarating 818 series this month and the conversation just seems to be starting.

The former major leaguer, who has been piling up 300 games, triggered talk that he was ripe to turn professional in a second sport.

Not all pro bowlers agreed, saying the 62-year-old Auerbach faced a wide array of pressures and obstacles in pro tournaments. Even Auerbach acknowledged that it was 10 times easier bowling in the friendly confines of league bowling at AMF Woodlake Lanes in Woodland Hills compared to tournament competition.

Still, it’s time to give Auerbach his due.

Look at the athletes who have been revered for their outstanding two-sport performances.

And there are plenty of them, ranging from Danny Ainge (baseball, basketball), Dave DeBusschere (baseball, basketball) and Brian Jordan (baseball, football) to the more-renowned Deion Sanders (baseball, football) and Bo Jackson (baseball, football).

Let’s focus on Jackson because he’s widely considered the best two-sport athlete of all time. A Heisman Trophy winner, Jackson was glamorized because of his powerful home runs.

And he did hit 32 homers and drive in 105 runs in 1989. But he also struck out 172 times that year and never hit better than .272 in any season. He played four seasons in the NFL (1987-90) and eight years in the majors (1986-1994).

Most significantly – for Jackson and Sanders and the others – all their achievements basically were compiled concurrently. In other words, those athletes distinguished themselves within a space of a few years in both sports.

Now we come to Auerbach.

The Woodland Hills resident played 11 seasons (1971-81) for four major league teams, including the Dodgers. Admittedly, he was not a star player with a lifetime batting average of .220 and had only one season with more than 250 at-bats.

Still, he batted a robust .342 for the Dodgers in 1974 in 45 at-bats. And he compiled sparkling batting averages of .327 (1978) and .333 (1980) with the Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds, albeit in limited at-bats.

Most importantly, Auerbach is now tearing up the lanes a full 31 years after he played his last major league game.

Can you imagine performing at such a high level in your second sport 31 years later?

Who does that?

Sure, bowling is far different from professional football or basketball or baseball. But one still needs to work on one’s bowling game – relentlessly – to perform consistently at a high level.

And that’s what Rick Auerbach, a tireless devotee to the game, does.

Recording an 818 series at 62 even impressed the affable Auerbach.

“I should be getting worse, not better,” said Auerbach, laughing.

Unlike Bo Jackson, Auerbach’s knack for striking out is a good thing.

Postscript: Auerbach has signed up for a West Coast Senior Tour bowling event Aug. 16 in Ventura in which he’ll meet some of the top professionals from California and Nevada. It will mark the first time Auerbach will be going head to head against a field of top bowling professionals.

Dick Sanders, the WCST’s owner and director, welcomed Auerbach’s entry into the tournament. “We’ll be nice to him the first time and after that, we’ll be our miserable selves,” Sanders joked.

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